Although it might seem ridiculous today, there was a time in England when people were taxed for having windows in their home! But, if you’ve read my previous posts, that information will come as no surprise.
In the eyes of lawmakers the window tax was a brilliant way to put the burden of tax on the shoulder of the upper class. The rich usually had larger houses with more windows, and so were liable to pay more taxes.
Of course the tax was unpopular with many, as it was seen as ‘a tax on light and air.’ Many windows were blocked up with bricks or boards in order to avoid paying the window tax. Some old buildings, like my example, still show the signs of the window tax, where bricked up windows were never replaced. So, the tax was a property tax based on the number of windows in a house.and was introduced by King William III in 1696 and remained in force for 156 years, until 1851. The lack of windows led to dark, damp tenement houses that spread disease and ill-health among the working class. Medical professionals and well-educated people began to complain that the window tax was increasing the risk of epidemics in crowded and unsanitary properties. Campaigners finally succeeded in lifting the tax in 1851, when it was replaced with a house tax instead.
The phrase ‘daylight robbery’ originated from the window tax, and was described by some as a “tax on light” Blocking up windows was literally DAYLIGHT ROBBERY.
In 1850, Dickens wrote about the window tax in Household Words, a magazine that he published for a number of years:
“The adage ‘free as air’ has become obsolete by Act of Parliament. Neither air nor light have been free since the imposition of the window-tax. We are obliged to pay for what nature lavishly supplies to all, at so much per window per year; and the poor who cannot afford the expense are stinted in two of the most urgent necessities of life.”Charles Dickens
Why was the Window Tax Introduced?
This point is interesting. We know one reason that the tax was introduced by King William III – but why? There are others, not least the fact that William needed to raise taxes to pay for his army. Detectorists will be familiar with clipped coins, but have they ever associated them with the window tax which was implemented as a means to make up for lost income from clipped money.
The act of clipping was a serious criminal offence as it undermined the currency of the country. It was such a problem that in Britain clipping was high treason and punishable by death. The threat of hanging did not put off the criminals, for clipping could be profitable, and at its simplest, the only tools required was a file, some shears or strong scissors, and a melting pot.
Why did people clip coins? Say you had a one pound coin, that coin was literally a pound of silver. If you shave it it is no longer a pound of silver so when you get a pound worth of goods, you have committed theft. That is why most coins now have milled edges, because they can readily be seen to have been tampered with. Soon enough, almost all coins that circulated in Britain were clipped and there were few worthwhile coins left.
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS and THANKS
PAS – Portable Antiquities Scheme -Jo Folkes – Flicker – Charles Dickens Wikipedia -Royal Mint – National Museum of Wales – Britannia Coin Company UK Parliament – History House – Coin Week – Goodreads – National Archives – Twitter – Royal Collection Trust