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.

Picture courtesy of Jo Folkes / Flicker

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.

Daylight Robbery

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.

Portrait of William III from the collection of Mr W Sharp Ogden FSA

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.

Coin Clipping

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. 

Comparison of unclipped and clipped Siliqua from the Hoxne Hoardcourtesy of Wikipedia.

Coin clipping – the removal of slivers of precious metal from the edge of a coin – was a standard abuse and currency crime throughout the medieval and early modern period, despite stringent legislation and extreme punishment, often execution, for those found guilty. Typically, clippings would then be melted down and used to make counterfeit coins.

There was a particular outbreak of clipping at the time of the English Civil War in the 1640s, when many aspects of life broke down and perpetrators believed, probably with some justification, that they ran less risk of being caught and punished. It is certainly the case that clipped coins from this period survive in large numbers and that there are several known hoards of clippings of precisely the sort of material found in this group. Indeed, clipping hoards from other periods are hardly known at all. Compared to some clippings hoards, the Millthorpe material (see below) was trimmed off coins with a relatively light touch: only four clippings involved the removal of as much as 10% of the original coin and the majority represent under 5% of the coin.

A 16th or 17th century hoard of coin clippings discovered in Derbyshire and recorded by the PAS -Record ID: DENO-789371 -Coins are no longer made of any metal which is worthwhile clipping. However, they are still counterfeited.

Rating: 5 out of 5.


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 – TwitterRoyal Collection Trust

2 thoughts on “WINDOW TAX and CLIPPED COINS

  1. John.. I am learning a great amount from you and the British Governments penchant for taxing the ‘common folk’

    Beard tax, window tax, television tax.. makes you wonder what will be next.. Those politicians seem to have always empty pockets and feel that we are a bunch of sheep to be sheared.

    Thank you my friend for another enlightening lesson


    Liked by 1 person

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