As in most countries throughout the world, everyone in Great Britain has to pay “council tax” on a property they either own or rent. It’s a fact of life. However, it wasn’t always the case; daylight, fireplaces and even wallpaper have all been taxed over the centuries!
The imposition of taxes and duties on construction materials also had a strong influence on house construction. Depending on when your property was built, its final configuration is likely to have been affected by the following taxes: the Hearth Tax, or ‘Chimney Tax’ (1662-89); the Window Tax (1696-1851); the Wallpaper Tax (1720-1830), the Glass Tax (1746-1845); and the Brick Tax (1784-1850), the last introduced to pay for the war in North American. Today, of course, governments know better, with VAT applied across the board to all building materials and labour!
According to historichouse.co.uk, The Hearth Tax was introduced in 1662 during the reign of Charles II in an attempt to make up a shortfall of income. Lasting only 27 years it was repealed in the reign of William and Mary. The tax was unpopular as it meant assessors had to enter the home to assess the number of hearths.
Each householder, or owner if the house was unoccupied, whose home was worth more than 20 shillings for rating purposes was required to pay twice yearly, 1 shilling for each hearth in their home, outhouse, office or edifice.
For a deeper dive into Hearth Tax, click here
Yep, you heard right, another method of taxation was Wallpaper Tax. In 1712, during the reign of Queen Anne, England imposed a tax on printed, patterned or painted wallpaper.
Initially taxed at 1d per square yard, rising to 1s (equivalent to £3.71 as of 2020), by 1809, wallpaper was becoming increasingly popular as a cheaper alternative to panelling and tapestries but builders were quick to work out a way to avoid the tax by simply hanging plain wallpaper and then painting patterns on the walls! The tax was abolished in 1836.
The brick tax was a property tax introduced in Great Britain in 1784, during the reign of King George III, to help pay for the wars in the American Colonies. Bricks were initially taxed at 2s 6d per 1,000 but at its peak it cost 5 shillings 10 pence per 1,000 bricks. The brick tax was eventually abolished in 1850.
The brick tax caused the price of brick to grow, which meant that construction and rent became more expensive. Manufacturers quickly worked out that using bigger bricks reduced the tax, but the government introduced a maximum brick size and doubled taxes on larger bricks.
Until 1833, the brick tax also applied to tiles and pipes. The taxation of pipes led to a lower quality of housing, as many households could not afford drainage pipes due to their increased price. Tiles were taxed based on the size and level of decoration, which made people use plain tiles, which were the cheapest. That resulted in a setback in the development of architecture and style.
After the repeal of the brick tax in 1850, we can see an improvement of brick quality in churches and public buildings. Moreover, buildings constructed before 1784 and after 1850 show more ornaments, better design and taste than buildings built during the time of the brick tax.
Window tax was probably the most familiar tax to us modern day property admirers. Even today, bricked up widows can still be seen amongst the housing population having never been restored, here’s why…
The window tax, based on the number of windows in a house, was first introduced in 1696 by William III to cover revenue lost by the clipping of coinage. It was a banded tax according to the number of windows in the house. For example, for a house in 1747 with ten to 14 windows, the tax was 6d per window; it increased to 9d with more windows.
Not long after its introduction, people bricked up their windows to avoid paying the tax.
It was repealed in 1851 after pressure from doctors and others who argued that lack of light was a source of ill health.The National Archive
An additional taxation introduced during the same period was “Glass Tax”…
The term “daylight robbery” is believed to have stemmed from window tax since it essentially amounted to robbing people of daylight through an unfair means. However, the first printed use of the phrase didn’t occur until 1916, and even then, the context didn’t explicitly link it to unfair overcharging. It was only after 1949 that the phrase was firmly associated with “unfairness”.Amusing Planet
The Glass Excise tax, less well-known than the Window Tax, was first levied by Parliament in 1745. All types of glass were subject to this tax, from window and bottle glass to the very finest flint glass. The introduction of this excise imposed a heavy financial burden and administrative restrictions on the English, and eventually, the Irish glass industry. Initially, the duty was on materials, with flint and white glass, crown and plate charged at the highest rates. Green and other bottle glass was charged at a lower rate.
In 1811, after a determined campaign by the glass manufactures, the excise duty was changed to apply to the finished glass goods, rather than the raw materials. This system remained in place until 1825. During this period, the duty was assessed by the weight of the finished object. But surprisingly, this did not result in only very thin glass pieces being produced during these years. In point of fact, during the Regency, the most fashionable and therefore most profitable, glass was the heavy decorative cut glass for which English glass makers were gaining a reputation across Europe. The plainer goods, though less expensive, appealed to a less affluent consumer and thus were also less profitable. A similar principle seems to have applied to window glass as well. The affluent consumer did not mind paying a premium price because of a high duty on their window glass.
So, like Rosings, a grand house might have a great many large windows, which would clearly inform the world that the owner was a man or woman of means. This also meant that only the very wealthy were able to afford greenhouses, and to enjoy the specialty produce which could only be grown under the protection of glass. read more
Most people are familiar with the style of an Elizabethan property constructed with a larger first floor than ground floor. It is often attributed to taxation, however, this is predominantly an efficient way of avoiding ground rent whilst allowing for more spacious entertaining & living space.
According to www.britianexpress.com,
On the upper floor of the main hall a new architectural feature made its appearance; the long gallery. Used for entertaining, as a family area, for exercise on dull days, and as a portrait gallery, the long gallery was an almost universal feature of Elizabethan manors. It featured windows on three sides and fireplaces along the fourth, and it usually ran the entire length of the floor.
The most important point to note in manor design is that the hall and the living areas had swapped status; the hall was now lesser used, while the long gallery and other living areas were now the centres of family life. The main entry became the most ostentatious and elaborate part of the manor house; it was here that the wealthy man felt most free to lavish his wealth. Entries were often a curious mix of heraldic pretension and classical columns, profuse carvings, and ornate decoration.
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