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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course English: Taxes, Lists, Business, Electoral and Insurance Records  by Dr. Penelope Christensen. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).



Rates are taxes on the occupiers of land and buildings levied by local authorities to pay for their various services and utilities. The earliest extant records are those for maintenance of a local church, bridge, drainage system or fortification for a parish or for a ward of a corporate borough. Other early local rates administered by the vestry, churchwardens or overseers included those for highway surveyors, constables, scavenging (cleaning the roads),gaols, sewers and militia.

Highway and Surveyors’ Rates

Typically, rate lists give the occupiers, premises, valuation and amount due but some give the occupations by inference from designations of wheelwright’s shop, malthouse, brickyard and so forth as shown below and some give both owners and occupiers of land.

Chart: Extracts from Highway Rates in Mountfield, Sussex 1861 FHL film 1894275

An Assessment for the Repair of the Highways in the Parish of Mountfield in the County of Sussex. Made this Twenty Seventh day of March 1861. After the Rate of Fourpence in the Pound. On all Land, Tenements, Tithes and Woodlands.
Names of occupiers or persons rated
Description of the premises and property rated
Annual value
Sums assessed at 4d in the pound
Ashburnham, Earl of
Adamson, W.R. esq
Mansion garden Brickyard etc
80- 0- 0
10- 0- 0
1- 6- 8
3- 4

Adams, James
House and Garden
1- 5- 0
Badcock, Thomas

Land and Church Cottage Carpenters Shop
16- 0- 0
2- 0- 0

5- 4

Chart: Extracts from Highway Rates in Northowram, Yorkshire 1845-6 FHL film 1551144

An Assessment for the repair of the Highways of the Township of Northowram for the year commencing March 26th 1845. Assessed at a Meeting of the Board of Surveyors July 1st One thousand eight Hundred and forty five. At Nine pence in the pound.
Joseph Stocks esq, in the Chair

This seems to be a generic form for collection of a number of rates (taxes). Of the eighteen columns only the following are filled out for Highway Rate:
1. Name of occupier.
2. Name of owner.
3. Description of property.
4. Name or situation of property.
5. Rateable value.
6. Rate at 9d in the pound.
7. Total amount to be collected.
Occupier John Haley, owner Telemachus Gledhill, a cottage at New Banks value £3.5.0 with 2/5¼ d rate.
Occupier Joseph Midgley, owner Telemachus Gledhill, a cottage at Haley Hill value £6.6.0 with 4/9d rate.
Occupier and owner Isaac Green, a quarry at Warm Lee value £5 with 3/9d rate.
Occupier and owner Isaac Green, land and plantation at Hazzlehirst, value £4.0.5 with 3/0¼ d rate.
Occupier and owner Isaac Green, a cottage and shop at Hazzlehirst,value £2.10.0 with 1/10 rate.

These examples of highway rates serve as a model for many other rate books. They all give similar information, but not all survive for each year, so it is important for the researcher to have access to a full complement of relevant years, with whatever rate books are available. In addition to the highway rates upon the inhabitants, the surveyors accounts of how the money was spent can also be found. An example for 1831 in Yorkshire is shown here.

Chart: Highway Surveyor’s Accounts 1831 Rotherham, Yorkshire

Oct 15
Highway Warrant


George Russell

John Moulson

Joseph Walker

Richard Hampshaw

Richard Logan

Richard Logan 21 loads of cinders,
breaking and laying on @ 6d/load


Do 22 loads @ 3d/load


Richard Hill

Stamp at Wentworth House


Stamp at Elsecar

Oct 22
Wm Barker

John Moulson

Richard Hampshaw

Joseph Walker

George Russell

Richard Logan

Richard Logan 21 loads of cinders,
breaking and laying on @ 3d/load

Oct 29
Wm Barker

Richard Hampshaw

Joseph Walker


Richard Logan


Steven Burlow

George Russell

John Moulson

Richard Logan 21 loads of cinders,
breaking and laying on @ 6d/load


In the 18th and 19th century some estate developers and owners were permitted by paving boards to pave, clean and repair their own private roads and put bars across them to prevent public access. Records of these boards are often found amongst vestry minutes and local authorities’ records.

Constables Rates

The unpaid position of parish (or petty) constable, formerly taken in rotation in the village, was gradually replaced by a paid constable or policeman at different times in different places. From 1830 police forces were set up in London and from thence across the country. Records of constables rates to pay for their expenses, and later their salaries, can be found in parish and borough records.

Poor Rates 1601-1865

Various attempts had been made by parliament in the 16th century to provide for the poor and destitute, particularly after the dissolution of the monasteries in the 1530s. The major Elizabethan reform was the 1601 Poor Relief Act (the Old Poor Law) which made the parish the administrative unit for rating. New Overseers of the Poor, consisting of church wardens and other substantial householders, had the power to raise funds from parishioners and assist the local poor as they deemed fit. The previous church rate levied on all freehold and leasehold properties was combined with the poor rate in 1647.

Union Rates 1865-1925

The poor rate became the union rate in 1865 and the church rate became non-compulsory in 1868. The combined church and poor rates were known simply as the rates, and as local authorities provided new services additional rates were levied. In towns rates were levied from the late 18th century for the services of watchmen and street cleaners, and for improvements in lighting and paving. The 19th century saw parliamentary authorization of local police, water, library, cemeteries, gas and electricity rates. A rough earliest-date guide to these appears below, but provisions varied around the country.

Chart: Rough Timeline for the Rates

Church Rate (or leawans)
Early – 1868
Highways and Surveyors Rates
Poor Rate
Constables Rates
Early 17th century
County Rate (or Sessions Money)
Watch Rates
Lighting Rates
Late 18th century
Paving Rate
Late 18th century
Scavenging or Cleansing (street cleaning)Rate
Late 18th century
District Highway Rates
Police Rate
Water Rate
Library Rate
Union Rate
Gas Service
Late 19th century (from 1812 by private companies)
Electricity Rate

Town Rates

This term includes those rates applicable only in towns, for example for paving and cleaning of streets, installation of street lighting and operation by lamplighters, and piped water.

Lighting and Watch Rates

Local Acts of Parliament were made from 1750 in order that any place could levy a rate to pay for lighting and watching streets. The Lighting and Watching Act of 1833 permitted any town with a population of over 5,000 inhabitants to appoint watchmen.

Water Rates

The supply of water has been undertaken by both private companies and local authorities. Some cities had piped water very early on, for example Southampton in 1420, Hull in 1447, Bath in 1500, and Gloucester in 1542 but only at central points, not in every house. The early pipes were mostly wooden, but cast-iron pipes started to replace them in 1875. However, most towns were reliant upon wells and springs well into the 19th century. The records include mentions of water carriers from very early times, and payments to private companies and local authorities later on. Towns were able to supply piped water sooner as their rateable income was higher, and the Public Health Act of 1848 enabled any local authority to provide (and charge rates for) a water supply. It was not until 1886 that Whitwell, Isle of Wight decided to take the plunge! The first page of the Minute Book of the Whitwell Water Supply is transcribed here.

Chart: Whitwell, IOW Water Supply 1886
FHL Film 1526198

Meeting held at the Whitwell National Schools on Thursday 21st January 1886.
Present: Revd R.B.Cliver (Chairman)
Messrs S. Beeden, T. Gell (Parishioners)
W.H.C. Clarke, Col. Currie, D. Morgan
(Deputation from the Rural Sanitary Authority)
Dr. Groves Mr Cocker (Inspector)
Mr T.R. Saunders (Advising engineer)

After much discussion Mr Saunders propounded the details of a plan which he had prepared, for obtaining a supply of pure water from Whitwell Farms and carrying the same by a two inch main to the most populous parts of the Parish.

Sewer Rates

Sewer rates were assessed separately in towns that had them, for example the Guildhall Library has a series of sewer rates for the City of London for 1771-1874, but also has consolidated rate books, presumably for other rates, from 1790-1908.

Cemetery Rates

After the Burial Acts of 1852 (for London) and 1853 (for the rest of the country) local authorities administered their own cemeteries with vestries electing burial boards to manage them. The rates included funds for cemeteries, and after the Local Government Act of 1894 district and parish authorities took over the management from the burial boards.


Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online course English: Taxes, Lists, Business, Electoral and Insurance Records offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about this course or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at

We welcome updates and additions to this Wiki page.