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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 ($).


Poll Taxes

A poll tax is a head tax or personal tax and was tried firstly as an experiment in 1222 as an aid for the King of Jerusalem. They were next imposed in the 14th century to pay for the Hundred Years War in France.

Poll Taxes 1377-1380
Three levies on both lay people and clerics were made and the tax burden shifted unfairly to the poorer members of society, who were felt by Parliament to have become too lazy and affluent since the Black Death (1347-1350):

v 1377 the tallage of groats at 4d per head; a groat being a silver coin worth 4d. Beneficed clergy paid 1/- and those under 14 and beggars were exempt.
v 1379 the evil subsidy was at a higher rate, graduated by status, thus the records show occupations. Those under 16 were exempt.
v 1380-1381 poll taxes were 1/- for everyone over 15 and this unfairly high per capita charge was far above a labourer’s means. The ensuing Peasants Revolt lead by Wat Tyler and John Ball in south and south-east England resulted in destruction of many manorial records kept in manor houses and abbeys by the poor, as they knew that this was the way the government kept track of them.

Pearl’s article (Parish Sources. Part V Poll Tax. Family Tree Magazine Vol. 7 #9, page 28-29) and historical texts such as Cannon (Poll Books #2 in Short Guides to Records edited by Lionel M. Munby) can provide further details on the Peasants’ Revolt, a significant watershed in government relations with the populace. The poll tax was abolished, and several serious issues such as freeing serfs were addressed. It was not until 1513 that a further poll tax was levied for which some returns survive.

Large numbers of nominal returns survive and all receipts and assessments for the three 14th century poll taxes have been published (Fenwick). Returns list the head of the family, mostly with their occupations, and some are extraordinarily detailed including family members as well as servants. These returns are an important source for the study of surnames at a time when they were becoming fixed and hereditary; a mixture of name types can be seen in Wath, Yorkshire . The amounts assessed can also be seen in this example: the franklin paid 40d, a farmer and a female chapman 14d, another farmer and the tradesmen 6d, and everyone else just 4d; a long list of the amounts assessed by rank and wealth is given by Jurkowski et al (Lay Taxes in England and Wales 1188-1688, 1998).


Chart : Graduated Poll Tax of 1379 Town of Wath, North Riding Yorkshire (Film 1564694)
This transcript is actually headed Lay Subsidy Richard II 1379. The parish register starts in 1565.
NAMES OCCUPATIONS TAX
Thomas of Wodhal & Agnes his wife ffrankeleyn xld
Thomas His servant iiijd
Roger Bacon & Emma his wife Farmer of the Manor xijd
William Their son iiijd
William Walker Farmer of the Manor vjd
Alice Broune Chapman xijd
Agnes Her daughter iiijd
William ffrankys & Juliana his wife Souter vjd
Hugo of Neuhall & Agnes his wife Souter vjd
Richard Yoman & Agnes his wife Souter vjd
John Stele & Alice his wife Smyth vjd
William His servant iiijd
Thomas Taylour & Agnes his wife Taylour vjd
Robert Hesilheued & Margaret his wife Taylour vjd
John Their son iiijd
John Borne & Johanna his wife Taylour vjd
William Colley -- iiijd
Johanna Bythewater -- iiijd
Robert of the Chaumbire -- iiijd
Gilbert Kene & Isabella his wife -- iiijd
John His servant iiijd
Agnes of Crofton -- iiijd
Johanna her daughter -- iiijd
John Catte & Agnes his wife -- iiijd
Roger of Shelley & Agnes his wife -- iiijd
John Adwyce & Alice his wife -- iiijd
John Bobkerre & Alice his wife Bakester vjd
Isabella daughter of the clergy -- iiijd
Tax collected xxx.s x.d

Stuart Poll Taxes 1641-1698
A flat rate was levied together with a graduated charge according to rank, occupation or office held, otherwise on their total assets. Jurowski et al. have a detailed list of amounts due by each rank for Charles I’s poll tax for disbanding the English army in 1641 after the war with Scotland, and the three graduated poll taxes granted for military and naval payments during Charles II’s restoration, in 1660, 1666-7, and 1677-8. Gibson & Dell list the few surviving returns for 1641, and Gibson (1998) similarly for 1660-1685. However, the surviving documents at TNA are overwhelmingly communal assessments with no named individuals, although a few files of exemption certificates are available. Local archives have some contributors’ lists, for example the Guildhall manuscript transcribed below . T. L. Stoate (Devon Taxes 1581-1660, 1988) has transcribed the 1660 Poll Tax for Devon and in Alphington parish, after a long list of nearly 400 households there is the small list of those exempt with their reasons, see below.

Chart : Exemptions from Poll Tax in Alphington, Devon 1660
A rate made the 27th September 1660 for the raising of money by an act of Parliament for the disbanding of the forces by sea and land on the persons underwritten according to their estates and qualities viz:
[Here is the list of 400 households]
Collectors: George Churchill, William Venicombe, Richard Hayne,
Thomas Walter.
The Booke is £59.18.0. Crave allowances by certificate.
From Sir William Courtney £1.8.0
From Henry Northleigh esq £1.4.0
Nicholas Ducke 8/-
Mrs Ann Prouze rated at Mamhead 1/-
Wid Pearse rated also elsewhere 1/-
Will Coche gon out of the parish 1/-
Mre Fleay by certificate 9/8
Mr Holder by certificate 12/-
Mr Risdon of Exeter certific. 6/-
George Clare by certificate 2/-
Mrs Taylor dead 1/-
John Webber & Will Lacie two polls not leaviable 2/-
[Total] £4.15.8
They are to pay £55.2.4

Further poll taxes were levied in:
w 1689-1691—see Blackfriar’s example below and the printed transcript for Bromsgrove, Worcestershire (Broomfield).
w 1694—see facsimile of return for Eton College, Buckinghamshire in Markwell & Saul page 70.
w 1698—see facsimile of return for Wyradsbury, Buckinghamshire in Markwell & Saul page 71.

Chart : Blacfriar’s, London Poll Tax 1689
City of London records at Guildhall film 0569946. Ms 7770
Those over 16 were charged 1/- but paupers were exempt. Servants were taxed on their wages although the value of these is unclear here.
A Copy of the Assesm’t for the Poll Tax Pd to Mr Wagstaff at Guildhall Jun 21 1689
Widd: Audsley and one child 2/-
Seth: Hardy and wife, lodgers 2/-
Will: Barrett and wife & three children 5/-
Ann Jones servant maid, for wages 3 (?) 2/6
Paul Dumolin, Peter Doyenne, lodgers 2/-
Isaac Porter & wife child & apprentice, lodgers 4/-
Peter Delamore, John Robinson, lodgers 2/-
Isaah Harris and wife, lodgers 2/-
Mrs Gosmer, Sarah Shaw, lodgers 2/-
Widd: Strode & two children, lodgers 3/-
A maid servant: wages 40 (?) 2/-
Peter Sambrook & wife & child, house, money & debts £3.3s.0d

Poll Tax - 1990-1993
The poll tax was re-introduced in 1990 as the Community Charge but, as in the 14th century, evasion and riots ensued and it disappeared three years later. This poll tax was partly responsible for Conservative Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s downfall.

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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 wiki@genealogicalstudies.com

We welcome updates and additions to this Wiki page.