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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 ($).

Hearth Tax 1662-1689

This novel tax was granted to Charles II in 1662 as a permanent form of revenue assessed only indirectly on wealth. It was assessed on occupiers, not landlords, and was based on the number of hearths (including fires and stoves) in the dwelling and thus gives the researcher an idea of the size of each household, and by inference the relative affluence of the occupant. In towns, especially, a house might contain more than one family. Two shillings (2/-) per hearth was paid by the occupier in two installments, at Lady Day (25 March) and Michaelmas (29 Sep). Smaller dwellings which were exempt included:

w Houses worth less than 20 shillings (£1) per annum and not paying parish rates.
w Those occupied by people on poor relief.
w Charitable institutions such as schools and almshouses.
w Industrial hearths, except smith’s forges and bakers’ ovens.
w Inmates of hospitals and almshouses.
w Private ovens and kilns.

In the records the number of hearths might be inaccurate, and might change from year to year; a rough guide to social groups follows:

Chart : Hearths and Status
8 and above Gentry and above with many surviving examples today.
4-7 Wealthy craftsmen & tradesmen, merchants and yeomen, some of whose houses survive today.
2-3 Craftsmen, tradesmen and yeomen, very few of which have survived to modern times.
1 Labouring poor, husbandmen, poor craftsmen whose homes have long since vanished. One hearth could typically heat four small rooms, two up and two down stairs often occupied by two or even more families.

Those who were exempt were required to produce their exemption certificates, obtained from the parish clergyman, churchwardens and overseers of the poor and signed by two JPs (magistrates). The thorough researcher should therefore also check any collections of manuscript or printed hearth tax exemption certificates, which are sometimes grouped by county. Those who are too eager to say my ancestors were too poor to be in the tax returns might pause to consider these exemption certificates; in Shropshire there were 62 at Stanton Lacy in 1670, and 118 in Ludlow in 1673. One might chart the rise and fall of family prosperity through looking at the exemptions as well as the returns (Atkinson).

An interesting exemption certificate for hearths stopped up appears in the Sussex Hearth Tax Returns for Michaelmas 1663. Charles de Beauvais, rector of Withyham, Co. Sussex (1639-1669), explains that two of his chimneys have been stopped up since the Burning of our Parish Church, for the better accommodation of our Parishioners, who meate for Religious Exercises in my Halls and in my Parlour. It is countersigned on the back by two magistrates, one of whom, John Baker, the rector vouches as a Member of this Assemblie.

In some places it appears that only non-paupers needed certificates if they were eligible for them. A printed exemption form was in use from 1670. After 1663 the lists may contain lists of chargeable and non-chargeable heads of households, but they may come as a block entry at the end of the hundred rather than parish-by-parish.

The Great Fire prevented the vast majority of the hearth taxes for 1666 being collected from the city of London. The list was made only a short time before the fire and showed 6326 hearths with only 299 having been paid for. Only 35 that had not been paid were in houses left standing.

The usefulness of the hearth tax for family historians is far greater in those years where the names of those considered sufficiently poor to be exempted were listed, as a relatively high percentage of the population is then included, an example of this found below .

Chart : Leicester Hearth Tax 1664
Transcribed by Hartopp Film 0477390
The Halfe Year’s Duty of Hearth Money at Micha[elm]as 1664
Alderman Callis’ Warde
The whole of St. Nicholas Parish including Applegate Street and the Black Prince
Ellen Bonnet 3 Samuel Marshall 1
John Coates 2 George Itches 2
Robert Spenser 3 Benjamin Stanley 2
Thomas Thompson 4 William Adcocke 3
William Tompson 6 Richard Springthorpe 2
David Deakins 1 Edward Burstall 3
Samuel Wilson 5 George Mountney gent 5
Widdow Herrick 1 Henery Mountney 1
Thomas Ward 3 Mrs Badger 2
Henery Coates 1 William Dane 4
Richard Leget 3 George Ball 1
John Huckle gent 2 Robert Langton 1
Mrs Mason 4 William Johnson 2
William Billers gent 5 Mr Atkasson 3
--- Atton widow 2 John Atton 3
Rowland Marlow 2 James Palmer 1
Thomas Lewin 3 Mr Duncomb 3
Edward Hunt senr 1 Henery Newbie 1
Edward Hunt junr 1 William Billings 2
Anne Cotes widow 1 Francis King 1
William Ward 2 William Coleman 1
Francis Imines 2 John Bradburie 1
Robert Ogden 1 John Tapper 3
Samuel Lufkin 1 Thomas Mason 2
Robert Browne 2 Samuel Wilson 1
Anthonie Biggs 2 David Deakins 1
Dannet Almond 3 John Blastocke 1
Richard Kirke 1 -- Grimes wid
Returned no charges 1
Richard Seele 1

The remainder are termed Paupers their assessments being cancelled
William Herricke 1 Mary Browne 1
Katherine Wood wid 1 Anne Kirke wid 1
Robert Rideings 1 Richard Coleman 1
--- Read wid 1 William Cooper 1
William Ferne 1 Thomas Ozin 1
John Blastock senr 1 --- Abbot wid 1
Robert Browne 1 William Aston 1
--- Almond wid 1 Robert Turner 1
--- Aslin wid 12 Jone Burstall wid 1
Robert Webster 1 Elizabeth Kirke 1
Thomas Cooper 1 Richard Coleman 1
Timothy Dawes 1 Richard Imenes 1
Ellen Dawes 1 --- Guy wid 1
--- Ball wid 1 Bartholomew Sheers 1
John Brian 1 John Paine 1
The sum charged 1 shilling

Although intended to be a permanent source of government revenue when introduced by Charles II after his restoration it was very unpopular, perhaps because it (along with the contemporaneous excise tax) was a tax on consumption, but also because the constable was permitted to enter their house and count the hearths—a concept repugnant to any Englishman! The tax was described in the abolishing Act (1688) as not onely a great depression to the poorer sort but a badge of Slavery upon the whole people exposeing every mans house to be entered into and searched at pleasure by persons unknown to him.
Cases are known where hearths were blocked up for the inspection and unblocked afterwards, and magistrates were keener on preventing hardship by granting exemption certificates than on collecting the king’s revenue. State Papers are full of stories of violence towards collectors, also known as chimney men.

Returns had to be made to the Justices of the Peace by the village constables and tithingmen. The system of collection and the difficulties encountered are related by Howell (Hearth Tax Returns #7 in Short Guides to Records edited by Lionel M. Munby), Pearl (Parish Sources. Part I Hearth Tax: The Census of the 17th Century. Family Tree Magazine Vol. 7 #5, page 24-25, 1991), Rosewarne (Hearth Tax 1662-89. West Middlesex Family History Society Journal Vol. 6 #6, page 183-186), West (1986) and by Jurkowski et al.( Lay Taxes in England and Wales 1188-1688, 1998) who also illustrate a page of the Lady Day 1666 hearth tax for the city of London. The latter shows the king’s baker, Thomas Farrinor on the east side of Pudding Lane, with five hearths and one oven, where the Great Fire started on 2nd September 1666. The Hearth Tax was repealed in 1689 by William and Mary and replaced by further new forms of taxation.

The original assessment records only survive for the counties of Devon, Essex, Kent, Lancashire, Middlesex, Warwickshire and Westmorland, and Caernarvonshire (in Wales) and these are at their county record offices. They may include information from periods where national records are deficient, such as 1675-1688.

For the rest of the country, the genealogist will be consulting the Exchequer duplicates of the assessments, which are more legible than the parish constables’ returns to the Quarter Sessions. These are the lists of names and numbers of hearths and are very bulky. In addition there are several other types of documents relating to the Hearth Tax:

ú Accounts of payments for the collection areas.
ú Schedules of arrears of payments.
ú Particulars of accounts.
ú Record of the Exchequer tallies of receipt.
ú Auditors’ miscellanea.
ú Exemption certificates.

These can be found mostly in class E 179 at TNA, through the online E 179 database. The description includes the word names if nominal returns are included, the others are only accounts.

Virtually no nominal returns survive (Hey) for the period (1666-1669) when it was administered by receivers (tax farmers who paid a fee to the government and then collected the tax). Tax farmers were not required to send their assessments to the Exchequer, and were hampered by outbreaks of the plague and the destruction of their office in the Great Fire of London which also diminished the hearth revenues from the City of London. Many of the most informative returns have been published; those from 1662-1666 and 1669-1674, the most complete being that for 25 March 1664.

Status may be shown for gentlemen, esquires, clerks or widows as shown below. Although occupations are not usually given, they are sometimes shown to differentiate those with common names, and the presence of forges and ovens identify bakers (Thomas Farrinor, above) and smiths such as Richard Cheete of Upper Tockington, Gloucestershire 1671 assessed at 1 hearth and 1 forge.

The hearth tax contributors in Brighton, Sussex were listed by area and a number of notes give extra information on occupations or status.

Chart : Hearth Tax Returns 1664 for Brighton, Hundred of Whalesbonne, Sussex [data from Burchall]
Midlestreet on the Cliffe Tho Baker seaman
John Baker seaman
Thomas Masters lost at sea 1664/5
Mary Jenner widd 1
West Street Elizabeth Gold widd 2
North Street Edward Lowe clerke
John Friend senior
John Friend junr
John Friend carpenter 6
Hempsheres Edward Fiveash 5
Midlestreete John Bennat gen’ 2
Under the Cliffe George Pearce
John Pearce 2
On the Cliffe Henry Beach junr (ye Towne house) 4
On the Steane Thomas Chisman 3

Amongst the Hearth tax papers for Cornwall is a white leather bag containing schedules of Constables Arrears, that is those taxes that the constables have not yet collected. They are divided into:

I. Schedule of Persons’ Arrears - Hopeful
II. Schedule of Persons’ Arrears - Desperate

The term desperate being used of any amount unlikely to ever be received.

Various taxes of Compton, Hampshire have been transcribed in one volume (film 1544503), for example those shown here .

Chart : Hearth Tax 1673 Compton, Hants
Sir Robert Worsley
Ditto 10 4
1 William Meres
and a forge 2
Gervase Newbald
(Jerome Newbolt) 4

Mr Burt 7
William Williams 3 John Calloway 3
JohnCreman 3 Thomas Ford 1
Richard Goldfinch 4 Widow Symms 2
Francis White 5 William Meres 1
Richard Martin 3 Mr Taylor 11
William Greene 1 Mr Ward 6
George Hide 2
List of Exemptions c 1670
These persons under written receive ye constant almes of ye parish of Compton
Widow Annell William Cuell
Barbara Overton Henery Saite
Widow Jelly Petter Beane
John Elcocke
[signed} George Hide churchwarden

The Devon Hearth Tax Returns for 1674 have been transcribed by Stoate (1982) but much is missing or illegible. My Dashwoods should have been in Exeter and that is missing, and not one Chowins of any spelling are on the surviving lists of contributors or paupers! Were the returns just illegible or did my folk evade the tax as many did?

Gibson has listed all known extant Hearth Tax returns as well as other contemporary lists by county, including the printed editions, and many originals and transcripts have been filmed. TNA research guide D32 is a useful resource.
The hearth tax returns form the biggest set of records about the population of England & Wales between Domesday and the 1801 census. They compensate in several ways for the deficiencies and haphazard records of the civil war and commonwealth period, and are also useful in finding families who were split up as a result of those hostilities.

The University of Surrey has founded a Hearth Tax Centre at its Roehampton campus to promote research into late 17th century society using the Hearth Tax records. It is creating a huge database of all the surviving information including assessments, returns and exemption certificates. It has also arranged for conservation and microfilming of those at TNA, and distribution to all county archives so they are more widely available (Gibson (The Hearth Tax Kent and Cambridgeshire 1664. Genealogists’ Magazine Vol. 27 #4, page 154-157, 2001), Spufford (The Potential of the Hearth Tax Returns. The Local Historian Vol. 30 #4, 2000), Wood (Our Industrious Forebears. Family Tree Magazine Vol. 18 #11, page 55-57, 2002)).

In addition, county volumes are being published by the British Record Society in conjunction with the county record societies, starting with:

ú Cambridgeshire Returns Michaelmas 1664 (Evans & Rose, Cambridgeshire Hearth Tax 1664, 2000).
ú Kent Assessments Lady Day 1664 (Harrington & Rose, Kent Hearth Tax 1664, 2000).
ú Norfolk Exemption Certificates for Norwich, Thetford, Yarmouth and King’s Lynn 1670-1674.
ú County Durham Lady Day 1666 and Lady Day 1674.
ú Northumberland Lady Day 1666
ú Cumberland, Westmorland & Furness (a district in NW Lancashire bordering on Westmorland).
ú Huntingdonshire Michaelmas 1664 and 1674.
ú Northamptonshire Michaelmas 1664 and Lady Day 1674.
ú Essex Michaelmas 1666
ú Worcestershire
ú Lancashire
ú Warwickshire 1666
ú Wiltshire.

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.