The Economic History Review

The unpopularity of the hearth tax and the social geography of London in 1666

Volume 70 Issue 2
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Pages: 452-482Authors: Andrew Wareham
Published online: November 20, 2016DOI: 10.1111/ehr.12376

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This article presents a new evaluation of the Restoration hearth tax and the social geography of London, first, by comparing the 1666 London hearth tax return with unpublished collectors’ accounts; second, by analysing the huge amount of extraneous data in these records on the social conditions in London; and third, by considering how different forms of tax avoidance and tax evasion operated on the streets of London. The article discusses wealth distribution by location and social status, and shows how privileged groups used diplomatic, ecclesiastical, and military rank to avoid the hearth tax, while ordinary householders turned to doorstep opposition, especially in the outer and poorer suburbs, in expressing their hostility towards the heath tax. The article demonstrates that in Metropolitan London the assessment and collection of the hearth tax depended not only upon the enforcement of the parliamentary legislation, but also upon negotiation and give-and-take between tax collectors and tax payers, sometimes in consultation with the Crown. As a result the hearth tax failed to fill the king’s purse, was unpopular in the capital and in the country, and created onerous work for both auditors and hearth tax collectors, which contributed to the short life of the hearth tax (1662-89).