Articles on the History of Essex, Researching your Ancestors, and British History

The Window Tax

punch cartoon on the window tax
Caption: A vision of the repeal of the window-tax. "Hollo! Old Fellow; we're glad to see you here."
Image from Punch Volume XVIIIPage 165, Wellcome Library, London, CC by 4.0

When letting in sunshine could cost you money.

First imposed in England in 1696, Window Tax was repealed in 1851 after campaigners argued that it was a 'tax on health', and a 'tax on light and air', as well as being an unequal tax with the greatest burden on the middle and lower classes.

Originally introduced to make up for losses caused by clipping of coinage during the reign of William III, the tax was based on the number of windows in a house. It was a banded tax, for instance, in 1747 for a house with ten to fourteen windows, the tax stood at 6d. per window, fifteen to nineteen windows, 9d., and exceeding twenty or more, 1s.. The tax was raised six times between 1747 and 1808. By then the lowest band started at six windows. This was raised in 1825 to eight windows.

The window tax was relatively easy to assess and collect as windows are clearly visible from the street.

As early as 1718 it was noted that there was a decline in revenue raised by the tax due to windows being blocked up. It was also observed that new houses were being built with fewer windows. In 1851, it was reported that the production of glass since 1810 remained almost the same despite the large increase population and building of new houses.

The complaints from the medical profession and enlightened individuals rapidly grew as the industrial revolution and urbanisation created mass housing and crowded cities, and raised the spectre of epidemics. They argued that the lack of windows tended to create dark, damp tenements which were a source of disease and ill-health.

The campaigners eventually won the argument and in 1851 the Act was repealed and replaced by a house tax. Punch Magazine celebrated its repeal with the cartoon shown above.

A tax on windows was also used in Scotland and France.

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