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Hearth Tax (Tax) (including Ireland)

Nature of Source

Lists of people liable to pay a tax on each fire, hearth and stove in a building. The tax was payable twice-yearly at Lady Day (25th March) and Michaelmas (29th September) at a rate of two shillings per year. The assessments were organised by county, parish and then hundred.

The collection process involved property owners and landlords making a written return of the number of their hearths within six days of the notice. The Parish Constable had the power to enter uninvited into every house to check the accuracy of the returns. The returns were handed over to the Justices of the Peace and enrolled in the Quarter Sessions. Two enrolled copies were made with one kept locally and the other sent to the Exchequer in London. The Parish Constable had the task of physically collecting the tax from those liable to pay and deliver the funds to the High Constable of the hundred together with a list of defaulters.

From 1664 changes were made to this system of collection with county officials, known as receivers, organising the collection. From 1674 onwards, the tax collecting function was put out to tender to so called farmers (a person who pays a fixed sum for some privilege or source of income). The returns collected by the farmers are all but lost or destroyed. The lists for the year 1664 are considered to provide the widest coverage. Most surviving records are those that were sent to the Exchequer for the years 1662 to 1666 and 1669 to 1674 which are now held at The National Archives. The tax was eventually abandoned after widespread popular dissent and replaced by the window tax.

The duplicate copies sent to the Exchequer are the most commonly consulted. However, the copying process has led to many errors of name spellings. Widows were named if head of household. The lists do not include all residents but only those liable to pay. However the lists do provide sufficient data to carry out a surname distribution analysis or to compile other possible family members listed in the vicinity.

From 1665 the records may include names of those exempt as the lists included those termed as 'not chargeable'. The category included the poor and those with property with a yearly rentable value of less than 20 shillings and an income of less than ten pounds a year.

The authorities were keen to ensure that those claiming exemption from the tax were entitled to do so. Therefore, a parishioner claiming exemption had to obtain an exemption certificate signed by the minister, churchwarden and two justices of the peace. These exemption certificates which were in operation from 1670 to 1674 provide similar information to the hearth lists themselves and are found in series E 179 at The National Archives or at County Record Offices. Some business premises, hospitals and almshouses were also exempt from the tax. For those that were found guilty of evading the tax, a prison sentence of up to a month was imposed. If a person does not appear in the returns, it could be worth searching the Quarter Session papers for these defaulters.

Giles Colchester offers to look up a surname and variant covering all the surviving hearth tax records for Suffolk in return for a small donation towards the maintenance of the church of St Mary in Barking, Suffolk. Contact Giles by email at [email protected] with 'Suffolk hearth tax' in the subject line together with the name and variants being searched.

In Ireland, the Hearth Tax covered the years from 1663 to 1795 and was recorded on Hearth Money Rolls. Only a few copies have survived for some places (mostly Northern Ireland) with most originals destroyed in the 1922 Four Courts fire. The Rolls will list the name of the head of the household and the number of hearths in a dwelling. Also consult the Subsidy Rolls which list the nobility, clergy and laity who paid a grant in aid to the King and Poll Tax Rolls.

Where Found

The National Archives (E 179, Exchequer: King's Remembrancer: Particulars of Account and other records relating to Lay and Clerical Taxation, 1662 to 1666 and 1669 to 1674)
County Record Offices (Constables' and Quarter Session copies. Additionally, all county record offices have been supplied with their local returns from The National Archives)
British Record Society (County volumes and a volume of exemption certificates indexed by surnames and by places published in association with University of Roehampton. Transcriptions include coverage of Cambridgeshire, Kent, Norfolk, County Durham and Yorkshire West Riding. Founded in 1889, the society specialises in publishing indexes, calendars and transcripts of British public records. The society is best known for indexes to pre-1858 wills and Hearth Tax returns. Other indexes include marriage licences, inquisitions post mortem, chancery proceedings and Coram Rege Rolls. Also check with local Record Societies for indexes and calendars of material held at a local level. Volumes can be found at local libraries, family history societies, the British Library, TNA library, and the Society of Genealogists)
Society of Genealogists
British Library
List and Index Society (Published transcribed returns. The Society publishes records found in The National Archives, the British Museum, Scottish Record Office and others. The published records includes calendars of TNA's holdings of Lay Subsidy Rolls, calendars of Patent Rolls, Tithe Award Records. Publications in yellow binders or covers relate to TNA records whilst those in red relate to records from other sources)
Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI)
National Archives of Ireland

Period Covered

1662 - 1689

Genealogical Value

Assessments and returns provide the names of heads of households liable to pay the tax and their addresses; Names of those exempt from payment (from 1670); Names of defaulters; Number of hearths per household and the total paid.

Further References

Chapman, Colin. Pre-1841 Censuses & Population Listings in the British Isles: Lochin Publishing, 2002 (Preview available from Google Books)  

Gibson, Jeremy. The Hearth Tax, Other Later Stuart Tax Lists, and the Association Oath Rolls: FFHS, 1996


Gurrin, Brian. The Hearth Tax Roll for Dublin City, 1663: Analecta Hibernica, 2004


Meekings, C.A.F. Analysis of Hearth Tax Accounts, 1662-1666: List and Index Society, 1979


Parkinson, Elizabeth. The Establishment of The Hearth Tax 1662-1666. List & Index Society, 2008


Mumby, L.M & L.K Thompson, L.K. & Forster, G.C.F. Short Guides to Records: First Series-Guides 1-24: The Historical Association, 1994


Oates, Jonathan. Tracing Your Ancestors from 1066 to 1837: Pen and Sword Books, 2012


Schürer, Kevin & Arkell, Tom. Surveying the People: The Interpretation and Use of Document Sources for the Study of Population in the Later Seventeenth Century England: Local Population Studies, 1996


TNA Research Guide: Taxation Before 1689

Websites (Centre for Hearth Tax Research. The centre based at University of Roehampton makes the hearth tax returns available to the research and teaching community and to a range of general users interested in a number of themes, ranging from family history to historical demography. In partnership with the British Record Society and local record societies, the centre publishes the hard-copy editions of returns. See below for details of online access to hearth tax assessments and returns) (Description of the origins and administrative history of the hearth tax. Find the guide by selecting ‘Search by tax grant information’ on the search screen and then selecting one of the hearth tax collections and then click on the ‘i’ button) (Guide and details of volumes for sale) (Centre for Hearth Tax Research: University of Roehampton: Using the Hearth Tax for Genealogy and Family History) (London and Middlesex Hearth Tax, 1666: an analysis of the status and wealth of neighbourhoods and households on the eve of the Great Fire) (Hearth Tax Online. The site is a platform for the publication and dissemination of research and analysis on hearth tax records and other associated documents) (Seventeenth Century Census Substitutes including the Hearth Tax) (Seventeenth Century Census Substitutes including the Hearth Tax) (Lurgan [County Armagh, Northern Ireland] Hearth Tax Rolls, 1664 with a history of the tax) (Research Wiki: Ireland Taxation, Hearth Tax)

Online Databases

England (Hearth Tax Digital. Austrian Centre for Digital Humanities at the University of Graz in partnership with the Centre for Hearth Tax Research. The site provides online access to transcribed assessments and returns, which can be read in the order they were originally written and fully searched) (E 179 database: Guide and catalogue descriptions of lay and clerical tax records in England and Wales held in series E 179 at The National Archives, searchable by place name, type of tax and year range. The database shows what tax lists have survived for each area with a reference for ordering the original document. Individual names are not recorded, although the existence of such names is highlighted. Each type of tax has explanatory notes. The database includes Lay Subsidy Rolls, the Hearth Tax and Poll Tax but does not include local assessments held in County Record Offices or those held in the British Library)
British History Online (Online transcribed extracts of Hearth tax returns including returns of the Hearth Tax assessment for the City of London in 1662; returns of the Hearth Tax assessment for the City of Westminster in 1664; returns of the Hearth Tax assessment for the City of London and Middlesex in 1666. British History Online consists of a digital library of British historical sources developed by Institute of Historical Research and the History of Parliament Trust. The site is free to use with a search facility linking users to full transcripts of various sources. The contents of British History Online can also be searched at Connected Histories together with a number of other databases) (Warwickshire Quarter Session Records: Hearth tax returns, 1662-1673 produced in association with Warwickshire County Record Office) (Suffolk Hearth Tax Returns, 1674, browsable images) (Northamptonshire Hearth Tax 1673-1674. This dataset includes all the legible details relating to over 22,500 individuals found in the original records for the whole of Northamptonshire)
(City of York Hearth & Window Tax 1665-1778. The dataset consists tax records covering the city and Ainsty of York) (Locating London´s Past: Centre for Metropolitan History: Surviving returns for metropolitan London for Lady Day 1666, with gaps filled by earlier returns) (Oxford History: Hearth Tax of 1665 in Oxford) (The 1662 Hearth Tax Returns for Ploughley Hundred area in Oxfordshire) (Transcribed data covering 40 square miles around Wirksworth and Matlock, Derbyshire. Data sets include Parish Records 1600-1900, Derbyshire Wills 1525-1928, census returns, Petty sessions, Memorial Inscriptions, Board of Guardians, Hearth Tax and others) (Transcripts of Census & Hearth Tax Assessments for Repton & Gresley Hundred, South Derbyshire) (Online Parish Clerks: The project is run by volunteers who collect and transcribe parish records for a chosen Parish and make the data available for free online. The range of information covered includes Apprentice Indentures, Census Returns, Parish Registers, Bastardy Bonds, Settlement Certificates & Removal Orders, Militia/Muster records, Directories, Land Tax Assessments, Workhouse/Poor Law records, Churchwardens Accounts, Tithe Apportionments, Wills, Poor Rate Payers, Lay Subsidies, Protestation Returns, MIs, Church Memorials and Hearth Tax records. Old parish maps and photos are often included)
Ireland (Hearth Money Rolls, 1664 for those Townlands comprising Upper & Lower Fewes) (Ulster Ancestry Free Genealogy Pages: Donegal Hearth Money Rolls, 1663; Hearth Money Roll For The Parish Of Leck, 1665; Fermanagh Poll Tax and Subsidy Roll, 1660 and 1667)
(Irish Family History Foundation: Online Genealogy Databases for Ireland including Hearth Money Rolls. See web site for material available for each county which can include births/baptisms, marriages and deaths, Griffiths valuation and census returns) (Hearth Money Rolls covering Armagh,1665, Louth,1664, Sligo,1665 & Monaghan, 1663-1665) (Lurgan [County Armagh, Northern Ireland] Hearth Tax Rolls, 1664) (Irish Genealogical Research Society: Index of Townlands, 1901: Searchable database of over 64,000 townlands in Ireland which are ancient land divisions measuring from just a few acres to several hundred and still in use today)

Check local family history societies for local coverage.

CD Roms

S & N Genealogy Supplies (Suffolk in 1674-Hearth Tax Returns; Somerset Hearth Tax Returns 1664-5; Pembrokeshire Records-1066-1934) (Cornwall Hearth and Poll Taxes 1660-1664, Devon Hearth Tax Returns 1674, Dwelly's Somerset Hearth Tax)
Sheffield & District Family History Society
(Hearth Tax Returns for South Yorkshire Lady Day 1672)
Check local family history societies for local coverage