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Rate Books, (Parish)

Nature of Source

Records of local rates recorded in rate books which were kept by the church vestry. Rate lists can be found in the parish vestry accounts, the overseer's accounts or the churchwarden's accounts. The rates were levied on property owners and occupiers based on the yearly value of property. As the demands of the poor consumed greater amounts of funds, the majority of the separate rates were merged into a single Poor Rate in 1739 (see Overseer Accounts). The rate was mainly used to raise money for poor relief but also for other local services such as church expenses, public highways, educational needs as well as drainage and sewer maintenance. Separate Church Rates were was used for the maintenance of the church. County or Borough rates were levied to fund items such as gaols and hospitals and were set by the Justices at the Quarter Sessions.

Most rates were introduced following Parliamentary Acts of 1598 (Act for the Relief of the Poor) and 1601 (Poor Law Act) which formalised the rating system and specified the compulsory setting of a local rate. The Acts made the parish responsible for poor relief and required the registration of all property. Other rates collected at parish level included County or Borough rates and national rates. Rates were usually levied in June (Midsummer), October (Michaelmas) and January (Christmas).

By the 18th century, the rate books show the ownership of property and possibly its location, the amounts collected and occasionally additional comments on the owners and their property. In this way it may be possible to trace the occupation of a dwelling over a number of years. However, the address may be listed simply as 'a house'. The books can also act as a form of census or directory of local people and can be used to track surname distribution. The sudden absence of a name could indicate death, change of ownership or movement away from the area. The books are arranged street-by-street which is a hindrance when looking for a named individual as is the lack of name indexes. However, the arrangement of the books is particularly useful for researching the history of a house or the development of an area. The names of those that were too poor to pay are also listed. After 1834 the owner and occupier were listed with printed standard forms used.

Survival of Rate Books date mainly from late 18th century when an Act of 1744 gave residents the right to inspect the books, but still many have been lost. Unfortunately, population growth especially in urban areas led to a huge increase in the amount of rate books produced and many authorities simply destroyed the records. Rating disputes were heard at the Quarter Sessions. For urban areas also check the availability of Sewer Rate Books. Non conformists objected to paying the church rate and the rate was finally abolished in 1868. The collection of rates was transferred to the newly established local authorities from 1894. Finally, the Board of Guardians and the Poor Law Rate were abolished in 1929 with Local Authorities assuming sole responsibility for raising local taxation.

Also see
Census Returns
Directories, Trade, Professional, Telephone & Street
Electoral Registers
House Histories
Land and Property Records including Title Deeds
Poll Books
Tithe Award Records/Apportionments
Valuation Office Field Books & Maps
Valuation Rolls & Stent Rolls (Scotland)

Where Found

Period Covered

1601 - Onwards

Genealogical Value

Name and address of owners and tenants. Occasionally occupations. Location, description and size of holding or property. Tenants occasionally listed. Date the building was first occupied.
Useful for house histories.

Further References

Munby, Lionel M. & Thompson, Kathryn (eds) Short Guides to Records: First Series-Guides 1-24: The Historical Association, 1994  
Tate, William Edward. The Parish Chest: Phillimore, 1983 (Preview available from Google Books)  


Online Databases

Online Catalogues (Listing of online catalogues for the partial whereabouts of records including Access to Archives [A2A]) (Manchester Rate Books, 1706-1900; Plymouth & West Devon Rate Books, 1598-1933; Southwark Rate Books; Westminster Rate Books, 1634-1900) (Birmingham, England, Rate Books, 1831-1913. These records, produced in partnership with the Library of Birmingham, include a listing of who occupied the house, who owned the house, the type of dwelling, the name or situation of the property, how much rent was collected, and the rates paid) (West Yorkshire, Select Rate Books, Accounts and Censuses, 1705-1893) (Tower Hamlets Archives Collection: Bow Poor Rate Book December 1820; Bromley St. Leonard Poor Rate Book, 1821; Limehouse Rate Book, 1767; Spitalfields Rate Book, 1700) (London Lives: Westminster Poll Books and Rate Books, 1749-1820) (Westminster Rate Books, 1634-1900.This collection contains rate books from various parishes in Westminster City. The collection was originally filmed at the Westminster City Archives and the index was created by (Dorset, England, Parish Poor Law Records, 1511-1997. The original records are held at the Dorset History Centre) (Warwickshire, Miscellaneous Parish Records including rate books produced in association with Warwickshire County Record Office)
(Bath Record Office: Bath Ancestors Database: Parish Poor Rate; City Rates)

Some indexes available at a local level.

CD Roms

Glamorgan Family History Society (Merthyr Tydfil Rate Assessment Book 1821-1822)