After more than 12 years as Project Manager and Research Officer for the Centre for Hearth Tax Research, it is with something of a heavy heart that I write my very last blog post for the project.
I started with the Project way back in 2004, working with the late Professor Margaret Spufford and, at that time, I had no idea the hearth tax would become such an enduring part of my working life. Since then, I have completed a BA, a PhD and gone on to become a senior lecturer in modern British history, but throughout all that time and all those changes, working for the Project has been a hugely enjoyable and rewarding occupation.
In many ways, working for the Project has given me much stability and security over the years which has allowed me to develop and grow in other areas of my career. It has also brought me into contact with a wide and varied range of different people, which has been extremely rewarding and from whom I have learned a great deal. I have also learned a lot about a fascinating topic and one which I would probably not otherwise have strayed into as my research interests generally lie in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Working for the Project has, over the years, given me another string to my bow and that has also been very stimulating and useful.
The Project today is rather different to the one I started with back in 2004 but what has stayed consistent is the attention to detail, the drive to collect and produce the best possible research and the desire to disseminate that research to the widest possible audience and through the highest quality of publications. The Project was, essentially, built upon the work of a team of volunteer transcribers and some of my earliest experiences with the Project were working closely with them coordinating the valuable and painstaking transcription work that they undertook for us. Much of the transcribed material the Project is currently working with is derived from the work undertaken by the volunteers and the value of their contribution, right back at the beginning when we were finding out feet, cannot be overstated.
In my time with the Project, we have worked with the British Record Society to produce seven hearth tax volumes, all of which have taken us into new territories and challenged us in new ways which have then gone on to make the Project bigger and better. Exemption certificates now play a much more central part in our volumes and we have moved more towards working with the best available selection of records (rather than a single document) where needs be. What has become clear over the years is that the hearth tax is so much more complicated than we first imagined, but so much more rewarding and useful to work with as a result of that. There are many more volumes in the pipeline and I am very proud to have done my part in getting those volumes ready and undertaking various levels of analysis upon the material within them. As a subscriber to the British Record Society I know I will have the immense pleasure of continuing to receive each new volume as it emerges from the Project; something I am very much looking forward to.
Looking back on my years with the Project, there is, of course, much sadness for the people who we have lost. My time working with Margaret Spufford was very important to me and she was one of the people who opened my eyes to what academia could offer and gave me the belief and confidence that it was an arena I could inhabit and, in my own ways, be successful in. I also have extremely fond memories of working with David Hey and, again, he did a great deal to inspire me in terms of the power of knowledge and the importance of both education and curiosity. Early on in my time with the Project, we lost Mike Power, whose work on the London hearth tax would go on to form such a touchstone for us when we came to tackle the capital. Sadly, there have been numerous other introducers, transcribers and collaborators that we have lost along the way, but I know their work will live on in the Project’s publications.
If I think of my high points, a few different things come to mind. The first would be the completion of the London and Middlesex Hearth Tax Project and the two-volume publication that resulted from it. The London project represented both the largest volume of material we had (and have) ever analysed and the most complex collection of material we had (and have) ever analysed. The challenges were steep, but it was hugely satisfying to overcome them and to work on such a fascinating piece of London history which captured one of the city’s landmark events. Another highlight would be the conferences we staged and, in particular, the 2009 ‘Charity and Community’ conference which was one of the first major events I ever organised. Again, it was an immense amount of hugely stressful work, but the end result was a brilliant conference, that was thoroughly enjoyed by all, and one that I am still very proud to have organised.
The overriding highlight, though, must really be the people who I have worked closely with during my time in the Project and who have become friends as well as colleagues. This is not the appropriate platform to mention them by name, but they will know who they are and I will so miss working with them. The Hearth Tax Project has always relied upon a large degree of goodwill and everyone involved, whether paid or unpaid, always goes out of their way to go over and beyond what is expected of them; it seems to be a topic that attracts that sort of interest! For me, the hearth tax project has always been about the people; be it the people in the documents, the people who established the project or the people who have worked so hard (and continue to work so hard) to support it and to keep it going. It is the people that I will miss the most.
For the last seven years of my time at the Hearth Tax Project I have also been working part-time as a lecturer and then senior lecturer in modern British history at Goldsmiths, University of London. I have worked very hard to grow and develop my role at Goldsmiths during that time, always with the goal that I might work my way up to a full-time post there; something which has now become a reality. My new role at Goldsmiths will undoubtedly be very challenging but I am very much looking forward to it. They say that as one door closes another one opens and that is so much so in this case. I don’t imagine that I will ever completely close the door on the hearth tax, nor would I want to, but the time has come to step through another door and fully embrace the brave new world that lies within.
John Price, Project Manager and Research Officer (2004-2017)