University of the Third Age and the Hearth Tax

Our collaborative project with the University of the Third Age is now underway with three groups of volunteers working on Hearth Tax documents.

On 9th January in London and 13th January in Birmingham we held training days for our U3A groups. As well as plenty of practical tips on researching seventeenth-century local history, the sessions gave everyone a chance to get to know each other.

U3A Shared Learning Project meets to discuss the Restoration hearth tax.

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U3A team meets to discuss Restoration hearth tax at Birkbeck.

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U3A members are using Hearth Tax returns from the City of London, Greenwich and the West Midlands to uncover hidden histories. With the returns as a starting point, they’ll be using other documents to trace the stories of people, buildings and localities mentioned in the Hearth Tax.

Centre Director Andrew Wareham and General Editor Catherine Ferguson from the Centre for Hearth Tax Research as well as specialists from the University of Roehampton, Birkbeck College and the Society of Genealogists were on hand to help the groups. Training sessions covered paleography, accessing archives and the documentary sources available for seventeenth-century history.

We’re very excited to see what the U3A members find; the volunteer groups are free to follow their own interests and explore the full range of the possibilities suggested by the Hearth Tax returns.

Watch this space over the coming months for blog posts from the U3A groups about the progress of their research.


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Hearth Tax Instagram

The Hearth Tax Centre now has an Instagram account. Follow us to see hearths and the historic buildings and landscapes they’re part of. We’ll also show you what we’re up to, including our exciting project with U3A members.

Remember that you can follow us on Twitter as well for the latest news about the Centre.

A fine hearth from Rievaulx abbey in North Yorkshire on an autumn day.

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Updates from the Hearth Tax Centre

As 2017 draws to a close, there have been a number of exciting changes here at the Hearth Tax Centre.

New Research Officer

We have welcomed Charlie Berry to the Centre as Research Officer, taking over from John Price who moved on earlier this year. Alongside her work on the Hearth Tax Project, Charlie is in the finishing stages of a PhD at the Institute of Historical Research. Her research focuses on neighbourhoods on the fringes of London in the fifteenth century and social marginality in the city.

Hearth tax local history project with U3A

We’re also undertaking a new project in partnership with the University of the Third Age (U3A). From January 2018, three groups of U3A members in the West Midlands and London will be investigating hearth tax returns in their area with an aim to connect the hearth tax with other records and uncover hidden local histories. We’re still looking for participants for the West Midlands and South-East London groups. See this poster for the project for further details if you would like to be involved.

Hearth Tax Online

After a ransomware attack in the summer, Hearth Tax Online continues to be down. We’re currently working on restoring the service: watch this space for an exciting announcement about the future of the web site coming soon.

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A fond farewell

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)

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London Hearth Tax Mapping: A ‘Charles Booth’ for the Seventeenth Century?

Soon after the Centre for Hearth Tax Research started working on the 1666 London hearth tax, I had an idea in the back of my mind to compare and contrast an analysis of wealth and poverty derived from the hearth tax with the work and findings of the nineteenth century social analyst Charles Booth. First things first, why did I think this was a good or plausible idea?

For those unfamiliar with the work of Charles Booth, between 1886 and 1903 he researched and published a seventeen-volume study of wealth and poverty in London entitled Life and Labour of the People of London. Booth’s study was pioneering in many ways but probably his most notable achievement (and the one that has endured longest in the minds of the public) were his ‘Maps Descriptive of London Poverty’ in which he brought together socio-economic analyses and geographical locations to produce maps of wealth and poverty. As you can see in this example, Booth maps his data down to street level and uses a series of colours to denote levels of wealth and poverty; broadly speaking, the pinks and reds indicate prosperity and the blues and blacks identify poverty and (for Booth) criminality.

Booth Map

An example Booth Map from 1891

It has, for many years, struck me that the maps produced by Booth, and the rationale behind them, are not that different to those produced by the Centre (see below an example map from Essex).

Essex Hearth Tax Map

Essex Hearth Tax Map of Wealth and Poverty

When we first began analysing the 1666 London hearth tax it was exciting to realise the extent to which the administrators and collectors of the tax had recorded the names of streets, alleys and courts in great detail, as you can see in this example from book 3 (see below). This led me to suppose that mapping the hearth tax data down to street level might be possible, thus finally facilitating a comparison with Booth. However, it quickly became apparent that this would be problematic for a number of reasons. The most fundamental problem with comparing the hearth tax with Booth is that the hearth tax documents which contain the most detailed street-level information are predominantly those recording City of London parishes, whereas Booth excluded the City of London from his study because, by his time, he believed that far fewer people resided there.

Book 3 of the London Hearth Tax with locations highlighted

Book 3 of the 1666 London hearth tax with locations highlighted

The second problem with mapping the hearth tax to street level, is that the closest suitable street-level maps for London in sufficient detail to equate with the 1666 hearth tax are the ward and parish maps published in John Strype’s 1720 updated version of John Stow’s Survey of London. So, although very detailed for the time, the Strype maps document a post-fire London while much of the hearth tax data is pre-fire. It quickly became disappointingly clear that any systematic, large scale street-level comparison of the 1666 hearth tax with the data and maps of Charles Booth was not going to be feasible. But what about opportunities for smaller and more focussed comparative case studies?

Maps of London produced for John Strype's 1720 Survey of London

Maps of London produced for John Strype’s 1720 Survey of London

A quick analysis of the London and Middlesex hearth tax database revealed that, outside of the City parishes, one area for which a good amount of street-level information was recorded in the 1666 hearth tax records was the hamlet of Ratcliff in the parish of St Dunstan Stepney. This area also initially offered exciting potential for mapping the hearth tax data to street level. Not only had it been documented in good detail on Strype’s 1720 map, but the map itself even provided a very useful table of streets, courts and alleys in the district. However, more disappointment was to follow. Comparing the locations listed in the 1666 hearth tax records for St Dunstan Stepney with those recorded on Strype’s map revealed a far from perfect match and there was not enough similarity between the map and the records to equate them to street level.

Ratcliffe hamlet on the 1720 map complete with table listing streets, courts and alleys

Ratcliff hamlet on the 1720 map complete with a table listing streets, courts and alleys

On the plus side, though, there was just enough apparent connection between the two sources to more broadly equate portions of the households listed on the manuscript with the wider areas demarcated by letters on the table given on the map. Although not ideal and by no means a street by street demarcation, this was, at least, something to work with and so I located and outlined those alphabetical zones onto Strype’s 1720 map.

Alphabetical zones based on the areas demarcated on Strype's map

Alphabetical zones based on the areas demarcated on Strype’s map

Alphabetical zones based on the areas demarcated on Strype's map

Alphabetical zones based on the areas demarcated on Strype’s map

I then analysed and tabulated the hearth tax data for each zone and mapped it into the corresponding area on a series of maps maintaining the percentage bands used by the Centre for Hearth Tax Research for the maps produced for our Hearth Tax Project series of volumes. So, having gone to all this trouble to map the data from the 1666 hearth tax records into something as close as possible to street level, what could be learned from the results?

The first thing to say is that Ratcliff Hamlet appears to be a relatively prosperous place, and significantly wealthier than the mean average map for St Dunstan Stepney would suggest. 61% of the households recorded in the hamlet had three or more hearths and in some zones it was as high as 75%.

Households in the Ratcliff hamlet with three or more hearths

Households in the Ratcliff hamlet with three or more hearths

The level of prosperity is also indicated by the relatively low percentage of households which did not pay the tax; just 34% across the hamlet but as low as 18% is some zones. This is in marked contrast to parishes such as Hammersmith, Whitton, Teddington, Hampton and Shepperton which occupied similar riverside positions in the west of London. It might be expected that those parishes in the west would be wealthier than those in the east, but those mentioned all had far higher percentages of unpaid households that Ratcliff.

Percentage of non-paying households in Ratcliff hamlet

Percentage of non-paying households in Ratcliff hamlet

If we look at the zoning of the prosperity and poverty in the hamlet, we can see something of an east/west division, with the larger houses and merchant classes occupying an area which follows White Horse Street down through Butchers Row and past Ratcliff Cross to the river. To the west of this, there appear to be a higher concentration of smaller properties and higher percentages of non-payment.

East / west division in the zoning of prosperity and poverty in Ratcliff hamlet

East / west division in the zoning of prosperity and poverty in Ratcliff hamlet

Now, turning our attention to Charles Booth’s survey of the area, undertaken around 1886/7, we find a very interesting point of comparison. When seeking to classify the people he was surveying, Booth created eight classes ranging from A for the ‘very poor’ up to H for the ‘well to do’. Essentially, classes A, B, C and D were the very poor and the poor, while classes E, F, G, and H were the comfortable and the well to do. Booth estimated that in Stepney in 1886/7, 38.1% of households fell into the category of poor and 61.9% of households were comfortable or well off.

Charles Booth's figures for wealth and poverty in Stepney

Charles Booth’s figures for wealth and poverty in Stepney

It can be argued that this division between the poor and the better off is roughly equivalent, in hearth tax terms, to the division between households with less than three hearths and households with three hearths and more. Comparing this with Booth reveals a startling similarity. For Ratcliff in 1666, the figure for households with less than three hearths was 39% and 61% for households with three or more hearths; remarkably close to Booth’s figures for the same area over 200 years later. This would appear to suggest that, overall, the socio-economic make-up of the Ratcliff / Stepney area had not altered that much in the intervening period.

Charles Booth's figures for wealth and poverty in Stepney compared with hearth tax figures for Ratcliff in 1666

Charles Booth’s figures for wealth and poverty in Stepney compared with hearth tax figures for Ratcliff in 1666

Another interesting comparison can be made if we look at Booth’s map for the area and consider it in relation to the alphabetical zones created for applying the hearth tax data. In 1666, the pattern of prosperity and poverty appeared to be an east/west divide centered along the main north/south route through the hamlet. However, in the late nineteenth century, it appears to have been more of a north/south split between prosperity and poverty. The main arterial east/west routes through the area, the Commercial Road and the London and Blackwall railway, seem to have been acting as a dividing line, separating the well to do to living to the north from the poorer households to the south and along the dockside.

Comparison of zoning; east/west divide in 1666, north/south divide in 1890s

Comparison of zoning; east/west divide in 1666, north/south divide in 1890s

So, attempting to map the 1666 hearth tax down to street level in any sort of systematic fashion presents many problems in itself, although it might be much more fruitfully pursued in some of City parishes were streets are more systematically recorded in detail. These parishes cannot, though, be compared with Charles Booth’s data and maps, so it would appear that large-scale street-level comparisons between Booth’s work and hearth tax data are, frustratingly, something of a non-starter.

However, with some creativity and persistence, smaller and more focused studies can be undertaken and even the very rudimentary attempt outlined here has revealed interesting insights about enduring longer-term levels and patterns of prosperity and poverty in particular areas of metropolitan London. Who knows what else might be discovered with more time and resources!

Dr John Price is the Research Officer and Project Manager for the Centre for Hearth Tax Research at the University of Roehampton. He is also Senior Lecturer in Modern British History at Goldsmiths, University of London.

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Remembering John Ffloyd, Citizen of London and Comb Maker

“This Bible was my Great Grandfather’s, John Ffloyd, citizen of London, and comb maker by Trade, who lived in one of his houses on the North Side of Ludgate Hill in the parish of St Brides and having given his son (Enoch) and daughter (Elizabeth) a fortune and being in good circumstances he left off the Trade and Retired to Wandsworth in the County of Surrey where he dyed. And it is my Desire when it shall please God to take me out of this World that this Bible may be the property of my son Ffloyd, and I request him to preserve, and at his death to give it to his son if he has one, with an injuction for him to keep it and dispose of it at his Death if he has a son, in the same manner, and so on to go from father to son. In witness whereof I have this the fifth day of December 1754 Subscribed by name of it. George Peck.”

This transcription was written into a Peck family Bible, which became an heirloom, passing down the generations of a branch of the Peck family (of Samford, Essex, and Wood Dalling and Methwold, Norfolk). John Ffloyd (d. 1701) married Alice and they had two children, Elizabeth (b. 1652 m 1674 Josiah Peck) and Enoch (b 1657). With the help of the 1666 Lady Day hearth tax return a bit more can be said about his circumstances of this family on the eve of the Great Fire. The 1666 return has four references to a head of household named John Ffloyd in properties with three or four hearths. Three of these properties can be discounted as the family home of John Ffloyd since none were located in the Ludgate Hill part of St Bride’s parish, but a fourth entry to John Ffloyd living in a three-hearth property in Fleet Street probably refers to the home of George Peck’s great-grandfather.

The National Archives (TNA) E179/252/32, book 8, f.31

The National Archives (TNA) E179/252/32, book 8, f.31

Not only was the home located within the correct area of St Bride’s parish, but the hearth tax was paid in contrast to the other references to the homes of John Ffloyd from which the tax was not collected. Ffloyd’s neighbours in Fleet Street included Andrew Newman who had recently moved into a four-hearth property and the widow of George Wright. Here was a group of neighbours who by paying the hearth tax demonstrated their sense of probity (and perhaps also their support for the later Stuart monarchy) in contrast to their wealthy neighbour, the squire Robert Hix, who refused to pay the charge due on a 13-hearth property. Further research might be able to identify whether any of the unpaid properties listed under the name of John Ffloyd were his rental properties which were either temporarily abandoned or had valuable possessions removed by tenants before being searched by the collectors, who were fobbed off with the name of the landlord in the event of a move to collect arrears.   Be that as it may, it is clear that the home in which John Ffloyd lived with his wife and two children on Fleet Street was comfortable if not a wealthy home, and that the “chimney men” had no difficulty in collecting the 3 shillings due at Lady Day from this home to fill the private purse of King Charles II.

Although John Ffloyd in later life moved away to the more congenial area of Wansworth and was buried at Stanmore in Middlesex the family retained a strong connection with Fleet Street and the City of London. George Peck in 1718 had been bound as an apprentice to John Steger, Linen Draper in the Poultry, who worked from the King’s Arms on Fleet Street, and on the same day as George II was proclaimed king, he married Mary Clay, daughter of Richard Clay, Citizen and Draper of London and by trade an Oylman.

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Merry Christmas and a ‘Hearthy’ New Year!!


Wishing you a very Merry Christmas

and a ‘Hearthy’ New Year!

From everyone at Hearth Tax Online

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