Bristol volume in the Hearth Tax Series is launched

The latest volume in the Hearth Tax Series, compiled by the Hearth Tax Research Centre, and covering Bristol during the late 17th century, was launched at Clifton Cathedral in Bristol on October 17th.  This is the eleventh edition in the Hearth Tax series produced by the Hearth Tax Centre in partnership with the British Academy and the British Record Society.

The hearth tax, sometimes known as chimney money, was a property tax introduced in England, Wales and Ireland in 1662. It was the first progressive tax designed to raise money fairly; wealthier people would have had larger houses, which would have required more hearths to provide sufficient heat.  In theory, seventeenth-century lists of householders that include the number of hearths are a valuable census-type tool for historians, but in practice their accuracy is variable.

This volume, Bristol Hearth Tax 1662-1673, covers the period when Bristol’s population grew by a quarter in just 20 years, and reveals a new understanding of what was becoming England’s second-largest city. The city was described in June 1668 by Pepys, en route with his wife and his servant ‘Deb’ Willett to inspect a warship being built there and to see Willett’s uncle, the merchant William Willett (his house in Baldwin Street recorded in the hearth tax lists for 1662–73). Pepys ‘walked with [his] wife and people through the city, which is in every respect another London’, and saw ‘the quay, which is a most large and noble place’. In Bristol, as in London, this was a time of much new building and rebuilding.

Bristol is fortunate because its Chimney Book brings together a series of hearth tax returns in a single manuscript and is unique in the surviving hearth tax records for Britain and Ireland. With its extensive information in householders and streets, it has been used to identify the locations of the houses, giving insight into both the buildings and people residing in these newly established areas. This will be of interest to all early modern histories, urban histories, economic and social histories and members of the general public interested in the historic environment.

Using supporting documentary and physical evidence, the Bristol hearth tax team has brought together expertise in the Restoration hearth tax, architectural history, vernacular architecture, social history and cultural history, to produce a series of new discoveries. One such discovery has been to deepen our understanding of the new suburb which was put up in the footprint of the castle and Royal Fort which had been demolished in 1655 on the orders of Cromwell.

Dr Andrew Wareham says ‘Combining hearth tax records in The National Archives of Kew, with the remarkable evidence in the Chimney Book has added a new and unparalleled dimension to the study of the Restoration hearth tax. This work develops our understanding of Restoration life and the growth of Bristol as a city.’ Dr Wareham goes on to say that ‘as a result of the work undertaken in this edition, it is possible for the first time to peer into every household in this burgeoning city, as it began to overtake Norwich as the second city of England, and to consider the wealth of these households and how they responded to the demands to pay the hearth tax.’

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