November 11, 2010

The Tax on Light and Air

In a Colonial Era house, windows were the main source of light. Candles used sparingly and fires were too hot in the summer.

On December 31st 1695, a tax on windows was established by Parliament. This was a way for Parliament to create a tax, based proportionally on income without admitting it was an income tax.  The idea of an income tax during the 1700s was extremely controversial. The window tax was the source of many 18th century grievances and was known widely as “the tax on light and air” and “the tax on the absence of property (as a window is a lack of brick.)”

By the 1750s, the window tax had been updated so that any house not considered a cottage was subject to a tax of 1 shilling for every window, plus a 3 shilling flat rate.  Houses with less than 7 windows only had to pay the 3 shilling tax. Unfortunately, this affected factories, multifamily homes, and inns disproportionally and many poorer families could not afford them.  

Many newer house styles at the time, reflected the window tax by excluding windows in their design and many people blocked up windows to avoid the tax.  Poorer families felt singled out as they could only afford to buy older houses which were in the older styles and thus had more windows and bigger taxes. Many families blocked up some of the windows in in their homes, usually at the back of the house, to avoid the extra taxes.  

Tired of taxes? During the 18th century, British territories also had a hearth tax, poll tax, carriage tax, horse tax, farm horse tax, “inhabited house” tax, servants’ tax, clock and watch tax, cart tax and even a dog tax, among others.  

You can really see why their was so many grievances and why taxation without representation was such an injustice. The British subjects were expected to fund all projects that the King and Parliament deemed important regardless of what the laboring people, making the money, had to say. Believe it or not, American subjects were exempted from a lot of these taxes or paid them in a different manner (tax on glass instead of counted windows.) Americans were afraid that these taxes were slowly being forced upon them. 



  1. I never knew about the tax on windows, that's really interesting. :) And I love that 1st picture. I love period homes.

  2. Stephanie Ann,

    Wasn't Bull's Eye Glass or 'slag' glass not subject to taxation?

    That glass is where the pintle or the rod was attached to the glob of hot glass as it was being spun.

    I read that somewhere before and found it interesting. A lot of New england homes have those pieces for transoms over the doors.

    Thanks for this blog post. Makes me thankful I don't have servants!

    Frank and Pamela

  3. Thanks Sarah Lynn, it's one of those things that got buried by the unpopularity of the tea tax. There were a lot of other taxes and those last few were just the "straw that broke the camel's back." I love period homes too. I'd definitely like to see how it would be to live in one-- probably only for a few weeks though.

  4. Great post - - makes me want to speak about taxes today...but, not the time or place.
    I really enjoy your postings!

  5. Frank and Pamela, The Parliament records do not mention different types of glass or a definition of what a window is. I'll have to see if the house I work in paid the window tax on its transom. I didn't think of that. Thanks!

  6. Thanks Ken, it really means a lot to me.

  7. Steph, besides the post being interesting, I'm totally jealous of the cool picture you took of the kitchen.


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