Tuesday 31 December 2013

Use of Land Tax Records: Cornwood Parish, Devon, England

[This write-up was first published in the July 2013 issue of Chinook, the quarterly journal of the Alberta Family Histories Society.]

Land taxes were first instituted in Britain in 1692. This levy was in addition to other taxes which were or had been in force, including the following:

·   Poor Rates –  assessed following the Poor Law Act of 1601 on land owners to finance the support of the poor within parishes

·   Hearth Tax – a tax on each fire-hearth in a household assessed between 1662 and 1688

·   Window Tax – a tax on houses, with rates being assessed on the number of windows in a domicile introduced in 1696 and in effect until 1851.

No doubt the new forms of taxation were intended as a way to recoup the costs of the war against the Catholic King, James II, in previous years, as well as a way to cement the authority of the new parliament under William and Mary, installed as monarchs in 1689. In any event, it was decreed that a tax would be imposed on land owners throughout Britain but be administered locally. The tax existed until 1963 when it was finally repealed.

Changes instituted in 1780 meant that an individual had to be registered in the Land Tax assessment in order to vote. Lists of the proprietors or land owners, occupiers, land descriptions and amounts to be paid were recorded on Land Tax Assessments for many areas. Preservation of the records prior to 1780 is sporadic for many English counties. In 1780, the lists started to be used to identify qualified voters in the parishes and were thus duplicated and stored with Quarter Session records. Many areas thus have fairly complete lists between 1780 and 1832.

The Reform Act of 1832 changed the rules governing who could vote for members of parliament and how the boroughs represented by such members would be organized. After passage of the act, the land tax lists were no longer used to define lists of voters and copies were no longer kept as part of parish records. Again, for many parishes, the lists are incomplete after 1832.

The lists usually contain, for the most part, only the male household heads. If a married man died, the property may have been passed down to his widow, in which case her name might appear on the list, as either a landowner or occupier. If she remarried then her property could then be listed under her new husband’s name. A careful inspection of the lists over time is necessary to see if events such as these occurred.

The Land Tax Assessments provide a sort of census as they identify all of the heads of families occupying lands in the various parishes. The parcels, in most respects, can be correlated with those described in the Tithe Apportionments complied in the early 1840s. Together they allow an historical summary to be made of both families and their primary residences over the latter part of the 18th and early part of the 19th Centuries.

The amounts of tax paid give an indication of the relative economic status of proprietors and the size of parcels. A change of names can indicate inheritance, reflecting the death of individuals which, in turn, can be correlated with parish registers to better identify specific individuals and families.

I obtained a copy of the 1781 to 1832 Land Tax Assessments for the parishes I look after, as an Online Parish Clerk, in Devon – Cornwood, Harford, Plympton St. Mary and Plympton St. Maurice. My own family had been residents of Cornwood since at least the early 1600s. The lists proved very useful in identifying the specific properties they owned or rented over several decades before the national censuses.

1781 Land Tax Assessment for part of Cornwood Parish, Devon, England; superimposed on page are entries for two properties owned by Nicholas Shepheard and a portion of the document showing him as an Assessor and Collector
My 5th great-grandfather, Nicholas Shepheard, was shown as the owner of three major properties in Cornwood – Rook, Greenland and Knott – until his death in 1786. He was also one of the tax assessors and collectors for several years. Knott appears to have been sold in 1810 as, afterward, it no longer appears under the Shepheard name. All of the lands listed were passed down to Nicholas’ eldest son, also named Nicholas, who is shown as the owner until his own decease in 1820. After 1820, the Rook and Greenland properties are shown in the possession of his brothers, Arthur and Samson Shepheard. The lists also show several other family members as tenants on various parcels around the parishes.

Combining the Land Tax Assessments, Tithe Apportionments, parish register entries and national censuses, it has been possible to demonstrate the ownership and residences of many Shepheard families over 130 years.

The Land Tax Assessment image is used here with the kind permission of Devon Heritage Services.

Wayne Shepheard is a volunteer with the Online Parish Clerk program, handling four parishes in Devon, England. He serves as the Editor of Chinook, the quarterly journal of the Alberta Family Histories Society. Wayne also provides genealogical consulting services through his business, Family History Facilitated.