A Tax on Light and Air: Impact of the Window Duty on Tax Administration and Architecture, 1696-1851

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It is not at all uncommon for readers of eighteenth and nineteenth century British history to stumble across references to the Window Tax buried within accounts of more notable measures and events of the period. Descriptions of the tax are often trivial, inserted to provide color and context, to demonstrate the peculiarity—at least from a modern viewpoint—of the earlier English tax system and its cultural repercussions. Historians writing about this period frequently include a sentence or two relating the grievances of British homeowners who boarded or bricked up windows to evade the tax. Few bother to enumerate, however, the larger, indirect consequences of the Duty on Lights and Windows, or even explain why it was imposed in the first place.1 There are only a handful of scholarly articles on the subject and hardly anything original written on theWindow tax within the last fifty years. W.R. Ward’s lone article, “The Administration of the Window and Assessed Taxes, 1696-1798,”2 published in The English Historical Review in 1952 and a chapter from Stephen Dowell’s A History of Taxation and Taxes in England, printed as early as 1884, remain the two most important secondary sources on the tax for modern scholars.

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Spring 2008
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