Nostalgia: A new source of taxation

A Hearth Tax was introduced during the reign of King Charles II.
A Hearth Tax was introduced during the reign of King Charles II.

One of the many misunderstandings that we have about our predecessors is that they all lived in large, extended families. This is true, but only in the sense that a family then usually consisted of two kinds of members, not just husband and wife and their children, but also household servants, apprentices and journeymen. Such an extended family would have been characteristic of relatively affluent town craftsmen, merchants or landowners: the mass of the people in rural areas then lived in households of four or five, not 12 or 13.

Population statistics for Scarborough during the seventeenth century are hard to find and even harder to interpret. What survives of St Mary’s parish register of baptisms, weddings and burials is fragmentary and of doubtful accuracy. There is no record for the years 1606 to 1626 and none for the Civil War and Commonwealth years 1640 to 1660. Tax returns are also unhelpful. Only 12 of the borough’s richest property owners contributed to the irregular parliamentary subsidies of the 1620s and 1630s. As for the extraordinary burden of taxation imposed upon Scarborough in 1643, 1649, 1654 and 1659, the number of householders listed runs from 328 to 294, clearly a very incomplete selection.

In 1662, a deferential Cavalier Parliament offered the restored King Charles II a new, permanent source of income: an annual tax of two shillings on every firehearth in the country, excluding only the very poorest with only one or two fireplaces. Scarborough seems to have escaped the Hearth Tax until 1673, when a stricter regime was introduced. The return that year named 497 occupied properties in the town and 44 more in Falsgrave, including those excused the tax.

For a number of reasons, the Hearth Tax, levied throughout the nation from 1662 until 1689 and collected in equal instalments twice a year on March 25 and September 29, is the most valuable source of evidence. Churchwardens gave certificates of exemption to the poorest premises worth less than a pound a year or if their occupants had income or property of less than £10 a year. So, with only 44 houses altogether and 14 of them with only one hearth too poor to pay, and only five in the village with three fireplaces, Falsgrave was clearly a very deprived community.

In contrast, Scarborough had some very large, well-appointed homes scattered evenly across the four Quarters. Nineteen had six or more chimneys, five each in Oldborough, Newborough and St Mary’s, and four in Undercliff. There were three Thompson homes: William had 12 fireplaces in his mansion in lower St Sepulchre Street; Richard and Francis, nine each in St Mary’s. The 11 that belonged to William Lawson in St Mary’s and William Saunders in Undercliff were probably inns or taverns, since both men were vintners. Mrs Harrison, the widow of John Harrison, once a leading burgess, had ten hearths in her home on Sandside.

However, the Hearth Tax returns give no indication of the size or composition of the families in each household. Nevertheless, on the basis of the massive research done on English parish registers by the Cambridge University’s Population Group which recommends an average figure at this time of four members in each household, the chimney tax of 1673, as it was also called, would give Scarborough town a total population of just under 2,000 and Falsgrave 176.

Similarly, the Cambridge Group also recommends a multiplier of 33 for the number of baptisms recorded annually in parish registers. For Scarborough therefore, this would lead to a figure of 1,782 in the years 1602-6, 2,409 in 1626-9, 2,871 in 1632-9, 1,584 in 1661-4, 1,881 in 1671-4 and 2,541 in 1681-3. In short, a rising number of inhabitants until the Civil War, a catastrophic fall by the 1660s and then a steady, sustained increase afterwards.

Fortunately, there is just one surviving source, an undated “List of Inhabitants”, which provides total household occupants, though only for Newborough and Undercliff Quarters. This list describes 1,196 adults and children living in 302 families, an average of four per household. From internal evidence the list dates between the Hearth Tax of 1673 and before the death of Francis Sollitt in 1680, though in one account, which quotes it, wrongly ascribed to “about 1663”.

Under a column headed “Maysters & Mrs”, with only a few exceptions, the list gives the names of the masters followed by the anonymous “his wife”. Children are numbered, but not named, though sometimes said to be under 16. Servants are said to be paid between 20 and 30 shillings a year in wages. In Newborough, there were then 118 masters, 124 mistresses, 16 of them widows, 171 children, 82 of them under 16, 47 servants, 36 apprentices and seven journeymen. In Undercliff, a more populous but less prosperous area, the figures were of similar proportions: 125 masters, 163 mistresses (37 widows), 297 children, 96 servants and eight journeymen.

There were no very large families of children. Only two households out of 300 had seven children, only two had six, only six had five. However, in Newborough there is some hint that residents were beginning to take lodgers. “Capt Filleps (sic) and his Lady” were “at Mr Rich Alleson” and “Mrs Lomond & Mrs Blanchard” were “at Mr Wards”. Head of the same list was Mr Timothy Foord and Mrs Ann, his wife, who have “Mr Wm, Mrs Edward and Mrs Dorothy” living with them. Timothy was bailiff in 1661, 1666 and 1682 and William Foord, his son, occupied the same office in 1693, 1696, 1707 and 1713. The other two ladies named might have been of the Foords who lived on the Friarage site. In both Quarters there is only one reference to a grandson. So the pattern which emerges is a surplus of adult females over adult males, many maid servants, but usually no more than one in each household, and two-generation families, without grandparents or grandchildren or other blood relatives. Though those with apprentices and journeymen at home were craft and trade households, only one occupation is actually recorded: James Jaques, who lives alone in Newborough, was a “tobackinest”.