Londoners at work
Occupations listed in the London and Middlesex 1666 Lady Day Hearth Tax
The London and Middlesex hearth tax for 1666 is unique among hearth tax documents as it records a considerable number of householder occupations; something not routinely undertaken on any other return or collection.
As Vanessa Harding notes her introduction to the London and Middlesex Hearth Tax volume (extract available below) more than 200 distinct occupations were recorded and they provide fascinating insights into the working lives of seventeenth-century Londoners.
It is not entirely clear why occupations were being noted, but it is unlikely that it was directly connected with the collection of the hearth tax as the systematic recording of occupations only occurs in 21 parishes which appear in 5 of the surviving 32 books.
The parishes in which occupations were systematically recorded were:
St Gabriel Fenchurch
St Katherine Coleman
St Antholin Budge Row
St Benet Sherehog
St John the Baptist, Walbrook
St Mary Bothaw
St Mary Woolnoth
St Michael Paternoster Royal
St Stephen Walbrook
St Swithin London Stone
St Magnus the Martyr
St Margaret, New Fish Street
St Ann and St Agnes
St Botolph Aldersgate
St John Zachary
St Leonard Foster Lane
St Mary Staining
All Hallows Honey Lane
St Martin Pomary
St Mary Le Bow
St Pancras Soper Lane
Documents available to download
List of occupations recorded on the London and Middlesex Hearth Tax (pdf 690KB)
Extract from Vanessa Harding’s introduction which discusses occupations (pdf 683KB)
Complete transcripts of books 2, 3, 4, 11 and 16 which record occupations (pdf 2.14MB)
Trials and tribulations of a hearth tax collector
As Elizabeth Parkinson highlights in her article in the London and Middlesex Hearth Tax volume, examining the records of the 1666 Lady Day collection ‘brings to life the idiosyncrasies of the individual collector’ and these too were workers trying to earn a living in the capital.
The hearth tax was not popular and there is much debate as to the exact reasons why. Taxation is, of course, never welcomed by the masses but much of the opposition to the hearth tax appears to have stemmed, in part, from the fact that collectors could enter property either to check the number of hearths or to take goods in lieu of payment. This made the collectors even more unwelcome and led to a variety of methods of opposition ranging from keeping the door closed to, in some cases, actually attacking the collector. Consequently, being a hearth tax official was not an easy or straightforward job and the Great Fire of London, which occurred in the middle of the assessment and collection process, certainly did not make things any easier.
Some books illustrate opposition, evasion and violence more than others and the ones listed below, books 21, 22, 27, 29 and 31, are particularly rich in examples.