On this Day 29th September 1664

The West Penwith Hearth Tax

The restoration of the monarchy in 1660 brought with it the requirement to support a Royal Household the cost of which was estimated at £1,200,000. The National Archives money converter estimates that this would be worth about £90 million in 2005 and the Bank of England reckons that £90 million would be worth about £123 million today. Parliament had an immediate problem – how to raise the money. Some Members may even have looked back into the recent past and noted how big a part arbitrary taxation, such as Ship Money, had played in the lead up to the Civil War. Be that as it may Parliament voted to levy a hearth tax to support the Royal Household, the bill received Royal Assent on 19 May 1662 and the first payments were scheduled for collection at Michaelmas, 29 September 1662. The 1662 assessment for Penwith has not survived but that for Michaelmas 1664 has.

The hearth tax was exactly what it says, it was a tax on hearths. Parliament decided that property was easier to tax because it was more stable and difficult to conceal than either moveable property or individuals. To rate the tax payable on a property they decided that a count of the hearths would be a reasonable approach which had, they knew, been used elsewhere. The tax was to be levied at a rate of 1/- per hearth and was to be collected on Michaelmas and Lady Day (25th March).

So what do we learn from the West Penwith hearth tax assessment of 29 September 1664?

 

 

Number of Hearths per Household

 

Households

1

2

3-5

6-9

Gulval

71

46

17

5

3

Madron

57

33

15

9

 

Penzance

103

44

25

29

5

Morvah

19

13

4

1

1

Paul

90

57

20

11

2

Sancreed

43

23

14

6

 

Sennen

21

17

2

2

 

St Buryan

95

59

24

11

2

St Just

118

72

30

13

3

St Leven

22

19

2

1

 

Towednack

34

23

10

1

 

Zennor

49

36

11

2

 

Total

722

442

174

91

16

Evidence from other areas suggests that about one third of households were exempt from the new tax so the total number of households in West Penwith in 1664 may have been between 1,050 to 1,150.

There has been a good deal of discussion around the subject of the Mean Family Size at the time of the Hearth Tax but there seems to be general agreement that it lies somewhere between 4.3 and 4.75. This would produce a population figure for West Penwith somewhere between 4500 and 5450. Deacon gives an estimate for the population of Cornwall in 1660 of 98,000 so West Penwith represents about 5% of the total.

Further Reading

Much more information about Penwith at the time of the Hearth tax is available in the Penwith Local History Group's publication, West Penwith at the time of Charles II, which is the source for most of the above information.

Bernard Deacon has published a summary of his population estimates for Cornwall in his blog, Onen hag Oola.

For a discussion of Mean Family Size see Tom Arkell's article in Local Population Studies 28, 1982




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Growing Up in West Cornwall. A Publication by the Penwith Local History Group

"Growing Up in West Cornwall"

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