On this day in history : 31st December 1695 – King William III imposes the window tax in Britain – resulting in many windows in houses being bricked up….

Property in Portland Street, Southampton with blocked up windows due to the window tax – Image : Whilesteps – own work CC BY-SA 3.0

At the time the idea of income tax was a controversial matter; many people opposed it, seeing it as an intrusion into their privacy and private matters – they saw it as a threat to personal liberty…. So under William III a window tax was introduced – designed to relate to the wealth of an individual based on the size of property they owned…. The new tax was brought in to offset losses caused by the practice of clipping coinage…. Coins were then made of pure silver and gold – and their edges would frequently be clipped or shaved to obtain fragments to melt down…. Bars would then be produced to either sell to jewellers or to make counterfeit coins…. It was a common practice and would undermine the currency of a country….

King William III – Portrait by Godfrey Kneller – Public domain

The introduction of the window tax came in two parts…. A two shilling flat rate was imposed on every house and then a variable rate of tax applied for every window over the number of ten…. Ten to twenty windows were levied at four shillings each and for properties with more than twenty windows these were levied at eight shillings…. The union of England and Scotland saw both countries’ taxes harmonised – the top rate of twenty windows was also used for houses with more than thirty windows, creating a ceiling level…. Between 1747 and 1808 the tax was raised six times and by 1808 the lowest band became applicable for properties with six or more windows – however, this was raised to eight in 1825…. The window tax was easy enough to apply as the windows could be counted from outside….

House in Brentford – Image credit : Maxwell Hamilton via Flickr

However, as early as 1718 a decline in the revenue brought in by the tax was becoming noticeable as windows were being blocked up – and new houses were being built with fewer windows…. Campaigners argued that the tax was a tax on health, light and air – and an unfair and unequal tax with the burden falling on the middle and upper classes…. Finally the window tax was repealed on the 24th of July 1851 – it was replaced by a tax on inhabited houses…. Income tax had already been introduced in 1842….

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