Rating records were generated by taxation on a local basis and can be a useful source where such documents survive. In some cases, they may give specific details about residents and properties which enables the researcher to build up an image of land use and community structure at a given place and time.
During the 16th century, ecclesiastical parishes and townships became administrative units which oversaw numerous civil duties, such as poor relief and the upkeep of highways. The Elizabethan Poor Law laid the foundations for the modern rating system, and under the Poor Relief Acts 1597-1601, overseers of the poor were empowered to levy compulsory rates for the relief of the poor in their parish. They were to effectively retain this power until 1925. Various other rates would often be included in the ‘parish poor rate’ and other officials, such as churchwardens, constables and surveyors of highways could also levy rates.
As local government developed during the 19th century, rates increased to meet the extra cost. Improvement commissioners and borough councils levied separate rates to cover further expenses, such as sanitary services. The Rating and Valuation Act, 1925 ended the duplication in the system, with borough and district councils becoming the sole rating authorities. Overseers of the poor were abolished and their valuation functions transferred. After local government re-organisation in 1972, district councils and London boroughs were the only authorities to levy rates.
Rate valuations and assessments survive in varying quantities in a wide range of collections in the Staffordshire and Stoke on Trent Archive Service. These include collections of parish, Poor Law Union, parish council and district council records. Rate books in parish records usually survive only from the 18th century at the earliest, but there are very few held by the Archive Service.
The quality of surviving records is variable and some parish records do not have any surviving examples. Parish rate valuations and assessments include the name of the occupier of a property, the name of the owner (if different, and from 1834 onwards), location of the property, rateable value and the amount to be paid or that has been paid.
It is rare for rating records before the 20th century to identify individual properties, and the most detailed records are those for domestic rates levied by local authorities in the 20th century. These list the address and description of the property as well as information on the owner, occupier and rateable value.
The following is a brief guide to the more extensive holdings in the Archive Service:
Staffordshire Record Office:
Stafford Poor Law Union (rating valuations and assessments c1886-c1926) D659
Stafford Rural District Council (c1834-1974) D5991
Staffordshire Moorlands District Council (rate books and valuations c1831-1977) D4627
Stourbridge Poor Law union (rating valuations and assessments 1837-1906) D585
Tamworth Parish (church rate assessments 1780-1862) D3773
Uttoxeter Parish (poor rate assessments 1806-1842) D3891
Waterhouses Parish Council (rating valuations and assessments 1879-1928) D5133
Formerly at Lichfield Record Office (closed Dec 2017), available at Staffordshire Record Office from May 2018:
Lichfield Poor Law Union LD37
LichfieldRural District Council LD1154
Lichfield City Council LD35
County Borough of Burton-upon-Trent BD23
Stoke on Trent City Archives:
Hanley (rate books 1862-1916, with gaps)
Stoke upon Trent (rate books 1878-1922)
Tunstall (rate books 1848, 1860)
Longton (rate books 1913-1915)
Shelton (rate books 1907-1910, 1915)
Burslem (rate books 1911, 1914-1916)