Records of national taxation and local rates can often be of use to those investigating the history of their locality or community. They can provide information about communities of the past, those who were taxed and the properties they owned or inhabited. In many cases, taxation records relate to named individuals, helping to place them in a certain place at a certain period.
However, there are several problems that can be experienced with this type of material. The survival of taxation records can prove very patchy, with particularly bulky sets of records – such as local rating records – being particularly prone to destruction after use. Records for the Medieval and early modern period are written in Latin, using a variety of early handwriting styles. In some cases, the details themselves may be inaccurate due to tax avoidance, undervaluation and false returns, especially for unpopular taxes. Those who had little or no property were often exempt from levies on landownership, and information on those who were taxable would often be repeated from one tax to the next without checking any change in circumstances.
Income tax in its modern sense dates back as far as 1799, but taxes were levied in earlier centuries in a variety of ways. Direct national taxation was only raised (in theory at least) on an irregular basis for “extraordinary purposes”, such as waging war. The most important of these taxes are the lay subsidies, raised at various times between the 13th and 17th centuries; the poll tax, imposed three times in the 14th century; the hearth tax, imposed between 1662 and 1689; the house and window tax, levied between 1696 and 1851; and the land tax, which was levied in varying forms between 1692 and 1949. The records of these taxes, apart from the land tax and window tax, are held at the National Archives, Kew.
Records of land tax survive locally for some dates. Although first levied in 1692, very few land tax assessments still exist before 1780. In 1798, it became possible to redeem the tax liability on payment of a lump sum representing 15 years’ value of the tax. The main series of the surviving records are duplicate assessments kept by county Clerks of the Peace from 1780 to 1832 as evidence of entitlement to vote in parliamentary elections. This requirement ceased in 1832 when the Great Reform Act introduced the keeping of electoral registers. Land tax returns, drawn up annually, do not provide a large amount of information. They list the names and occupiers of land with sums payable, but descriptions of the land do not appear until the 1820s and even these are very brief.
Staffordshire Record Office holds duplicate land tax assessments for the whole county for 1781-1832 as part of the Quarter Sessions collection, and these are available in microfilm format in the Reading Room. Returns for the City and County of Lichfield for 1819 and 1825 were formerly held at Lichfield Record Office, which closed in December 2017. They will be made available at Staffordshire Record Office in May 2018. Additionally, there are returns for 1798-1799 held at the National Archives and occasional survivals of individual records kept by the property owner amongst other documents relating to title.
Some records for lay subsidies, poll tax and window tax survive among the archive collections at Staffordshire Record Office and the William Salt Library, but the survival is quite patchy. Transcripts of the national taxes (such as Hearth Tax) have been published in Collections for a History of Staffordshire, available at the William Salt Library and Staffordshire Record Office.