by Gautam Shah ➔
In various societies taxes have been collected to satisfy the needs of those who govern and also to operate the state. Taxes have been collected in terms of money, produce or on entry-exit of goods and people out of a domain. The rate of taxation has been arbitrary or formulated on the basis of quantity or value. Urban taxes have always been very controversial to formulate and collect, as much as convincing people to pay it.
One such tax was Hearth Tax of England. It was Imposed in 1662 by Charles II levied on number of hearths (stoves), and fireplaces in a house of England and Wales. The hearth tax became unpopular for several reasons. It affected the poor the most, who preferred to shut the fireplaces that warmed the house. The tax assessor, named Chimney-men by public, was all time intruder to the sanctified area -the home.
A tax similar to Hearth tax called Window Tax was imposed in 1696, on dwellings with certain number of windows. This was claimed to be better tax system as the assessor was not required to enter the dwelling. The assessors were called Window peepers by the public, as they could count windows from the outside.
The window tax is considered the most controversial of urban taxes in the history of Western Civilization. The tax led to all kinds of manipulations to reduce the tax-bills through measures such as the boarding up of windows and the construction of houses with very few or dummy windows (sometimes whole floors of houses were windowless). In spite of the health hazard of dark and poorly ventilated buildings and widespread protests, the tax persisted for more than 150 years. It was finally repealed in 1851.
The Hearth tax and its later version the Window tax both were intended to serve as a property tax based on the wealth of a person. However the tax management was biassed and corrupt. People were asked to pay window tax on hopper for coal room, wall punctures, or occasional brick fall out. Window-tax affected the Light and Air quality of dwellings, so it was called Day-Light robbery. The tax on windows affected large number of people in England, France and Spain.
To avoid the tax some bricked up the window gaps, or for the prestige of an airy building, dummy windows were drawn or formed on walls. Some wealthy persons made it a status symbol and demonstrated their wealth by ostentatiously building homes with many windows. Cavendish family, who owned Hardwick Hall (1590) was famous for its light and airy interiors, as celebrated in the rhyme: ‘Hardwick Hall, more glass than walls’. They were extremely rich and well able to pay.
There were some exemptions under the window tax. Factories, public buildings, religious buildings, shop fronts, milk dairies, etc. were exempted from the tax. “Certain rooms, particularly dairies, cheese-rooms and milk-houses were exempt providing they were clearly labelled, and it is common to find the name of such rooms carved on the lintel”. “In England, the window was intended to let the light in, but in Ireland the use of a window was to let the smoke out”.