Window taxes

Some windows are sealed up!
In Chester, England, there are old houses with bricked up windows. A curious PEGGY LOH finds out why
ON an open-top bus tour of Chester, England, I noticed an interesting feature in 17th and 18th Century houses — bricked-up windows. Why did the owners build windows and then brick them up? I did some research and found some interesting trivia from the past.

In 1696, during the reign of William III, there was a financial crisis created by growing inflation due to conflicts both in Ireland and on the continent. To help pay the debt, a type of property tax called window or glass tax was introduced. It was levied on homeowners with more than six windows or window-like openings of a property. Taxes are rarely popular but the window tax was particularly loathed because it seemed to tax people of natural light and air!

To avoid paying this tax in a legitimate way, house owners with more than six windows started to brick up their windows!

When the tax was introduced, there were two parts — a flat rate house tax of two shillings per house and a variable tax for the number of windows above 10 windows. Owners with properties that have 10 to 20 windows paid four shillings while those with more than 20 windows paid eight shillings.
Showing off wealth by creating more windows!
Big houses with more windows are likely to pay more taxes so the upper-class, who own large houses, paid the most. As a mark of status and wealth, some wealthy individuals deliberately built homes with many windows or divided large glass panels into individual tiny windows to show off their affluence and that they can afford to pay the window tax!

Today, many older buildings still stand, displaying their brick window panels as a legacy of the ancient window tax. Although the tax was abolished in 1851, bricked-up windows are so much part of English architecture that some modern properties in Dorset have been built with fake bricked-up windows.

Some alleged that the term “daylight robbery” traditionally originated from the window tax which robbed the English of their daylight. It’s not actual robbery but just a figurative phrase which means blatant and unfair trading or charging.

The window tax also probably earned a dubious reputation because it was an unabashed “robbery” that was committed in broad daylight!
A version of this article was published in The New Straits Times on 18 August 2010

No comments:

Post a Comment