Window tax

Two-hundred years ago, in April 1819, parliament received two petitions from shopkeepers in Alnwick and Morpeth arguing against Window Tax. Their point was that a building used for trade or manufacture was exempt from the tax, but a shop attached to a dwelling was treated as part of the house and hence liable for window tax. The Petitioners argued that this was “erroneous” and requested “such relief as the House shall deem just and right“.

Window Tax had been introduced in 1696. During the Napoleonic Wars it was increased several times and by 1815 it was generating £2m a year in revenue. That’s equivalent to about £170m in today’s money (slightly more than current taxes on betting, slightly less than current taxes on beer) . In 1817, two years before the petition, allowances had been made for windows in a farmhouse for the dairy or cheese room. However, the window tax remained at a high rate until the economy improved. In 1823, four years after the petition, allowances were finally made for up to three ground-floor windows in a shop that formed part of a dwelling house. Further allowances were made in 1824 for others who worked from home. Anyone whose trade or profession involved working from home could claim a reduction in window tax and an exemption from half of the tax on inhabited houses (providing they displayed their name).

The window tax was repealed in 1851. We wonder how many of Alnwick’s shopkeepers felt that their petition had been effective.

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