Yet More Digital Material Published – Land Tax 1798

We live in interesting times…

Ancestry.co.uk has today made the 1798 Land Tax Redemption Schedules available to search and view on their web site. As ever you will need to have the appropriate subscription to view these. Ancestry’s introduction to this set of Land Tax records provides little context for this collection so here’s an extract from the ‘Oxford Companion to Local & Family History’:

“…in 1698 the direct poundage rate was replaced by a system of quotas at county, hundred, and parish or township level. During the 18th century the tax evolved into a true land tax, assessed on land, buildings, and various forms of rents. Relatively few records survive before 1780, but from that date until the Parliamentary Reform Act of 1832 annual copies or ‘duplicates’ of the assessments owed by each owner of real property and by each of his tenants were lodged at the Quarter Sessions in order to establish a qualification for the vote at county elections. These duplicates survive in bulk amongst the quarter sessions papers at county record offices. The only return that covers almost all of England and Wales is that of 1798, kept in 121 volumes at the National Archives in class IR 23.”

Academic historians have for many years mused about the usefulness of Land Tax returns. However, I have found them very useful for tracing the tenure of the many small-holdings in the Saundersfoot area using the near-complete run for the 1786-1831 period held at the Pembrokeshire Record Office.

From my experience, there are three main benefits for researchers in this new publication.

Firstly, in its marketing, Ancestry is promoting this new material as ‘almost a mini-census’. In general there is a touch of hype to this but, for the Saundersfoot area, it is not far wrong. Many of our collier and artisan ancestors were granted leases to small-holdings of around one to ten acres or so. What is interesting and unusual is that their landlords granted these on extended terms, for example the survivor of three named lives. The reason why large landowners were keen on this is that such leases attracted voting rights for the tenants and, in the days of public polling, they assumed that these tenants, in consideration for (apparent) improved security of tenure, would vote according to their wishes. As a result, more colliers in our area are recorded in the Land Tax returns then you’d expect to find for other areas where such leases were uncommon.

The second benefit is that the schedules list not only the lessees’ names but also that of the landowner (or the ‘proprietor’ as Ancestry shows it as). Finding this name acts as a portal into landowners’ estate collections where rentals and leases can be valuable sources of material. For our area, much has survived and the collections for, in particular, the Picton Castle estate (mostly at the National Library of Wales – NLW) and the Gogerddan estate (again held at NLW) are real gems in providing further material for researchers.

Lastly, for those of us fortunate to have landowners in our trees, this publication gives a quick and efficient view of the land they owned across wide areas and also county boundaries. For example, although I am not linked in any way to them, in my research into the Child family of Begelly House I was unaware before today just how much land they owned in Carmarthenshire.

While there’s much of benefit, I do have the usual gripes about the standard of transcription that Ancestry has achieved. It is lousy. For example, St Issells has been transcribed throughout as ‘Saint Glsels’ – at least consistently. ‘Begelly’ thankfully is Begelly. But don’t get me started on the wierd transcriptions of many of the surnames!

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