launched 26th June 2014

...a snapshot of London and Middlesex on the eve of the Great Fire


One of the great documents of London, indeed English, history forms the heart of this publication: the London and Middlesex hearth tax return for Lady Day 1666. Not all that document has survived, so the missing parts have been augmented here by those of 1662-3 Lady Day and 1664 Lady Day. Together these documents capture the burgeoning City and its environs at a critical point in history, bearing witness to the impact of the Great Plague of 1665 and Great Fire of 1666 against a background of the energy and resilience of Londoners.

The London and Middlesex Hearth Tax is a two-part publication, over 1800 pages long.   Part 1 contains chapters by well-known scholars on the history of London and Middlesex in the 1660s, housing, migration and surnames, the administration of the hearth tax, a biographical concordance of Pepys’s Diary and much more (see details below). The transcript of the hearth tax documents occupies all of Part 2.

This publication is an important addition to scholarship and the history of Restoration London and Middlesex. It will be an invaluable aid to those interested in the topography of the area, house history, family and surname history. The edition is fully indexed with colour illustrations and maps and contains information to guide readers through the edition, including a guide to using and interpreting the hearth tax documents.


What are the hearth tax documents? The tax was a levied on hearths and stoves, payable twice yearly, introduced in 1662 and abolished in 1689. Unlike the later window tax its documents are very informative, taking their place in the history of taxation because they included the names of those who didn’t pay as well as those who did. Some people were exempt from the tax on grounds of poverty or low rent and some people quite simply could not or would not pay.

The transcript in this book, then, contains the names of rich and poor with some indication of the size of their dwellings; it also contains a great deal of additional information. It records the myriad of insalubrious alleys (the names are a give-away: Stinking Alley, Codpiece Alley, Dirty Lane) crammed with impoverished residents; ‘these people are miserable poor’ wrote one collector. The documents bear witness to the nitty gritty of the collection process: notes of payment and non-payment, doorstep arguments and complaints, excuses, doors shut in the collector’s face, items taken in lieu of payment- even physical blows are recorded. The bawdy houses of Long Acre were rented by the week, wrote one collector, so the proprietor refused to pay the tax.

The tax was due in March 1666, but because of Plague and disorganisation the tax officials did not even start collecting until April 1666; many were still about that task in September, unaware of the disaster about to happen. The collectors went from door to door noting the names of the occupants of London’s houses and how many hearths, stoves or ovens they had. They wrote the information down, parish by parish in a series of books with each street, alley or court noted, allowing us today to track the topographical route the collectors walked and see details about the inhabitants which they recorded – full name, status, perhaps occupation and whether or not the occupant might be poor. The collector who walked up Pudding Lane noting that Thomas Farrinor, baker, had five hearths ‘and one oven’, little knew that within a short space of time his work would be completely undone and a large part of London consumed by fire from that ‘one oven’.

There are parts of the document where the collectors chose to record occupations. These provide welcome additional information on individuals and on the topography and streets of London. Through these it is revealed as a smelly, rattling, clattering – and not entirely masculine - city. Women are recorded as independent heads of households with sizeable dwellings, deploying craft trades as goldsmiths, coopers, potters, booksellers and printers and more. The documents are a valuable source of information on London at work at all levels of society: Inns of Court and Chancery, government offices, church vestries, Livery Halls, soldiers, sailors – and three washer women sharing a hearth to dry clothes.

In the transcript we can see also the development of housing in London, particularly the spread of larger houses to the west of the City in fashionable areas such as Lincoln’s Inn Fields and Bloomsbury. The entry for the Earl of Southampton’s 50 hearth house in Bloomsbury is flanked by dotted lines which probably indicate the laying out of plots.

Some names in the published transcript are well-known in English history, and can be seen in the context of their homes and neighbourhood.  Many aristocrats and courtiers are there, but also John Milton the poet, Peter Lely the painter, Praisegod Barebones and Henry Purcell senior; there are key players in the drama of Civil War, regicide and Restoration, and many more who were to contribute to the rise of London as a cultural and scientific hub and England as a major power. Pepys, however, whose tax was paid by the Navy Office, is not there, but there is a biographical concordance in the edition of 460 people mentioned in his Diary who can be traced in the hearth tax.

These detailed tax collectors’ accounts were to be rendered inadequate by Plague and the Fire. One part reports that six parishes in one collector’s area were ‘burnt all’, with All Hallows Barking by the Tower ‘burnt the greatest part’. Meanwhile the shadow of plague reaches over the pages: ‘all deceased in the Visitation’ reports the collector of one household, ‘pox in the Minories’ wrote another by way of refusal to enter a dwelling.


DETAILS OF THE PUBLICATION to be launched 26 June 2014

The two-part edition is produced by the British Academy Hearth Tax Project and published by the British Record Society. The General Editor is Dr Catherine Ferguson.

First part: 8 chapters on the history of London and Middlesex in the 1660s; two focussing on housing and one on surnames and immigration.

Matthew Davies: Historical background to the edition

Vanessa Harding: London and Middlesex in the 1660s

Elizabeth Parkinson: The administration of the hearth tax in Metropolitan London and Middlesex

Ian Warren: Houses and society in Restoration London: the ‘great’ and ‘middle sorts’.

Peter Guillery:  Houses in London’s suburbs

David Hey: Immigration, surnames and the London hearth tax

Catherine Ferguson: Pepys’s Diary: a biographical concordance

Peter Seaman: Manuscript and codicological context


Second part: the transcript of the 1666 hearth tax, augmented by 1664 and 1662-3 material.


In total there are over 1800 pages, 37 coloured illustrations, 22 maps (17 coloured), statistical tables, appendices and glossaries – and both the transcript and the rest of the edition has been fully indexed.


Obtaining this two-part publication: The edition will be sent to existing subscribers of the British Record Society. Non-subscribers can obtain copies from the BRS Treasurer at a cost of £60 plus P&P