This article presents the historical facts about an old taxation system on windows in the United Kingdom. The window tax was introduced into Great Britain in 1696 by King William the third. In those days, the idea of civil liberty was different to that which exists today. In the prevailing climate, people felt that telling the king about their income was an unacceptable intrusion into their private business.
So, in order to be able to impose some sort of taxation on his people, the king decided that people with large houses could be taxed on a tiered system. There was a tax rate of 2 shillings for every householder. This equates to roughly ten new pence. In addition to this there was an extra tax for the householder if their house had more than ten windows.
For a property of ten to twenty windows each person would pay more than the flat rate. They would have to pay four shillings more. And for a house with over twenty windows, the property owner would have to pay eight shillings more. This was later reduced to a house with 7 windows. In 1825, the minimum number of windows taxed would be changed to eight.
Poor subjects who were eligible for the church’s charity could claim an exemption. This was irrespective of the number of windows their dwelling contained.
In order to evade this tax, residents resorted to bricking up extra windows. This occurred mainly in the 17th and early 18th centuries. In Scotland, this tax was not introduced until the 1780s by William Pitt the Younger. Even here, residents painted over their windows black with white crosses. These became known as Pitt’s pictures. A visitor to Charlotte’s Square in Edinburgh can still see these windows on some of the houses.
It is thought that several of the richest families took this opportunity to commission huge houses with the largest possible number of windows. They even had windows installed over blank wall space to prove how rich they were.
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