When Taxes Really Are A PANE

Have you ever seen old houses with a few of their windows bricked up? Pay close attention next time you walk around the city- there are an incredible amount!

This phenomenon of window-bricking occurred after the invention of wooden sash frames, but long before the birth of upvc windows.

I’ve seen them around my city of Bristol, and it’s always fascinated me. So, I decided to do a little research and find out what was going on. Why did they fill in all these perfectly good windows?

Well, the answer was the dreaded single word: TAX.

Image by Anne Heinrichs

It was in the reign of William III that the unpopular window tax was first applied. At this time, disclosing personal income to the Government was considered, by most reasonable people, to be completely unacceptable, nay, a threat to personal liberty. How vulgar! But the Income Tax Act was passed in 1842. After this, paying part of your earnings to the government became law. Boo!

Two kinds of “pane”

The tax was in two parts, so the authorities got double the dosh. First of all, they taxed the house itself on a flat fee, then it came down to how many windows you had. If you had 10 -14 windows, the cost was 6d per window; between 15 – 19 windows would cost 9d each and then a shilling was charged when you had over 20 windows.

The powers that be had a pretty easy job in collecting these taxes, as everyone’s windows could clearly be seen. But when they raised the tax six times in the period between 1747 and 1808, it really got people’s backs up.  The population were ready to strike back!

18th century tax dodging

People were thinking of ingenious ways to duck out of paying tax. In 1718, the Government realised that the revenue from their dreaded window tax was going down somewhat. This was due to people deliberately blocking and bricking up their windows to cut down on the number they should pay for. The new houses that were going up also had a lot less windows in them, due to popular demand!

In fact, despite the population boom and an unprecedented amount of new houses being built, glass production all but halted between 1810 and 1851, as there was little demand.  That’s one unpopular tax!

They call it daylight robbery!

This was all happening at the same time as the industrial revolution, which meant that more and more people were being crammed into cities and an increasing numbers of shared houses were being erected.

Scrimping on windows caused a lack of light and air in the houses. Teamed with cramped conditions, this was a recipe for disaster. All sorts of disease and epidemics were breaking out.

The tax’s unpopularity continued, with campaign groups popping up to declare it a “tax on light and air” and a “tax on health”, leading to the well know phrase that we still use today – it’s daylight robbery!

As with tax today, it was the lower and middle classes that were getting clobbered the most with the tax, and paying the price health-wise, too. Eventually, due to the medical profession calling it an emergency, the hated window tax was repealed in 1851, but, actually, it was merely changed to be more tax on the house, so they still got their money.

Daylight robbery in action!

Are there old buildings where you live that show evidence of this wicked tax scheme?

James Duval is an expert in all things techy, and, on most evenings, can be found glued to his Xbox. He spends his weekends blasting through the country on his motorbike hunting for the best gigs, and writing blogs for Eurocell. If he had the choice (and the money) he would turn his passion for architecture into a career.