The Hearth  Tax

The Lists  just give the names of individual householders and the numbers of hearths, with name of the Collector (sometimes, at least) and a witness, often the Constable.  Some lists –  notably those for 1664 – give the names of those exempt as well those required to pay the Tax.  And occasionally there are explanatory notes, such as –
"three dec’d a year since"
"not liable by reason his poverty"
"one too many by mistake"
"now Wm Hall and down 2"
"hath but one that is liable to pay, the other is only a vent for the oven"
"these not returned before"

The Victoria County History for Cambridgeshire states: "The tax had a far wider incidence than any permanent direct tax previously imposed or [until the 19th Century]; because of this, the Lists, when analysed, provide useful information not obtainable from other contemporary sources, about the size, character and importance of places."  "More details of  (Michaelmas) 1662 survive for the country as a whole than from any other date…….those lists are the most useful for comparative studies or England and Wales generally".

The Hearth Tax in Guilden Morden, Steeple Morden and Tadlow

By looking at the Hearth Tax returns for Guilden Morden, Steeple Morden and Tadlow, it is possible to create a picture of the world in which our l7th Century villagers lived, particularly when we can augment the Returns with wills, inventories and parish registers.

One hearth usually implies a house of between 2 and 4 rooms, with no upper floor, which belonged to a labourer or smallholder (husbandman). These men farmed small areas of up to 40 acres, but most farmed far less. A glance at the Returns shows that all those poor people who were exempt had houses of only one hearth. In the Mordens, each with populations of about 200 people, these poor folk made up more or less the same proportion of the village – between 11% and 13%.  And there were roughly the same number of husbandman and labourers (with one hearth) in each village, although there were fewer in Guilden Morden – whose name reminds us that, of the two Mordens, it was the richer – the ‘gilded Morden’!  By contrast, Tadlow has twice as many labourers, too poor even to pay the Hearth Tax, and only a small percentage of smallholders. Together, these two groups of labourers and small farmers made up about half the population of all three parishes, but they were much poorer in Tadlow.

The wealthier folk in the village lived in houses with two hearths – usually the craftsmen, yeomen and husbandmen with larger acreages. This group was particularly prominent in Guilden Morden. We know from other sources that they included two tailors, a shepherd, a blacksmith and a carpenter.  There were other trades in the village too, although we don’t know the size of their houses: a shoemaker, a miller, a woolcomber, a victualler, a carver and a barber as well as a maltster.

Those with three or more hearths were the wealthiest, leaving £150 or more at their deaths. Interestingly, this group makes up about 20% of the population of the Mordens, but equals a massive 32% of the population of Tadlow.  In Tadlow, the parish was already very divided between the rich and the poor – the former, a small group of about 14 farmers and the latter, the agricultural labourers who worked their land. A list of the Returns for 1674 is given  below together with some indication of the occupations gleamed from other documents.

The 1674 Hearth Tax Returns for Guilden Morden

Name No. Hearths Occupations (dates from other documents)
Richard JOHNSON 2 yeoman 1691
Richard CLARKE 2 husbandman m. Elizabeth 1712
John JOHNSON 2  
Joseph PEIRCE 2 snr. tailor 1709
John HARRODINE 2 yeoman
Widow ROCHFORD 2  
Daniel FINCH, 3 yeoman
Christofer AUSTIN – newly erected hse 1  
John DORNELL 1 husbandman, 1693
Henry JOHNSON 1  
Widdow PAYNE 2  
Katherine JEFFREY 2  
Henry SMITH 1 labourer,
Olliver TASSELL 2 husbandman, 1698
John KIDD 2 husbandman
Widdow MEANE 1  
Wm PIGGOTT 1 weaver 1680
Lunmidge ELLIS 1  
Widdow ELLIS 1  
Mrs STROUD vicar’s widow 1 1672 (wife Margaret d. 1701)
Wm WARBOIS 2 Wm Warboys, yeoman
Barnaby BOWTLE 2 yeoman
Thos PAYNE 2  
Richard WARBOISE 2 Richard Worboys 1705
Richard SHADBOULT 2 singleman (husbandman) 1685
John MEADE 1 dissenter poss. Presbyterian
Madam STOREY -wid. Thos STOREY 9  
Widdow HARRODINE 7  
Thos SEARLE 2  
Marmaduke HARRODINE 1 victualler, 1704
John PIGGOTT Esq 8  
John DENHAM 1 gravedigger
John STARR 2  
*Anthony GIFFORD – 1 now owned by –
Mr Jo. Duckett 3 Odsey
Francis BENNETT 1  
John COOPER 2 husbandman
Wm NORTH, 1 knacker
John CLARKE 1 yeoman
Robert WARBOYS 2  
John WARBOIS snr 3  
Richard WARBOIS 1  
Edward EMPSON 1  
Roger FARR 3  
Richard REDDIN 1    
Henry MORRIS 2  
Richard WALLIS 1  
John WARBOYS junr. 2 carpenter
Wm SALT 1 shepherd, 1702
John GODFRY 2 John Godfrey tailor, 1705
Richard HARRODINE 1  
Widdow WILSON 1  
George MASH 1 Geo. Marsh yeoman
Arthur WORBOYS 2 yeoman 1665
Richard THORNE 4  
Henry BAULDIN 3 Henry Baldwin, yeoman 1681
Thos CLARKE 1  
Edward STARR 2  
John SINGLE 1  
Henry LILLY 5 brewer, & alehousekeeper/yeomen
John SALT 1  
Isaack PALMER 1 carpenter
Robt. WARD 2  
John CLARKE 2  
total 149  
* 1 year arrears    


Those discharged by legal certificates  
Widow WARBOISE 1  
John PETERS 1  
Thos STEEDS 1  
Widow BARTON 1  
Thos FROST 1  
John Payne 1  
John ELLES 1  
total 11