Along with the St Botolph Aldgate Parish Registers (PAR), this database was compiled by the Life in the Suburbs Project, a collaboration between the Centre for Metropolitan History at the Institute of Historical Research; Birkbeck, University of London; and the University of Cambridge. Project directors are Matthew Davies, Vanessa Harding, and Richard Smith, and the researchers are Philip Baker, Mark Merry, and Gill Newton. The project seeks to investigate the consequences of demographic and economic growth on the health, domestic arrangements and built environment of the inhabitants of the parishes of London's eastern suburbs, specifically St Botolph Aldgate and Holy Trinity Minories, between 1550 and 1700.
Levied to pay for the extraordinary expenses of fighting foreign wars, the Poll Tax was a tax on every individual (except those who were exempt), with surcharges for wealthier inhabitants. Consequently, collecting the tax required an extensive listing of inhabitants, making its records extremely valuable for the study of population and family history. The inclusion of occupational information for about a third of the names also makes it valuable for the study of social and economic structures.
Poll taxes were used several times in the seventeenth century to raise funds for warfare. Levied in 1641 and three times between 1660 and 1678, poll taxes were used most frequently in the decade after 1688, to pay for King William's increasingly expensive continental wars. A tax was levied once in 1689-90 and once in 1690, and then four times a year in 1692-93, 1694-95 and 1698-99.1
The basic level of tax was a shilling per head for both adults and children. Surcharges were payable by the nobility; gentry; those with personal wealth over £300; religious officials; merchants, tradesmen and shopkeepers with personal wealth above £300; various office holders, lawyers and legal officials; and those who kept a coach. In London, the two most frequently paid surcharges were levied on tradesmen, shopkeepers and vintners with personal wealth above £300 (who paid £2); and merchants and gentlemen with real or personal wealth above £300, and clergymen, lawyers and legal officers (who paid £4).2
A significant proportion of the population, however, was exempt, including all adults receiving alms and those who were exempt from paying church rates and poor rates and their children, and all children of day labourers and of parents with four or more children and an estate worth less than £50 or less. In a relatively poor parish like St Botolph Aldgate this amounted to a large number of people: only 43% of the inhabitants of Portsoken Ward (of which St Botolph's was a part) actually paid the tax in 1692.3
The database covers only the part of the parish of St Botolph Aldgate which was in the City of London, which includes five precincts. It includes assessments from all five precincts from the taxes levied in 1690, 1692-93, and 1698, as well as the assessments for one precinct (Houndsditch) in 1694. The same individuals, therefore, often appear more than once.
The database has 4,266 entries, in the form of abstracts of the original returns. Each entry concerns a named individual, either the householder, in which case the presence of other members of the household are summarised, or a single individual. In order to view all the named members of a household, it is necessary to use the previous and next buttons to see the others, who will all have the same Property No. A property, or houseful, can have more than one household. Each household is normally presented with the entry for the householder first, followed by those for any named spouse and children, and then servants and apprentices. To determine who the master or mistress of a named servant or apprentice is, therefore, you will need to consult previous entries to find the householder.
The entries are divided into the following fields:
- Unique Project ID: Unique identification number, assigned by the London Lives project.
- Title: Mostly blank, but includes assessor, captain, doctor, examined by, Madam, Mr, Mrs, and, most frequently, widow.
- Suffix: Mostly blank, but includes collector, Esquire, Gent, junior, and widow.
- Occupation: Provided for about a third of the entries.
- Year: Year of assessment.
- Precinct: Name of precinct within the parish.
- Project Property No.: The number assigned by the modern database compiler to each group of names, or houseful, in the assessment, as indicated by the lines or divisions made by the contemporary assessor. As this follows the sequence of the original source, it gives an indication of the order in which the assessments were drawn up. Each precinct is numbered separately within each year.
- Spouse: If a householder, indicates if a spouse was included in the houseful: yes (y), no (n), or possible (p).
- Children: If a householder, indicates if one or more children were included in the houseful: yes (y), no (n), or possible (p).
- Apprentices: If a householder, indicates if one or more apprentices were included in the houseful: yes (y), no (n), or possible (p).
- Servants: If a householder, indicates if one or more servants or maids were included in the houseful: yes (y), no (n), or possible (p).
- Related Kin: If a householder, indicates if related kin (other than spouses or children) were included in the same houseful: yes (y), no (n), or possible (p).
- Relationships: If a householder, explains how other members of the houseful are related to the principal entry, most commonly as wives, children, apprentices, maids, servants, and lodgers.
- Notes: Includes both original notes in the assessment, and queries and comments raised by the modern transcriber.
- Coach: Indicates if the individual or married couple was taxed for owning a coach: yes (y), no (n), or possible (p). Blank for many entries.
- Rental Value in £s: Assessment of the inhabitant’s real property holdings. Blank for most entries.
- Personal Property Value in £s: Assessment of the inhabitant’s ready money, goods, and wares. Blank for most entries.
- Poll Tax: The total poll tax assessed for the individual or group in that line of the assessment. Group assessments are identified by the prefix g as in g£1 9s, whereas individual assessments simply appear in the form of a sum of money, such as 1s. These sums were arrived at by charging one shilling for each individual in the group (four shillings in 1698, to cover the whole year), and then adding any relevant surcharges. Please note that the figure may be lower than expected because some of the tax assessed may have been listed separately in an entry not included in this database. If your analysis requires exact information about the amount of tax paid, you should consult the original manuscript, or the Life in the Suburbs Project, which created the original database.
- Archive Reference: Reference for the original manuscript kept in the London Metropolitan Archives.
- Folio No.: The folio number of the manuscript where the entry appears.
A typical entry (with blank fields suppressed) looks like:
- Unique Project ID: 1999
- Forename: John
- Surname: Cotton
- Year: 1692
- Precinct: Tower hill
- Project Property No.: 192
- Spouse: y
- Children: n
- Apprentices: n
- Servants: n
- Related Kin: n
- Relationships: and wife
- Coach: n
- Poll Tax: g2s
- Archive Reference: COL/CHD/LA/03/32/61
- Folio No.: 8
There is considerable overlap between the names found in these assessments and other records in London Lives, but it is important to remember that since the poorest half of the population was exempt from the Poll Tax, overlap with those receiving poor relief, or accused of crime, is likely to be minimal.
Records of the other taxes raised in the 1690s are particularly likely to overlap with the Poll Tax assessments. A parallel database of the Marriage Duty Assessments (MDA) from 1695 for the parish of St Botolph Aldgate, compiled by the same project team, and the dataset of the Four Shillings in the Pound Aid for London in 1693/94, are both included in London Lives. The interrelationships between these three sets of taxation records have been explored in studies listed in the introductory reading.
London Lives also includes a wide range of other parish records from St Botolph Aldgate, including the Parish Registers, 1681-1709 (PAR) and the records of poor relief. For the period around 1695 these include the Churchwarden's Accounts (AC), Apprenticeship Indentures (IA), and Vestry Minutes (MV). However, while several parish officials and masters appear in both the poor relief and Poll Tax records, this is unlikely to apply to many paupers.
Beyond this, the taxpayers listed in the Poll Tax assessments are likely to appear as victims, witnesses and jurymen in the Old Bailey Proceedings (OBP), and as officers in the administrative records of Bridewell, the Carpenters' Company, and St Thomas's Hospital.
- Glass, D. V. Socio-Economic Status and Occupations in the City of London at the End of the Seventeenth Century. In A.E. Hollander and William Kellaway (eds). Studies in London History presented to P.E. Jones. 1969.
- Schurer, Kevin and Arkell, Tom, eds. Surveying the People: The Interpretation and use of Document Sources for the Study of Population in the Later Seventeenth Century. Oxford, 1992.
- Spence, Craig. London in the 1690s: A Social Atlas. Centre for Metropolitan History, 2000.
For further reading on this subject see the London Lives Bibliography.
1 For a list of the relevant statutes and their provisions, see Tom Arkell, An Examination of the Poll Taxes of the Later Seventeenth Century, the Marriage Duty Act, and Gregory King, in Kevin Schurer and Tom Arkell, eds, Surveying the People: The Interpretation and use of Document Sources for the Study of Population in the Later Seventeenth Century (Oxford, 1992), pp. 144-50 and 178-79. ⇑
2 James Alexander, The City Revealed: An Analysis of the 1692 Poll Tax and the 1693 4s Aid in London, in Kevin Schurer and Tom Arkell, eds, Surveying the People: The Interpretation and use of Document Sources for the Study of Population in the Later Seventeenth Century (Oxford, 1992), p. 183. ⇑
3 Alexander, City Revealed, pp. 185-86. ⇑