The window tax
was a significant social, cultural, and architectural force in England, France and Scotland during the 18th and 19th centuries. Some houses from the period can be seen to have bricked-up window-spaces (ready to be glazed at a later date), as a result of the tax.
The tax was introduced in England and Wales
England and Wales is a jurisdiction within the United Kingdom. It consists of England and Wales, two of the four countries of the United Kingdom...
under the Act of Making Good the Deficiency of the Clipped Money
in 1696 under King William III
William III & II was a sovereign Prince of Orange of the House of Orange-Nassau by birth. From 1672 he governed as Stadtholder William III of Orange over Holland, Zeeland, Utrecht, Guelders, and Overijssel of the Dutch Republic. From 1689 he reigned as William III over England and Ireland...
and was designed to impose tax relative to the prosperity of the taxpayer, but without the controversy that then surrounded the idea of income tax
An income tax is a tax levied on the income of individuals or businesses . Various income tax systems exist, with varying degrees of tax incidence. Income taxation can be progressive, proportional, or regressive. When the tax is levied on the income of companies, it is often called a corporate...
. At that time, many people in Britain opposed income tax, on principle, because they believed that the disclosure of personal income represented an unacceptable governmental intrusion into private matters, and a potential threat to personal liberty. In fact the first permanent British income tax was not introduced until 1842, and the issue remained intensely controversial well into the 20th century.
When the window tax was introduced, it consisted of two parts: a flat-rate house tax of 2 shillings per house (£ as of ), and a variable tax for the number of windows above ten windows in the house. Properties with between ten and twenty windows paid a total of four shillings (£ as of ),, and those above twenty windows paid eight shillings(£ as of ),. The number of windows that incurred tax was changed to seven in 1766 and eight in 1825. The flat-rate tax was changed to a variable rate, dependent on the property value, in 1778. People who were exempt from paying church or poor rates, for reasons of poverty, were exempt from the window tax. Window tax was relatively unintrusive and easy to assess. The bigger the house, the more windows it was likely to have, and the more tax the occupants would pay. Nevertheless, the tax was unpopular, because it was seen by some as a tax on "light and air".
In Scotland a Window Tax
was imposed after 1748. A house had to have at least seven windows or a rent of at least £5 to be taxed.
A similar tax existed in France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...
from 1798 to 1926, the Doors And Windows Tax
There was a strong agitation in England in favour of the abolition of the tax during the winter of 1850-1851, and it was accordingly repealed on the 24th July 1851, and a tax on inhabited houses substituted.
Some allege that the term "daylight robbery" originated from this tax. However, according to the Oxford English Dictionary
The Oxford English Dictionary , published by the Oxford University Press, is the self-styled premier dictionary of the English language. Two fully bound print editions of the OED have been published under its current name, in 1928 and 1989. The first edition was published in twelve volumes , and...
, the phrase daylight robbery was first recorded in 1949, many years after the "window tax", which places doubt upon the claim. However, the phrase originates from at least 1916, when it was mentioned in Harold Brighouse
Harold Brighouse was an English playwright and author whose best known play is Hobson's Choice. He was a prominent member, together with Allan Monkhouse and Stanley Houghton, of a group known as the Manchester School of dramatists.-Early life:Harold Brighouse was born in Eccles, Salford, the...
’s play Hobson's Choice
, and it should be remembered that the Oxford English Dictionary only records the first provable written instance of the phrase that its etymologists can find, so the phrase might have been used in everyday speech beforehand, or even in published writing.