Following on from the last article here I got a comment posted byÂ James McLaren of the Channel Island Family History Society regarding using Rate books both in his specialist area of Jersey family history research and also for London by using the Land Tax assessments and the Electoral Registers on Ancestry.co.uk.
As my interest was piqued I have done a bit more research on the subject and share some of my findings here.
A rate book is a document that was used to record the payment of property taxes that was applied to both residential and business properties in the U.K. until its replacement with the council tax during the 1990s.
As a resident of Jersey I am well aware that, in our island, Rates are still levied by our civil Parish administration along with a recent addition of an island wide rate collected at the same time. Some part of that rate pays for the upkeep of roads, lighting, bins emptied while a small part of it is still used to upkeep the ancient Parish Church in each of the twelve parishes of Jersey.
I was, therefore, interested to find that rates in England and Wales were originally a levy for the parish church that, by the time of Henry VIII’s Reformation, were also being used for non ecclesiastical purposes such as repairs to bridges and local goals. Many rates collections were to support the Poor Law to maintain the workhouses and provide money for the elderly or incapacitated parishioners.
The theory of rates was that a property would be assessed at what its annual rental value was and each year I am intrigued to see what my house in St.Helier has been deemed to be worth in rent – if I didn’t need to live in it, that is!
Returning to my look at rates collected in bygone England and Wales, some householders will no doubt have objected to the level of assessment of their property. Appeals were then heard by the Justices of the Peace.
The collection, of these land taxes, would have been the responsibility of the parish constable, until the establishment of professional police forces when a full or part-time rate collector would have done the job. It was up to the constable to record the payments, and any arrears, in rate books which were then perused by the parish officials.
My investigation revealed that the earliest rate books stretch back as far as the 16th century, but you would be very lucky to find one from then. Most seem to begin in 1744, which was the year when ratepayers were given the right in law to inspect the rate records. Needless to say not all will have survived the passing of time and so gaps will occur.
So where does one look for rate books? The answer is in the County or City Record Offices and also at local history studies libraries.
The websites that I use the most at the moment are Find My Past and The Genealogist.co.uk. To Take your family history further I recommend that you too consider a subscription to these websites. Take a look now and see what great data sets they have to offer:
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