The History Behind The Dreaded Window Tax
The Window Tax Lasting 156 Years
The Window Tax was introduced in the UK in 1696 under the reign of King William 111 to raise some much needed cash for the country. I haven’t been able to access if it was the King himself who came up with this most unpopular tax or one of his members of parliament or his bean counter, but we do know it was also called a tax on ”light and air” and was thought it be one of the most loathed taxes introduced into the UK.
During this time income tax was opposed by the citizens of the UK on the principle it was a potential threat to their personal liberty, in fact income tax was not introduced till 1842 and remained controversial till the 20th century. So to raise money during this time the window tax came into play and actually lasted 156 years.
The tax consisted of two parts: a flat-rate house tax of 2 shillings (£11 in today’s money), per house and a variable tax for the number of windows above ten.
Ironically it had to be abolished in July 1851 because it was hindering the growth of glass manufacturing, an essential part of a market economy. In the same year Crystal Palace was opened which was an all glass building.
Evidence of the impact of this tax can still be seen around the UK on Georgian properties today. To avoid paying the window tax windows were bricked up by home owners and a proportion of these windows would probably have been in the servants’ quarters. Many wealthy home owners used the ability to pay the tax to show off their position in society demonstrating their status by paying the tax on all their windows. Unlike other poorer home owners who were resorted to bricking up the openings to reduce their tax bill.
Hardwick Hall was built in 1590s well before the introduction of the window tax and is famously known for its light airy rooms and the number of large windows it possesses. The rhyme “Hardwick Hall, more window than wall,” was used by the villagers to describe the Hall and sums up the look of the property perfectly. Paying the window tax was not a problem for the Cavendish family as they were an extremely rich.
Hardwick Hall more window than wall.
For rich families like the Cavendish family being able to keep their property in tacked was very much a statement to everyone one else of “look how well I’m doing”. You could compare this to the footballer’s wives of today, who display their wealth and status through properties, cars, holidays and designer bags; back in 1696 it was all about the windows!
The Expression “Daylight Robbery”
Meaning – Blatant and unfair overcharging.
I have heard the expression “daylight robbery” comes from the introduction of the window tax, which would make perfect sense as it was a theft of people’s daylight.
However there is no mention of this expression in print till 1916, in a comic play – Hobson’s choice by Harold Brighouse and then it wasn’t used to mean over charging.
Some years later in 1949 Daniel Marcus wrote in his novel Davin’s Roads from Home: “I can never afford it, said his sister. It’s daylight robbery.” This was a reference to a purchase.
So it seems strange that if the expression was related to window tax in 1696 why wasn’t it seen in print for another 200 years? Until any real evidence is found we have to say that the origin of this expression is still unknown.
A New Window Tax in 2014?
Just as a final thought, can you imagine if the government brought in a window tax for 2014 and it wasn’t just your properties windows that would be included? This window tax would also include your mobile phone, lap top, and tablet in fact anything that had a glass screen!