Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Daylight Robbery

'In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.’
Benjamin Franklin (1706 - 1790)

 Window tax is possibly one of the strangest forms of taxation ever devised, also known as ‘the tax on light and air’ it was introduced in 1696 by the then king of England William III to help make up for losses caused by the clipping of coinage. The tax would take into account the amount of windows a dwelling had and would then charge accordingly, in 1747 a house with ten to fourteen windows would have to pay 6d per window, fifteen to nineteen windows the tax was 9d and anything exceeding twenty window the costs was 1s.

Almost immediately people began to resent paying this tax and as early as 1718 it was noted that there was a decline in revenue raised by the tax as people began blocking windows up.

Of coarse the wealthy would do the opposite and as a sign of their ability to pay the levy they would build grand, ostentatious houses with literally hundreds of windows. It also seems that the professional classes were not to be out done either and conceived the idea of building houses with exceptionally large windows in them. Some windows known as Bottle Windows would run the whole length of the house, allowing the interior to be flooded with light.  



 By the mid nineteenth century and with the industrial revolution in full flow the more enlightened people in society realised that the lack of light and air in poor urban areas had begun to have an adverse effect on the populace, causing disease and ill health to run rife through the cities’ dark and damp tenements. By 1851 the situation was deemed so bad that the Act was repealed by the government and was eventually replaced with a new tax system.

It is believed by some that the phrase ‘Daylight Robbery’  may have originated from the taxation on windows, but  it has to be said that the expression itself was not officially recognised by the Oxford English Dictionary until 1949 when it appeared in print in a book by Daniel Marcus Davin called ‘Roads From Home’.

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