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Land Tax Records

In 1692 Parliament approved a new tax on personal estate, public offices, and land to raise money for the war against France. The records of land tax, as it came to be known, are an important source for genealogists and historians, but like the ratebooks (see Ratebooks Introduction ) they are more useful when they survive in series and can be used in conjunction with other sources such as parish registers, census returns, and maps.

Land tax assessments give details for each parish of annual rentals (frozen at the 1690's levels or often omitted altogether), names of proprietors (including copyholders), names of occupiers (rarely before 1772), brief descriptions of property (only from c.1825), and the sum assessed. An Act of 1798 allowed property to be exonerated (i.e. freed from tax) by payment of a lump sum. This process was also known as land tax redemption. From this date the column for the sum assessed is divided into two sections for property "exonerated" and "not exonerated".

Land tax records form a valuable source for tracing changes in the ownership and occupation of property and for providing clues about the personal wealth of inhabitants in a locality. For the smaller Bedfordshire parishes properties appear in roughly the same place in each annual assessment, but for the larger parishes such as Bedford (St. Paul) the assessments are arranged in alphabetical order by owner. Consequently it is more difficult to follow changes in ownership unless the name of the previous owner is also given.

Early survivals of Bedfordshire land tax assessments, as for most counties, are rare because there was no provision for copies to be retained by central government or its local agents. The earliest known assessments are for Renhold, 1697 and 1706 [Ref. PO14 p.39] and Old Warden, 1699-1705 [Ref.PE186]. Details of surviving assessments are in the searchroom card index under "FINANCE, Public: Taxation: Land Tax". By the mid-eighteenth century the survival rate improves slightly and there is a complete return for Manshead Hundred for 1750 [Ref.F89], but it is not until 1783 that there is a return for the entire county, excluding Bedford town [Ref.HA14/5]. A copy of this return in on the searchroom shelves at 120 LAN.

In 1780 payment of land tax on freehold property annually established voting qualifications and copies of the assessments were kept by the Clerks of the Peace. However, land tax records in the archives of Bedfordshire Quarter Sessions (see QDL in the brown catalogues marked QA - QR in the searchroom) are only extant from 1797 to 1832, but returns for these dates survive for all parishes in the historic County.

The introduction of electoral registration in 1832 meant that Quarter Sessions no longer retained land tax records. Assessments after that date are to be found in the archives of firms of solicitors acting as Land Tax Commissioners (see brown LX catalogue). Coverage from 1832 is good for parishes in the hundreds of Manshead. Redbornestoke and Flitt, but very patchy for the others. After 1832 exonerated property did not have to be listed in the schedules, so it is important to realise that subsequent assessments contain a steadily diminishing proportion of all property owners. There are, however, registers of redemptions for the hundreds of Flitt [Ref: LX129/1), Manshead [Ref: LX131], and Redbornestoke [Ref: LX133/1] from 1799 together with redemption contracts from the 1880's. The records cease in 1949 when compulsory redemption was introduced prior to the abolition of the tax in 1963.