Who owned Earls Colne in 1798....or how to squeeze more from the Land Tax
Hoyle, R. (2011) Who owned Earls Colne in 1798....or how to squeeze more from the Land Tax. The Local Historian, 41 (4). pp. 267-277. ISSN 0024-5585
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In this important article Richard Hoyle, one of the country’s leading historians of the early modern period, introduces new perspectives on the Land Tax and its use in the analysis of local communities in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. He uses as his case study the parish of Earls Colne in Essex, on which he has already written extensively with Professor Henry French. The article begins with an overview of the tax itself, explaining its history and the procedures for the collection of revenues – including the numerous changes which took place. The sizeable problems confronting any would-be analyst of the data are clearly identified, and Hoyle observes that because of these apparently insoluble difficulties the potential of the tax returns has never been fully realised. He then considers the surviving documentation in The National Archives, providing an accessible introduction to the sources and their arrangement, and describing the particularly important question o f the redemption of the tax by payment of a lump sum. The extent of redemption (in the years around 1800-1804) is discussed. Hoyle draws attention to the potential for linking the tax returns themselves with the redemption certificates (which have never been subjected to historical analysis and thereby proposes new ways of exploiting the evidence of the taxation as a whole. The article then discusses in detail the specific case of Earls Colne, with tabulated data showing the research potential. Topics analysed include the ownership of property ranked by size of payment, and calculations whereby the amount paid may be used to determine the worth of land and the structure of individual estates. The important question of absentee owners is investigated, and there is a very valuable consideration of the potential for looking at portfolio estate ownership, whereby owners held land in varying proportions in a number of parishes. It is suggested that such studies will allow us to be more aware of the entirety of property ownership, which a focus on a single community does not permit. In the concluding paragraph it is argued that using these sources we may see the rise and fall of estates, gain new information on landownership, landholding and farm size, and even approach the challenging topic of the distribution of wealth.