Prime Minister William Pitt the younger was under pressure to raise taxation to help pay for the Napoleonic Wars with France, which proved to be very expensive, costing the country £831 million, £49 billion in today’s money. The government had to come up with ever more ingenious ways to pay for the wars, which included taxes on bricks, clocks, watches, hats, medicine, playing cards, soap, newspapers, gloves, perfume, hired horses and hair powder before resorting to Income Tax from 1799.
The Hair Powder Tax was introduced in 1795 by "Independent Whig" William Pitt. The Whig party (no connection to the wearing of wigs) was a political party from 1680’s to the 1850’s and a rival to the Tory party.
Anyone who wished to use hair powder had to obtain an annual certificate from their local Justice of the Peace and to pay a stamp duty of one guinea (£1.05) per annum, which in today’s money is £127! The use of wigs was in the decline by this stage in favour of more natural hairstyles and this only hastened its demise. In 1812 46,664 people paid the tax, but by 1855 only 997 paid. By the time the tax was repealed in June 1869 it only yielded £1,000 per annum.
There were certain exceptions to paying the tax: - The Royal Family and their servants - Clergymen with an income of under £100 a year - Non-commissioned officers, privates in the army, artillery, militia, mariners, engineers, fencibles (were a type of home guard set up to defend the United Kingdom and the colonies during the second half of the 18th century and first half of the 19th centuries), subalterns (a British military term for a junior officer), officers in the navy below commander, yeomanry and volunteers. - The master of a household could buy a certificate for a servant which would be valid for their successors within that year. - A father with more than one unmarried daughters could buy two certificates which would be valid for all his daughters. - One payment could be made for a group of servants in one household.
A list of who had paid was sent to the Quarter Session court, with a copy fixed to the door of the parish church. These now form part of the Quarter Session records held by us, with the reference number WSA A1/395. Fines were imposed for those who did not pay the tax.
The wearing of periwigs – wig for short, became very fashionable during the 17th and 18th Century. But as with a lot fashion, one has to contend with some hardship: nits, plague, robbers and tax!
Among the papers of the Jeffrey family deposited in the Wiltshire & Swindon Archives, (Ref:1369/16) are a remarkable collection of letters to and from John Russell, a man probably best described as an 18th century equivalent to Samuel Pepys.
Working in the first half of that century, Russell became Clerk to the Navy at Deptford from 1730, having already spent much time at sea and went on to become Consul General in Lisbon in 1749.
The letters offer a wonderful insight into naval life during this period and often refer to ‘celebrities’ of the time. Beau Brummel, for instance, gets a mention in one letter. Archivists at the History Centre believe this collection has a national importance.
Unfortunately, the ravages of time, mould and mice have taken their toll leaving the letters extremely weak and fragile and requiring conservation.
The Archive Conservation staff have an on-going programme of repair and another folder of 50 letters (they number hundreds in total), is nearing completion. Because of their precarious condition full, traditional repair has been carried out involving backing, endorsements and infilling. This will prevent further damage and at last make them accessible to researchers.