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 By the time the tax was repealed in June 1869 it only yielded £1,000 per annum.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!
2015 is a year for historical anniversaries such as the anniversary of Gallipolli, the Battle of Waterloo and the 800th anniversary of the signing of Magna Carta. Through its assertion of justice and the rule of law over the power of the monarchy, Magna Carta (which is Latin for ‘Great Charter’) has become a powerful symbol of human rights, referenced by the Founding Fathers of the United States in the 19th century and by Nelson Mandela in his defence at his trial in 1964.
So what was the Magna Carta? “Magna Carta, issued in June 1215, was an attempt to prevent an immediate civil war. It was the result of negotiations between the king’s party and a group of rebellious barons, negotiations facilitated by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Stephen Langton. These took place on ‘neutral’ territory at Runnymede, near the royal castle at Windsor. By this agreement the king guaranteed many rights which he or his officials had disputed, and these included such things as the freedom of the Church, the rights of towns, and that justice could not be bought or sold. The proof of these royally granted or acknowledged rights was the great charter, copies of which were sent around the country. In an age before mass communication, documents bearing the king’s great seal were the evidence of royal policy.” (Source: http://www.salisburycathedral.org.uk/magna-carta/why-was-it-written)
It is of course important to remember that Magna Carta was a product of its time – many of its clauses were only applicable to free men or women, a minority in 1215. (About 2/3 of the population were villeins or bondsmen, who had to perform services laid down by custom for their local lord of the manor, such as working on the lord’s land free of charge.) It also contains two clauses relating to Jewish money-lending which appear anti-semitic to modern sensibilities, sadly reflecting English society of the time. However, despite this, the overall effect of the charter has been to promote human rights. The 39th clause (which gives all free men the right to justice and a fair trial) inspired the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, which in turn helped to create the UK Human Rights Act, 1998.
The Magna Carta is of particular interest to us in Wiltshire because we have several local connections to this famous document.