Over the past 10 years of working at LMA I have lost count of the number of times that I have been asked ‘What do you have that will help me find somebody’s address prior to the 1841 census?’ If they have already exhausted parish records and directories I would often refer people to the land tax, although this usually needed to come hand in hand with a warning that it wouldn’t be easy. Thankfully, the launch of the London Land Tax Records, 1692–1932, at Ancestry.co.uk solves that problem.
London Metropolitan Archives has long held a large series of Land Tax assessments. Records survive from the old Counties of London and Middlesex for the years 1767 and 1780-1832 and the City of London from 1693 to 1930. Due to the sheer scale of these records, nobody had ever managed to create a name index for them and there had only ever been intermittent street indexes to indicate which streets fell into which assessment wards.
Consequently if someone is looking for an individual they would at least need to have an address or parish where that person was living at a particular time. Even if they found them they could only track how long they were at that address. Once they were gone there would be no clue as to where they had moved to.
The alternative would be to simply trawl through each parish. If this thought wasn’t enough to put you off, the fact that in 1811 a parish such as Saint Marylebone was sub divided into 11 different wards, usually was.
Land tax has therefore largely been left to academic researchers and social historians like Derek Morris, who used the records as a starting point to build up a database of local residents of different parishes in the East End of London. Learn more about Derek’s work (http://www.singsurf.org/stepney/).
The digitisation of these Land Tax records by Ancestry.co.uk has opened up a fantastic resource for both family and social historians. The Land Tax assessments are a major series of records showing land ownership and occupation much of which covers the years just prior to the first census. The ability to search by name makes such a big difference and you can now track the movement of some heads of household from parish to parish within London.
Of course it’s not all plain sailing, after all this is family history. A little bit of knowledge about the way the information was recorded will help you get the best out of your search.
Unlike the census only heads of households are listed so unfortunately you are not going to find whole families recorded. For most of the period, streets were not recorded in any systematic way. The same street may actually be split over two or three pages as it would have been recorded along the lines of the route that the enumerator took. Don’t be confused by the numbers that look like street numbers, these are actually assessment numbers.
When searching for an individual by name you need to remember that entries have been indexed exactly as they appear in the original register. In many of the early Land Tax assessments Christian names would have been abbreviated. If you are searching for Thomas Baker, for example, you might actually find that he is recorded as Thos. Baker.
Similarly many of the early land tax assessments simply recorded an individual as Mr rather than actually giving their first name, or the first name might be abbreviated to just the first letter. You may also find that if the head of the household was a female and a widow then her Christian name might be recorded as Widd.
Andrew’s Biography: Andrew is a Senior Information Officer at The London Metropolitan Archives where he has worked in the public rooms for the past 10 years advising readers and answering their enquiries on a daily basis. He specialises in Genealogy and the Middlesex Quarter Sessions
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