Vol. 77: East Sussex Land Tax, 1785



Author: Roger Davy
Volume: Volume 77
Published 1991
ISBN: 978 085445 038 1

The Land Tax, like a rate, was an annual charge on the occupiers of houses and land which for over two centuries in England and Wales formed one of the staple sources of income for the government. The records of its assessment and collection have long been recognised as of major importance for a wide range of historical studies, from aspects of social and economic history, to the more personal or local (but no less fascinating) realms of family and estate history. This volume, however, achieves for the first time (so far as it is known) the publication of a full transcription and index of the lists for an entire county in a single year.

The year chosen is 1785, one of the earliest to provide national coverage through surviving records, and the county is East Sussex-comprising 146 parishes and liberties, including the towns of East Grinstead, Lewes, Hastings and Rye, as well as the biggest single parish covered, the important developing town of Brighton. Over 12,500 units of assessment (houses and land) are listed, of varying sizes, which were in the ownership or occupation of nearly 10,000 individuals. The lists thus represent more than half the contemporary householders of the county, or nearly 10% of the population.

All personal and place names are indexed here, making the volume in effect a ‘directory’ of East Sussex of a considerably earlier date than the useful printed series developed in Victorian times. Moreover, many farm and other minor local names which are not readily to be found in other reference books can now for the first time be speedily located.

This volume is thus an essential tool for locating ancestors and setting them in their local context. It also enables the social and economic historian to identify the spread of large and small estates, to make some assessment of the wealth of individuals, and to indicate the concentration and diffusion of land ownership in different areas. And last, but not least, it provides a valuable `key’ to much more by unlocking the means of entry to other original records-earlier and later land tax assessments, and related records such as manorial court rolls, rate books, title deeds, and estate papers. It is hoped that the volume, as a pioneering venture, may point the way to similar projects in other areas, thus opening up an important source to wider study.

Roger Davey has been the County Archivist of East Sussex since 1981, with previous professional experience in Cumberland and Hampshire; his other published work includes an edition of the Hampshire Lay Subsidy Rolls, 1586. He was aided in the land tax project by a team of volunteer transcribers at the East Sussex Record Office. Ann Hudson, who prepared the index, has worked extensively on Sussex historical publications, including the Victoria County History and Sussex Archaeological Collections.

Cover picture: detail from estate map of Church Farm, Icklesham, by J. Adams of Tenterden, 1825. (East Sussex Record Office, AMS 6188/18)