After the demise of the Parliamentarians in 1660, King Charles II was restored to the throne. The new Government voted the King an annual income of £1.2 million to run the country, but this proved to be insufficient. They needed to raise another £300,000 and in 1662 the Hearth Tax, sometimes called “the Chimney Tax”, was levied. Unfortunately it never raised this amount and it was abandoned after the 1688 revolution when King James II fled to France and William of Orange and his wife Mary were proclaimed King and Queen of England.
Every householder with property worth 20 shillings or more and who was not exempted by poverty was liable to pay 2 shillings per annum for every fire, hearth or stove in his house. One shilling was collected at Michaelmas (29th September) and one shilling on Lady Day (25th March).
At the time of the 1672 return, four collectors were appointed for the Wapentake of Strafforth and Tickhill, what is now essentially South Yorkshire, and they asked the local constables of each parish to calculate and collect the tax. The Collector for Aston-cum-Aughton was Robert Benit and the local Constable was James Hobson. The constables had the right of entry to check any query about the number of hearths in a property and they received two pence in the pound of the money collected “for their considerable trouble”.
In Aston and Aughton there were 66 households and a total of 148 hearths. Eleven of these were listed as poor and therefore did not pay the tax. This left 137 hearths at 2 shillings each, making a total of 274 shillings (£13.14s).
The Hon. Conyers Darcy had 27 hearths in Aston Hall and so paid 54 shillings (£2.14s.) Two households had eight hearths, one had seven, two had six, two had four, six had three and thirteen had two hearths. This left 23 who had one hearth. Anyone with more than seven hearths was regarded as being part of the wealthy social/economic group. Between three and six hearths was the middling group and two or less hearths the lower group. The lower group included the craftsmen, yeomen and labourers of the community, probably living in dwellings of just two or three rooms.
In Ulley there were 20 households with a total of 34 hearths. One had 5 hearths, one had 4 hearths and 7 had 2 hearths. The remaining eleven households had just 1 hearth and there were none listed as poor.
Looking at the returns of other local villages, the only one with a residence with more than 27 hearths was the Honourable William Earl of Strafford at Wentworth with 43 hearths. This is followed by Sir Thomas Osbourne at Harthill and Woodhall with 26 hearths, Ralph Hansby Esq. at Tickhill with 25 hearths, Sir John Reresby Bart at Thrybergh with 22 hearths and Sir Thomas Robinson Bart at Thorpe Salvin with 20 hearths. Sir Francis Fane (son of Sir Francis Fane and Lady Elizabeth Darcy of Aston) had 15 hearths at Firbeck Hall and Sir Ralph Knight at Letwell had 14 hearths.
No county has a complete set of records of the Hearth Tax, but the fullest return for South Yorkshire is that for Lady Day 1672 and is kept in Wakefield Metropolitan District Council Library.
For anyone interested, a transcript of this Hearth Tax Return can be seen on line at https://www.thebritishacademy.ac.uk/projects/academy-research-projects-hearth-tax-england-wales/