Daylight Robbery; the Window Tax – a Steampunk Perspective

Window Tax

Image courtesy of Gerard Tohill Photography – all rights reserved


“The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.”            L. P. Hartley

These days, we take income tax for granted as a necessary evil. Income tax isn’t the only method of taxation that burdens us, but it seems the most logical … right? Surprisingly, income tax is a modern phenomenon. For a long time, people were against an income tax because they saw it as a breach of their right to privacy. During the 17th century, British coinage was devalued because so much of it was clipped; the edges cut, shaved or filed off because the coins were made of gold or silver. Taxation was the option taken by the government to make up the deficiency this created.

The barn owls in a quatrefoil church window.

The barn owls in a quatrefoil church window.

There was a flat rate of taxation per house, and  then more windows you had, the more you were taxed. This impacted on the architecture of the era, and not to its benefit. Windows were boarded or bricked up in existing houses, while new houses were built with less windows or faux windows. It is a wonder it wasn’t this era that was referred to as the dark ages. The window tax wasn’t repealed until 1851.

There were several forces at work for this repeal. First off, it was considered a tax on light and air, which meant it was considered a tax on health; bad air was considered a major contributor to disease. Then there was the building of the Crystal Palace in 1851, which had created a plate glass industry that now needed an outlet. The consumption of glass for domestic use hadn’t increased in fifty years, and the tax was obviously depressing the industry, just as it was becoming mechanized.


Window detail from the Red House, home of William Morris

So, after the tax was repealed, people began to get very creative with their glass windows. The increased use of windows increased the use of light, which changed how houses were decorated internally as well as externally.

What a great fact to base a metaphor or analogy upon! Start the novel confused and in the dark, and lead your characters, and audience, out into the light and fresh air.



Filed under Analogy, History, Metaphors, Research, Setting, Steampunk, writing

6 responses to “Daylight Robbery; the Window Tax – a Steampunk Perspective

  1. gtonthenet

    No offence – but you have used my image as header for this article, and i have not been credited. Would you mind doing so please, or removing the image.
    Thanks in advance.

  2. Reblogged this on Cogpunk Steamscribe and commented:

    The top image for this article is courtesy Gerard Tohill Photography – all rights reserved. I am grateful for him contacting me to set the record straight, because I do prefer to give credit where credit is due.

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