Stuart-era Girl Power revealed

Striking new details about the working lives of London women, and families from the royals to the Pepys’ at the time of the Great Fire of London has been revealed, thanks to in-depth research on the number of fireplaces in homes.

Posted: 14 July 2014

image for news story Stuart-era Girl Power revealed
The Hearth Tax return for Thomas Farrinor, blamed for starting the Great Fire of London. His entry is ninth from the top on the right hand page.

Academics at the respected Centre for Hearth Tax Research, based at the University of Roehampton, have published their latest findings, which cover the year 1666. The culmination of a seven year project, a 1,900 page work reveals thousands of records on house size, occupants and occupations, immigration and even royalty kept by mid-17th century tax collectors.

They found an outbreak of Stuart-era girl power in the capital, with significant numbers of women as heads of their households, deploying skilled trades and occupying sizeable homes.

Analysis of original tax records more than 300 years old also showed royals and high society were reluctant to allow tax men to enter their homes with some resorting to physical threats.

The documents record insalubrious alleys crammed with impoverished residents and the nitty gritty of the collection process: notes of payment and non-payment, doorstep arguments and complaints and items taken in lieu of payment.

Dr Andrew Wareham, from the University of Roehampton, said: “Tax records like these paint an illuminating picture of people’s lives at the time of the plague and the great fire, which is just fantastic. We can compare our own circumstances with our ancestors, and in many cases, they’re not all that different.

“Women were running businesses, the richest in society were hesitant about revealing their tax affairs, the state was keeping records on everyone, going to pubs was an immensely popular pastime and London was sucking in hundreds of people from the north and other parts of the UK.”

This level of in depth research carried out at Roehampton and with the University’s partners has lead to a body of work which will be relied on by scholars for decades into the future and is described as a contribution to recording London’s personal history by the authors.

For more information, visit the centre's web page

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