National Records of Scotland

Preserving the past, Recording the present, Informing the future

Taxation Records

Taxation Records

National Records of Scotland (NRS) holds several series of records relating to taxation. Until the 17th century taxation was regarded as an extraordinary source of revenue levied for specific purposes such as the defence of the realm, the king's marriage or the knighting of his eldest son. Originally taxation fell on land and property with the barons, the burghs and the church sharing the burden. Details of late medieval taxation can be found in exchequer records but there are no actual accounts until James VI's reign. In the 17th century the government sought to broaden the tax base. Various early attempts at taxation can be found in taxation records in the Exchequer records (NRS reference E59-70).

Hearth tax, 1691-1695

In 1690 Parliament granted a tax of 14 shillings on every hearth in the kingdom payable by both landowners and tenants to raise money for the army. Only hospitals and the poor living on charity from the parish were exempt. There were huge difficulties in collecting the tax, particularly in highland or remote areas. Collection dragged on for several years until August 1694 when a proclamation called for all hearth lists to be sent to the treasury before 1 October.

As a source, the hearth lists (NRS reference E69) must be used with caution. They are generally arranged by county and then parish or by landed estate. The rolls for the following counties contain lists of householders (some arranged by estate or place): Angus, Ayr, Argyll (but with some areas missing), Bute, Berwick, Clackmannan, Dumbarton, East Lothian, Fife, Kincardine, Lanark, Midlothian, Perth, Renfrew, Roxburgh, Stirling, Sutherland, West Lothian and Wigtown.

The rolls for the counties of Aberdeen, Banff, Dumfries, Kirkcudbright, Moray, Nairn, Peebles and Selkirk give only the total number of hearths surveyed and money collected in each parish or estate. The roll for Inverness-shire consists mainly of a summary of a small number of parishes without listing inhabitants but includes a list of burgesses or inhabitants of the town of Inverness and a list of poor in the parishes surveyed.

There are no rolls for Orkney, Shetland, Caithness, Ross and Cromarty in Exchequer records. Some hearth books were never handed in to the Exchequer and a few survive among collections of private papers. The Leven and Melville papers (NRS reference GD26/7/300-391) contain lists for parishes in Dumfriesshire, Fife, Edinburgh, and Shetland. Lists for parishes in Ross-shire are in the Cromartie papers (NRS reference GD305/1/164).

The hearth tax rolls from Exchequer records (NRS reference E69), along with some of the assessed tax rolls are available online on the ScotlandsPlaces website.

Land tax rolls 1645-1831

Land tax rolls (often called cess rolls or valuation rolls) were compiled by the Commissioners of Supply in each county to enable the collection of the land tax from 1667 onwards. They list the owners of landed estates and assess the rental value of their lands. Rolls were compiled or revised at irregular intervals. The date of a roll is taken to be that on which the valuation was made or revised, but in many cases the surviving copy of the roll was made at a much later date, which is established by the certificate of the commissioners of supply, their clerk or the collector, authenticating it.

Rolls submitted to the Scottish Exchequer (NRS reference E106) are now available online on the ScotlandsPlaces website. Other land tax rolls can be found among Commissioners of Supply records in local archives.

Poll tax, 1693-1699

Poll taxes were imposed in 1694, 1695 and twice in 1698 to pay off the debts and arrears of the army and navy. Payment was graduated at the rate of 6 shillings and upwards according to rank and means; only the poor and children under 16 were exempt. The collectors of the poll tax faced similar difficulties to those of the hearth tax and the records are incomplete. Arranged by county and parish, the amount of information provided varies from list to list (NRS reference E70). Some lists name children and servants.

The poll tax tax rolls from Exchequer records, along with some of the assessed tax rolls are available online on the ScotlandsPlaces website.

Poll Tax rolls in Exchequer and other records
Place Description NRS reference
Aberdeenshire Aberdeenshire parishes 1694 (Kearn only) and 1698 GD52/6-8
Argyllshire Argyll parishes 1698-9 are in Inveraray Sheriff Court records SC54/20/1
Ayrshire 1698-9 E70/1
Berwickshire 1695 GD86/770A and GD158/679
Berwickshire Lauder parish only, 1698 E70/2
East Lothian Dirleton parish only, 1698 E70/3
Edinburgh, Canongate and Leith 1694-8 E70/4
Fife 1698-9 E70/5
Fife Copies of a 1696 list for the parish of Anstruther Wester and St Andrews RH2/1/68
Inverness-shire 1699 E70/6
Lanarkshire 1695-[1700] E70/7
Midlothian 1694-5 E70/8 (see also E70/4)
Nairnshire 1698-9 E70/9
Orkney 1693-6 RH9/15/175
Orkney Kirkwall parish only, 1698 E70/10
Perthshire 1696 GD56/128
Perthshire 1698-9 E70/11 
Perthshire Errol parish only, 1696 GD316/10
Perthshire Dunning parish only, 1696 GD56/128
Renfrewshire 1694-6 E70/12
Selkirkshire Selkirk burgh and parish, 1694-5 GD178/6/1-3
West Lothian 1694-6 E70/13
Wigtownshire 1699 E70/14

18th Century Taxation

After 1748 certain assessed taxes were levied in Scotland and lists of those assessed to pay them survive in the Exchequer records. The Window, Commutation, Inhabited House and Consolidated Assessed Taxes were all taxes on householders though in practice only the better off were taxed. The house had to have at least 7 windows or a rent of at least £5 to be taxed. The war with France from 1793 onwards resulted in the extension of taxation to other forms of property and imposed additional duties on those already taxed. The records of each tax are organised by county and parish with royal burghs listed separately (NRS reference E326).

NRS has begun uploading some of these assessed tax rolls to the ScotlandsPlaces website.

Assessed tax rolls in the NRS
Tax Description Dates Reference Online Availability
Window Tax Names of householders, number of houses and number of windows in houses with seven or more windows 1747/8-1798 E326/1 On ScotlandsPlaces website
Commutation Tax As above: in substitution (commutation) for excise duties on tea 1784-1798 E326/2 Not online
Inhabited House Tax The names of householders and annual value of houses 1778-1798 E326/3 On ScotlandsPlaces website
Shop Tax The names of the shopkeepers (rarely their business) and annual value of shops over £5. Many gaps 1785-1789 E326/4 On ScotlandsPlaces website
Male Servants' Tax Tax Imposed on certain categories of employed or retained manservants. Names of masters or mistresses, names of servants, sometimes their jobs 1777-1798 E326/5 On ScotlandsPlaces website
Female Servants' Tax Names of masters or mistresses, names of servants, sometimes their jobs 1785-1792 E326/6 On ScotlandsPlaces website
Cart Tax Names of owners and numbers of 2, 3 or 4 wheeled carts 1785-1798 E326/7 On ScotlandsPlaces website
Carriage Tax Names of owners and number of 2 or 4 wheeled carriages 1785-1798 E326/8 On ScotlandsPlaces website
Horse Tax Names of owners and number of carriage and saddle horses 1785-1798 E326/9 On ScotlandsPlaces website
Farm Horse Tax Names of owner and number of horses and mules used in husbandry or trade 1797-1798 E326/10 On ScotlandsPlaces website
Dog Tax Names of owners and number of non-working dogs 1797-1798 E326/11 On ScotlandsPlaces website
Clock and Watch Tax Names of owners and number of clocks, gold watches and silver or metal watches 1797-1798 E326/12 On ScotlandsPlaces website
Aid and Contribution Tax Only the lists for Peebleshire survive. Imposed on persons already assessed to pay duties on houses for one year only. Replaced by income tax in 1799 1797-1798 E326/13 Not online
Income Tax Names of inhabitants. First imposed in 1799 on annual incomes of £60 or over arising from property or profession, trade and office. Two fire-damaged volumes containing counties A- L, Perthshire and West Lothian. Midlothian is covered in E327/18-41 1799-1802 E326/14 Not online
Consolidated Schedules of Assessed Taxes Names of householders,value of houses, number of windows, male servants, carriages, horses and dogs. Counties: Aberdeenshire -Midlothian, West Lothian; also burghs 1798-1799 E326/15 On ScotlandsPlaces website
Midlothian tax records 1735-1820 (NRS reference E327)

The Midlothian tax records are the working records of the Edinburgh county tax office. The records include land tax collection books, 1735- 1803; income tax assessments, 1799-1801, property tax assessments, 1803-12; small house duty collections books, 1803-12; militia and reserve army, deficiency assessments, 1805; cash books and ledgers for payments to militia wives and families, 1803-15.

Death duties (NRS reference IRS5-14)

Estate duty records relating to the various taxes levied on the estates of deceased persons are commonly known as death duties and are part of the records of the Inland Revenue in Scotland. These records begin in 1804. There is a closure period of 75 years on the modern records. The various registers and indexes provide information such as the relationship of beneficiaries to the deceased, date of death, names of executors and lawyers.

Further reading

Scottish Record Office, 'The Guide to the National Archives of Scotland' (Edinburgh 1996)

National Archives of Scotland, 'Tracing Your Scottish Ancestors: A Guide to Ancestry Research in the National Archives of Scotland' (Edinburgh, 2003)

Cecil Sinclair, 'Tracing Scottish Local History: A Guide to Local History Research in the Scottish Record Office' (Edinburgh, 1994)

'West Lothian Heath Tax 1691 with county abstracts for Scotland' (Scottish Record Society, 1982) includes useful information on the deficiencies of the hearth tax lists.

'The Hearth Tax for Ayrshire', Ayrshire Records Series Vol. 1 (Ayrshire Federation Of Historical Societies, 1998).

'Transactions of the Dumfries and Galloway Natural History and Antiquarian Society', vols 47-49.

'Monumental Inscriptions in North and South Perthshire' (Scottish Genealogy Society, 1974-5).

'List of pollable persons within the shire of Aberdeen' (Spalding Club publications, 1844);

'Transactions of the Banffshire Field Club', 24 (1903-4)

'Edinburgh Poll Tax returns for 1694' (Scottish Record Society, 1951).