While waiting to go into a client presentation last week we were sat on a wall down a narrow lane off New Bond Street when my colleagues and I stuck up conversation regarding the bricked-up windows on the façade opposite, and if these were a design feature? I said that I thought this was due to an old tax law, but was not certain, so when we returned to the office, I looked it up.
Apparently, I was correct (surprising given my limited performance at A Level History) and this was indeed a tax introduced back in 1696 under King William III as a way of taxing those who were well off enough to afford multiple windows. At the time most people were opposed to income tax (not a lot appears to have changed on that front), mainly because disclosing income was seen as a threat to personal liberty. The window tax, like most taxes, was fairly complicated but in essence, the more windows you had the more you paid the tax man (or woman, but most likely a man back in 1696.) A flat rate tax of 2 shillings per house, and then a variable tax on the number of windows above 10 on the house, so in order to limit their tax liability people had them bricked up. I was pleased to read that certain dwellings were tax exempt – such as dairies, milk houses and cheese rooms – but these had to be clearly labelled. I will make sure to appropriately label my cheese room.
No capital allowances back then
Photo showing bricked up windows of office building
So, if we were designing people’s offices back in the 1700’s our client’s thoughts wouldn’t be about the inclusion of nice coffee machines and bleachers made from OSB, rather they would be more worried about wanting to brick their windows up to save on tax expenditure. (Thinking about it, I would likely price this in the builders work section of their cost plan.) I also wonder if there was a landlord contribution to windows / bricking up windows, I will research this later….
Bizarrely there was also a wallpaper tax in England introduced by Queen Anne in 1712 where patterned, printed or painted wallpaper was taxed per square yard! You could apparently bypass this tax by purchasing plain paper and have it hand stencilled which was apparently also more cost effective. I’m not sure that would be the case now as artisanal hand painted wallpaper is now a reasonably expensive nice to have!
By: James Smith – Commercial Director