We were recently asked to transcribe an old deed in the possession of one of our clients so that she could appreciate its 18th century legal language.
The parchment measured 26″ x 18″ and was crammed from corner to corner with writing, and it’s not hard to see why. The legal beagles of the age were handy with the dictionary, and employed dozens of terms to cover every possible eventuality. To quote just one example, the property was conveyed free of all encumbrances, or in legal speak: ‘bargains contracts gifts grants estates leases jointures dowers statutes judgements executions entails mortgages recognizances extents seizures sequestrations annuities rents rent charges forfeitures and of and from all other titles troubles or encumbrances‘.
In layman’s language the deed recorded that A & B, the owners of property X, sold it to C for a specified sum. That’s it. It’s almost as if they were being paid by the word …
Next time you have to complete a tax return you might want to reflect on some aspects of past life on which a charge was levied. You may perhaps have heard of the window tax, a charge levied on the number of windows in your house, and the reason you occasionally see bricked up openings in old buildings. But did you know there were also taxes on male servants, carriages, horses and dogs, armorial bearings, and hair powder?
Male servants were taxed if they were considered ‘a non-essential luxury’ which meant butlers, valets, footmen, coachmen, grooms, gardeners and gamekeepers – unless of course they were royal servants who were exempt. Did your carriage have four wheels or two? Was it for your own use or for hire or was it a post-chaise or stage coach? Horses for drawing carriages or for racing were charged at a higher rate than those for riding, but was your Trigger a 2s 6d or a 12s 6d steed? And how to categorise Fido – a 6s or a 9s hound?
Putting on hair powder was a messy business and was best done in a separate closet, but perhaps one without a window.
One of the characters in the history of a Staffordshire farm we have been researching lately was a spirited young lady who appears to have taken a delight in driving. Not just driving a car, but driving the local population to scatter to safety when she approached, and driving the constabulary to indulge in high speed chases in order to catch her.
On one occasions she was caught speeding at 50mph in a built-up area, overtaking two cars travelling abreast, crossing the white line on a bend causing oncoming vehicles to brake and was eventually brought to a halt after a three-mile race through the countryside. The lady was fined £3 and disqualified from driving for six months. The year? 1937.
Some of the articles listed in the Derbyshire Advertiser and Journal on the levying of customs duties in 1860:
‘The following are the only articles on which customs duties are now payable:
Arrowroot, biscuit, pearled barley … and other farinaceous articles, 4½d per cwt
Corks, ready made, 3d per lb
Hats or bonnets of chip, straw, horsehair, etc 1s 3d per lb
Powder, hair and perfumed, 4½d per cwt
Cards, playing, 15s per dozen packs
Dice, 21s per pair‘