Canterbury 1641 Poll Tax

Surprisingly, the 1641 poll tax return for Canterbury is one of the few to exist from this date. The return survives in the form of a rolled document showing the name of the heads of households in the city. Information is also given about how much tax was paid and about other adult members of the household, including numbers of servants and children. A total of 1,332 households are clearly listed. The information for another dozen or so households is now illegible.

Searches can be made for heads of household by surname, by status (such as gent or widow), and by parish. The spelling of names has not been modernised or standardised - so for example, the name Ladd also appears as Lad.

Included on the return are William Somner, the author of The Antiquities of Canterbury (1640) a historical guide to the city and John Cogan, owner of the house in the High Street known as the Cogan House, which is now Zizzi's Restaurant. In 1641 Cogan was living there with his wife and a servant and he paid £2 1 shilling in poll tax. There were two doctors 'of physick' living in the city, Dr Edmond Randolph in St George's parish and Dr Thomas Leonard in St Andrew's parish.

The term 'poll', meaning head, indicates that the tax was to be raised on all adults. There were some exceptions though, such as those receiving poor relief.

Harleian Roll T1

Harleian Roll T1 in the British Library is the reference for the poll tax return for Canterbury drawn up on 10th November 1641. The return includes the inhabitants living within the jurisdiction of the county of Canterbury, which covered the 6 wards of the city and 14 parishes. Canterbury's sheriff, John Pollen, was responsible for paying the tax to the Long Parliament. The sum collected according to the return was £632 5 shillings.

The 1641 Poll Tax

Individuals were taxed according to the terms of the statute passed by the Long Parliament in June 1641. The tax was designed to raise money to disband the armies raised in the recent Bishops' Wars between England and Scotland. It was to be levied on all of the adult inhabitants of England, Scotland and Ireland according to a graduated scale ranging from £100 for a duke to a base rate of 6d per head for anyone aged 16 or over.

The Canterbury Poll Tax

The Canterbury authorities collected the tax by household and in most cases the list gives the names of the head of the household and, if relevant, their annual income. Heads of households were also responsible for paying the tax on behalf of all the other adult dependents in their household. These included wives, adult children aged 16 and over, servants and any other residents including lodgers and relatives such as a widowed mother or mother in law. Such dependents were usually taxed at the rate of 6d per head.

The Poll Tax Rates

Baronets £30, Knights £20, esquires £10, Doctors of Physic £10, Registrars to Archbishops £10, registrars to archdeacons £5, proctors in church courts £5

Parsons and vicars possessing estates worth £100 per annum £5

Those without rank or office and not engaged in a profession were assessed on the basis of their annual income from lands, leases, money, stock 'or otherwise' as follows:

  • £100 per annum to pay £5
  • £50 per annum to pay £2
  • £20 per annum to pay 5s
  • £10 per annum to pay 2s
  • £5 per annum to pay 1s
  • Widows were to pay one third of the tax that their husbands would have paid according to the above rates.
  • Aldermen below the degree of knight or esquire £5
  • Attorneys at law £3
  • Strangers (ie foreigners) who were householders and artisans 5s
  • All others not in the receipt of alms and aged 16 or over were to pay a base rate of 6d per head.


Foreigners who were householders and artisans were required to pay a special rate of 5 shillings. In Canterbury the poll tax collectors recorded whether a head of household was a stranger on the return, even if they were not artisans, although this information was not required by Parliament. Canterbury had a substantial community of Huguenot (French) and Walloon (Flemish) Protestants, who had been formally welcomed to the city in Elizabeth's reign. Driven from France and the Low Countries by religious persecution, the strangers had their own church situated originally in St Alphege's church and then in the crypt of the cathedral.

The community fluctuated in size considerably in the late 16th and early 17th centuries depending on the state of religious conflict abroad. It is clear that some members of the community continued to own property in their homelands and were able to return when persecution died down.

Francis Cross, the Victorian historian of the French church in Canterbury estimated the size of the adult stranger population in the city at c. 2,500 in 1600. By 1634 the pastors of the church estimated that the adult members of the congregation had fallen to 900.


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Last edited: 05/12/2017 03:34:00