One of the more obscure sources of information for family historians focussing on the 18th century are the returns of hair powder certificates. The newly launched collection of Occupational and Quarter Sessions Records from Warwickshire County Record Office includes one small section that features these returns for the years 1795 and 1796.
The administration of William Pitt the Younger was responsible for a whole series of taxes at the end of the 18th century, including the first income tax, either directly or indirectly to help fund the expensive war with Napoleonic France. The introduction of a tax on hair powder was one such measure. It required individuals using hair powder to acquire a certificate from their local J.P on which a stamp duty of one guinea was paid. The list of those that had paid was lodged at the local Quarter Session court and a copy of the list affixed to the door of the parish church by the parish constable.
The information included in the list will provide a date, a parish, a list of names and a description being usually the relationship to the head of the household or another role such as servant. So like a census return, it is possible to piece together some familial relationships. The lists however will of course be much less complete than a census because most people were not of a status to wear wigs or hair powder and there were also many exemptions such as clergymen with an income of under £100 a year, non-commissioned officers, militia, mariners, officers in the navy below commander and many others.
One payment was acceptable for a group of servants in one household, so, for example, Lady Leigh of Stoneleigh Abbey lists a housekeeper, house steward, groom, three butlers and a coachman. A word of caution though, housekeeper usually refers to the head of a household rather than a servant and similarly references to ‘inmate’ refer to lodgers not the occupant of some institution.
The tax on hair powder was not repealed until 1869 but by the mid-19th century less than a 1000 people a year nationwide are paying the tax. Some say that the tax hastened the decline in hair powder usage as a fashion; it certainly coincided with the abandonment of wigs for a shorter, more natural hairstyle amongst fashionable young men in Regency England.
In terms of a genealogical resource for Warwickshire what we are left with is a chronologically brief sample with good geographical coverage of well to do society (and their servants) in the mid-1790s, which may well be worth a look if you are focussing on that period.
Authored by Rob Eyre. Rob has more than 20 years experience working with the public in archive repositories and has been a Senior Archivist at the Warwickshire County Record Office since 2005.
Authored by Rob Eyre. Rob has more than 20 years experience working with the public in archive repositories and has been a Senior Archivist at Warwickshire County Record Office since 2005.