Getting Taxed to Death in Georgian London, Finding a Good Water Company and Emptying Your Privy

I’m sorry the blog has been silent for the last several days. I’ve been  partying in Phoenix with my writer friend Tina Whittle to celebrate the release of her new book from Poisoned Pen Press titled Darker Than Any Shadow. It’s a fabulous read!

Anyhoo, tonight is another installment in my ongoing project to translate into readable English John Trusler’s masterpiece, The London Adviser and Guide: Containing every Instruction and Information Useful and Necessary to Persons Living in London and  Coming to Reside there.

However, I must apologize in advance for a little historical whiplash on this post. I found this wonderful book from 1827 titled Metropolitan improvements; or, London in the nineteenth century: displayed in a series of engravings of the new buildings, improvement, etc, by James Elmes and had to use the images.  So, all the graphics on this post were created several decades after the publishing of The London Adviser in 1786  If you are an historian of London, you know that the Prince Regent made many architectural enhancements, as well as built new streets, parks and squares. Trusler’s London was a bit different than the images here.  But the pictures were so cool that I couldn’t help myself. And it’s my blog, so I do what I want.

From The London Adviser and Guide: 

20. The taxes of a house in London are nearly half the rent, and are as follow:

1. Land-tax, a tax on the ground, paid by the tenant, half yearly, but generally allowed by the landlord in the rent, if no agreement to the contrary.

This is generally four shillings in the pound, but in some parishes less than others.

Theatre Royal

2. There is also a small sewer tax, for cleansing the sewers, a few shillings a year, generally paid by the landlord.

3. A house-tax paid to government, by the tenant, of six-pence, nine-pence or one shilling in the pound according to the rent. The rent in this tax is rated to the full.

St. James Street


4. The poor’s-rate is another tax, but a parochial one, paid by the tenant to the overseers of the parish, for the maintenance of the poor. This is collected every half year, and the assessment is from one to six shillings in the pound, or more, according to the number of poor in the parish. This assessment is made by the parish-officers, and ratified by a bench of justices. The book, with this ratification, and the sums each house-keeper is to pay, is brought round to every house, when the money is collected, and each inhabitant may see how much others pay, then or at any other time, an paying six-pence or a shilling. The rent of each house is generally estimated in the parish-book at two-thirds of the real rent paid; and if any person finds that he pays more in proportion than the rest of the parish, he may obtain redress, by an application to the quarter-sessions, at a very little expence.

Any person occupying any house, &c. out of which any other person assessed has removed, or which, at the making the rate was empty, every person so removing and the person so coming into and occupying the same, shall pay to such rate in proportion to the time he occupied the same. In case of dispute, the proportion to be ascertained by two justices.

St. Andrew’s Place

5. Another tax is the window-tax, paid by the tenant to Government, and collected half-yearly.

This is assessed in the following manner:

 Windows of out-houses are to be reckoned into the number.

Windows lighting two rooms to be reckoned as two.

Two or more windows, not twelve inches apart from each other, are reckoned but as one.

No window deemed stopped, unless with stones, brick, or plaster.

Opening a window, without notice to the assessor, forfeits twenty shillings.

Glass-doors, and lights over doors, do not pay according to this act.

Bridge Over Serpentine — Hyde Park

6. But, in addition to the above, windows pay a second duty, in lieu of the duty on tea taken off; this is as follows:

Persons are to pay only for two houses, and those containing the greatest number of windows.

Glass doors and lights over doors are here considered as windows, and the assessors have the peculiar privilege of examining them, by looking round the outsides of the house.


7. The next tax is the church-wardens rate, for repairing the church. The county-rate is generally collected with it. This is only collected occasionally, and may be from three-pence in the pound or two or three shillings, according to the exigencies required.

8. Another rate or assessment is the paving-tax, for repairing, cleaning, and lighting the streets. This is one shilling and six-pence in the pound, of two-thirds of the rent or value.

Park Lane

9. Another is for watching them, but this is a trifle. Private lamps, at private doors, are put up at the expence of those who contract to light them, and painted annually, and if broke are replaced also at their expence. Price for lamp lighting, 7s. per quarter, each.

London Orphan Asylum

10. There is a further call on every householder for Easter offerings, for the rector or vicar of the, parish; this is four-pence a-head for every one in each family capable of receiving the sacrament, paid once a year, at Easter. But this seldom is collected; it is generally left to each family to give what they please; but it is always expected that they give something; perhaps a few shillings.

Pall Mall

11. Once or twice a year the church-wardens generally bring round a book, to make a collection for the lecturer or afternoon preacher. At this time a housekeeper generally gives a few shillings; but this is optional.

12. In some parishes, twenty or thirty shillings a year, more or less, are paid by house-keepers, in proportion to their rent, in lieu of the tithes.

Charing Cross

13. A further expence to the inhabitants is the river water, with which each house is served, from about twenty-four to thirty shillings a year, according to the time of serving, whether every day or three times a week.


London Bridge

Supplying Water

1. The London-bridge water-works supply the city, and the greatest part of its liberties, with Thames water, at the rate of from twenty-four to thirty shillings (paid half-yearly) according to the distance from London. The pipes of this Company spread all over the City to Tower-hill, Snow-hill, Shore-ditch, and St. Dunstan’s-church, Fleet-street. Office at Londonbridge.

2. The York-building water-works, (office in Villiers-street, attendance from three in the afternoon till seven) supplies Westminster, and the west end of the town, as far as Holborn, with Thames-water, and will convey the water, if desired, to the upper stories of a house, the second or third story, according to their situation. The higher the house stands from the water side, the less height can they convey the water. The prices of the water is the same with the London-bridge waterworks; only, if the water is to be conveyed to the second or third story, more money is paid annually, from thirty shillings to five pounds. The Thames-water is reckoned softer than that of the New river. If a fire happens in the night, application for water from this Company, and that of London-bridge, must be made at the respective offices and it will be some time, half an hour or more, before they can get their engines to work.

Military House and Haymarket

3. The New-River Company (office in Dorset-street, Fleet-street) supplies all London on the north side of the Thames, from mile-end turnpike to Hyde-park-corner, with water brought twenty miles from London, to a reservoir at Islington. The terms of this Company are rather higher than those of other water companies, but the water is generally clearer and better. They serve families from twenty-four shillings a year to five pounds, according to the quantity of water they require, which is settled by the collector of the district, whose name may be known, by applying at the office, in Dorset-street. This collector also will furnish families with the names of the turn-cocks in his district, printed on paper, to whom application is to be made in case of fire; and in the collector’s receipts will be found the place to apply to, in want of water and other complaints. This company conveys the water to the upper stories of houses, without any additional expence than the lead pipes, which are the property of, and must be fixed by, the tenant; the nearer a house stands to the Thames side, that is, the lower it is from the reservoirs, the higher in the houses the water can be conveyed. In the New River Water-Works the water runs from an eminence; in the London-bridge and York company, it is forced up by fire; of course, the higher it is conveyed, the more money annually is required.

London House – Gray’s Inn Road

4. There are other water-works, those of Chelsea, Hampstead, Bayswater, Shadwell, Lambeth, &c. that supply other parts of the town, and the borough of Southwark, with soft water, and on nearly the terms. Thrale’s water-works, that supply part of Southwark, serve so low as 20s. a year.

5. The lead pipes from the main, that is, from the middle of the street, are considered as belonging to the house, and must be paid for, and kept in repair by the tenant; other repairs and expences are paid by the several companies.

Covent Garden Market

6. Attendance is always given at the respective offices from morning till night, and complaints immediately redressed. It is proper to send to these office immediately on a fire breaking out, especially those that supply the Thames water.

7. It is advisable for every house-keeper, on first coming to London, to apply to the offices for the names of the turn-cocks, and where they live; and also to fire offices, for the places where the fire engines are; also to the vestry-clerks of the different parishes, for the places where the ladders are kept, and from year to year, who are the constables and parish-officers, and to write these down and stick them up in the kitchen, or other part of the house, that the earliest application, in case of fire, may be made for every necessary assistance.

House of Lords — King’s Entrance

8. In frosty weather, to secure water to the house is the care and business of the tenant. For this purpose, fresh horse-dung should be laid over the pavement under which the lead-pipes pass, and some should be wound round the pipe as it crosses the area. Dung can be had at any of the stables for a trifle, and the expence of fetching it in a wheelbarrow is not much.

Bank of England

9. If your water fails, and you apprehend the defect is in the pipe under the pavement in the street, by applying at the office belonging to the company that serves you, they will send a pavior to open the .pavement.; if the defect is found in the lead-pipes between the main and the house, the expence must be paid by the tenant; if not, it will be repaired at the expence of the water company.

Fleet Street

10. If your drains are stopped, they must be opened and cleaned; it is the part of the tenant to clean the drains into the common sewer; but if the sewer is choked, application must be made to the officers common-sewers in your district. No person can make a new drain from the privy into the common-sewer, without the consent of the commissioners; but if such a drain has been once made, it may be kept up.

11. Emptying of privies is not only expensive, but very disagreeable. It is enacted by law, that none shall be emptied in London before 2 o’clock at night; the price is 5s. a ton for all they carry out, and the carts generally hold 3 tons, but are marked as to what they hold. Night-men, if not watched, will not fill their carts, of course, you are imposed on: a confidential person should attend them in this business, and keep an account of the quantity carted off. The men employed expect, in this business, plenty of bread and cheese, beer and gin.

Belgrave Square


10 Replies to “Getting Taxed to Death in Georgian London, Finding a Good Water Company and Emptying Your Privy”

  1. I can see why the privy cleaners expected beer and gin, but the idea of munching down on bread and cheese while one worked at that?!?! Ewww.

  2. @Abigail — I thought that was so nasty!
    @Barbara — Just a simple solution, you wonder why people don’t do it today 🙂

  3. And I thought I had a bunch of paperwork to fill out — man. At least I don’t have to wheelbarrow dung on my pipes. I’m sure it’s more than a trifle now. PS: Thanks for the lovely photo and mention — I very much enjoyed our sunny warm Southwest weekend!

  4. And I thought we were over-taxed today. What a conglomeration of different types of taxes! Probably would pay NOT to be wealthy.

  5. Your interesting article made me look out my 4xgreat grandfather’s bills for his house at One London Bridge in the 1780’s. He lists numerous taxes (from Thames Water Rate to The Watch, sewer rate, armorial bearings tax, poor rate, window tax etc.) coming to an impressive 42 pounds a year! Contrast that with his taxes when he retired to live in the country – less than three pounds a year. London was an expensive place to live in, which is why there was so little personal space and no privacy – in the 4-bedroom house which he owned there was accommodation for sixteen people!
    My ancestor’s tax bill really rocketed in 1800, the year Income Tax was introduced to pay for the wars with France. It was payable in instalments (every two months) and meant a wealthy man like my ancestor having to poay ten per cent of his income on top of all these other taxes (though window tax was phased out shortly afterwards). You could say it has been downhill all the way since then….

  6. @Mike — I’m going to read your book. You always have such interesting information. Funny, you should mention the demise of window taxes, I just read about that and the building of the crystal palace in Bill Bryson’s “Home.”

  7. Your quotes from those books are VERY useful! I’m trying to understand Westminster Rate Books for 1750 on FMP. In 1739 The County Rates Act (supposedly) required local authorities to group all those separate rates together into one … but it seems that nearly 100 years later it still hadn’t happened!

  8. Wow. That sounds like very specific research. If something drifts my way, I’ll send it on.

I would love to hear your thoughts!

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