Berkshire and the Male Servants’ Tax Assessments of 1780

Lord North, the Georgian Prime Minster who ‘lost America’, didn’t just favour the famous tax on tea. In 1777 he proposed a levy on the luxury item of the moment: the non-essential male servant.

Berkshire genealogy

© Trustees of the British Museum

Ostensibly aimed at the wealthy, the new Male Servants’ Tax attempted to make a distinction between “productive labour and conspicuous consumption, necessary work and idle luxury”.1  Employers of the liveried, bewigged and powdered were to pay one guinea a year per male servant, including all butlers, footmen, grooms, gamekeepers and coachmen.

Berkshire genealogy

© Trustees of the British Museum

Employers of agricultural labourers, shop assistants, apprentices or factory workers were not liable as long as their male servants kept away from domestic duties.

In reality, the majority of taxpayers in Berkshire for the year 1780, employed just one ‘luxury’ manservant (rather than the large households envisaged by the government) and I doubt all of them wore livery. Continue reading