Caught out, or why expense fiddling is not a modern phenomenon

We are thrilled to welcome Dr Jacqueline Reiter who has written a guest blog for us about her first book The Late Lord: the life of John Pitt, 2nd Earl of Chatham, which was published by Pen & Sword Books in January 2017.

Jacqueline has a PhD in late 18th century political history from the University of Cambridge. A professional librarian, she lives in Cambridge with her husband and two children. She blogs at The Late Lord and you can follow her on Facebook or Twitter.

So we will hand you over to Jacqueline to tell you more about The Late Lord.

chathamcover

I freely admit that, when I started writing my biography of John Pitt, 2nd Earl of Chatham, I hoped to overturn some of the myths surrounding him. Chatham was the elder brother of William Pitt the Younger and infamous for his lazy command of the Walcheren Expedition of 1809, which was a notorious failure.

In reality, Chatham was a fascinating, complex person, certainly not the indolent fool he has been made out to be, but it seems there is no smoke without fire. I often came across what I called “oh dear John” moments (and yes, I do feel my reading all Chatham’s available personal correspondence entitles me to be on first-name terms with him).

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John Pitt, 2nd Earl of Chatham, studio of John Hoppner (1799, courtesy of the Commando Forces Officers’ Mess, Royal Marines Barracks, Plymouth)

There was the occasion when “the late Lord Chatham”, as he was known, turned up four and a half hours late to a royal function; the newspapers po-facedly traced his lacklustre attendance at Board meetings while First Lord of the Admiralty. Even in private life he was a bit of a flake and spent five weeks screwing up the courage to propose to his future wife, while everybody about him (including the object of his affections) got increasingly tetchy.

Possibly the least expected laugh-out-loud moment of all occurred while I was plodding resolutely through the 12th Report of the Commissioners of Military Enquiry (1810), focusing on the Office of the Master-General of the Ordnance.

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Ordnance shield (Wikimedia Commons)

Chatham was Master-General of the Ordnance from 1801-6 and 1807-10. His department was responsible for the production and provision of gunpowder and firearms, as well as the building and maintenance of permanent fortifications. It trained artillerists and engineers at Woolwich, thereby providing advanced scientific and mathematical education (for all classes, not just the privileged). It sponsored scientific innovation, and not merely by developing new ways of killing more people in the most explosive possible way; the Ordnance Survey Maps are so named because they were first produced by the Ordnance Office.

The Ordnance was a big, cumbersome, bureaucracy-heavy department, but its structure had evolved because it had to be clearly accountable as a public office handling an awful lot of money. Between 1803 and 1815, the Ordnance Ordinaries, Extraordinaries and Unprovided funds (voted on a yearly basis by Parliament based on pretty detailed financial breakdowns) rose from £1.27 million to between £4 and £4.6 million (with a spike of £5.3 million in 1809, when Britain fielded two enormous armies in two different fields of battle).

These were hefty sums: in 1813, Britain’s total annual budget was £66 million. Part of the remit of the Military Commissioners, indeed, was to work out why Ordnance expenditure had grown so much and so rapidly during the war and to suggest ways of reducing it.

Chatham did not appear before the Commission in person, although he did answer several questions about the office of Master-General by post. One of his staff, however, Colonel Charles Neville, did appear (on 2 April 1810). Neville did quite well during his cross-examination, but at one point he stumbled and inadvertently revealed something Chatham would probably rather had remained confidential.

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Colonel Charles Neville, by George Engleheart

Neville was only an under-secretary: the actual Secretary, Sir William Bellingham, had done virtually nothing to justify his salary since his appointment and had in fact been in Ireland for a lot of the time (because of this, his office was very much up for the chop). Neville was asked several questions about the structure of the Master-General’s personal department. It was quite small, Neville said: there were only three official messengers, two of them attached to the Ordnance Office and one personal messenger to the Master-General, who attended him when he was travelling.

This, Neville explained, was something Chatham did a lot. He was a busy man. The Master-Generalship was only one of his many official hats, the next most important of which was his appointment as Commander-in-Chief of the Eastern Military District. Britain was divided up into several districts, each commanded by a high-ranking general officer who controlled the military resources and the regular, militia and volunteer forces in the geographic area under their command. Chatham’s Eastern District headquarters were in Colchester, and his correspondence bears out Neville’s evidence that he spent a significant portion of each year there.

Did Lord Chatham charge travel expenses? Yes, Neville said, he did. (But of course: he was entitled to do so.) Were these checked by anybody? Neville replied: “The Bills are brought to me by his Lordship’s personal Messenger; and I strike out all Journies [sic] that do not appear directed to an Ordnance Station.”

The follow-up question was obvious: “Did Lord Chatham, whilst Master General, charge his Travelling Expenses to the Ordnance, when going to, or returning from the District in which he had a Staff Command?”

Maybe he was nervous about appearing before a parliamentary commission, but Neville blithely stepped straight into the trap laid out for him: “Yes, as he went to Colchester, which is an Artillery Station.”

“Are you aware,” the anonymous commissioner continued, “that General Officers on the Staff are not allowed, by His Majesty’s Regulations, any Travelling Expences for Journies within their Districts?”

At which point an ominous silence probably fell across the room, and Neville must have thought: “….. Oh no.”

He responded with a bland “I am not aware of any such Regulation.”

Thankfully Chatham was at this point already out of office, or Ordnance-Expensegate might well have followed…

(And if you’re wondering, Chatham charged £421.14.8 in travel expenses in 1807 – a sizeable sum!).

All of which just goes to show that expenses were as much an issue in 1810 as they were in 2010. Some things, it seems, never change.

 

References

All quotations come from Commissioners of Military Enquiry, Thirteenth Report of the Commissioners of Military Enquiry: The Master General and Board of Ordnance (London, 1811).

 

 

Taxed from head to toe

We have previously looked at hair powder tax, glove tax and now for the next instalment we have, drum roll please –  you’ve guessed it – shoe and boot tax. So far as finding ways to generate much-needed revenue the government of the day were completely unstoppable.

John Sawbridge, Alderman of London. © The Trustees of the British Museum
John Sawbridge, Alderman of London. © The Trustees of the British Museum

We came across an article in the General Advertiser May of 1785 in which Alderman Sawbridge put to William Pitt the Younger another possible tax that had been bought to his attention, the idea of taxing shoes as an alternative to the planned shop tax.

‘a paper had been put into his hands and he had been desired to ask the question; and, with leave of the House he would state the particulars of the proposed tax. It was made on a supposition of there being eight millions of persons in this country, and that four millions of them were either children or poor persons, whose shoes were under the prices meant to be taxed; then, the remaining four millions were calculated as follows: –

Two millions of persons, who wear two pair of shoes per annum of between four and five shillings value, on each paid a stamp duty of two-pence was to be paid which would produce £33,333, 6 shilling and 8 pence.

One million, who wear three pair of between five and six shillings value, on them four-pence each £50,000

One million, who wear three pair, value six shillings and upwards, on them six pence per pair £75,000.

One million pair of boots at 1 shilling per pair £50,000

The whole tax to produce £208,333 6 shilling and 8 pence’.

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Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library

A week later it appears that this proposal had initially been suggested to Mr Pitt by a Dr Jones, who made it quite clear at the time to Pitt that he wished to

‘have himself concealed as the projector; at the same time, he avows that he shall be the Minister’s friend to the last’.

Well, that went well, as his name was plastered across the newspapers as the potential instigator of yet another levy on the public who were already struggling with all the other taxes that had been imposed.

For some reason it took a further 18 months before implementation but sure enough on 26th January 1787 the shoe tax was implemented courtesy of Dr Jones (how popular must he have been with the average person, one wonders?) and by this time the tax was expected to generate around £400,000, quite an increase in predicted revenue. It was at the time reported as being ‘neither obnoxious nor unproductive’.

Quite how much it raised in reality or how long it existed for we’ve no idea, so far we can find no evidence of it being repealed unless over time it was amended and became known as the leather tax. If anyone can shed any light on this we would be most interested in hearing from you.

We finish with an observation made in 1790 which just about sums up the taxation that was taking place at that time:

In everybody’s mouth, in and out-of-doors, the conversation is tax dogs, tax shoes, tax boots, tax heads, tax everything eatable, drinkable, wearable or moveable; in short, the curse of Ernulphus is nothing in comparison of the calamities which a set of Gentlemen are ready to impose on their country.

Sources

General Advertiser (1784), Tuesday, May 31, 1785

Morning Herald and Daily Advertiser, Tuesday, June 7, 1785

World and Fashionable Advertiser, Friday, January 26, 1787

Morning Chronicle, Saturday, December 18, 1790

18th Century Tax on Gloves

18th c gloves MFA Boston
Courtesy of MFA Boston

Britain was struggling financially and so, needless to say, the government looked for ways to raise much needed revenue to balance the books. If it could be taxed, it probably was! In a previous post we looked at the various taxes that existed around this time so for this blog we thought we would take a closer look at the tax placed on gloves.

William Pitt the Younger (1759-1806), after 1806. Via Wikimedia.
William Pitt the Younger (1759-1806), after 1806.
Via Wikimedia.

In 1784 a tax on hats had apparently proved lucrative so in the budget the following year William Pitt the Younger decided to add a tax to gloves, much to the mild amusement of the committee apparently.

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Billy’s Babel. Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library

He felt that it would be difficult to lay the burden of the tax on the consumer so Pitt proposed that a mark should be put on the gloves and that the duty should be paid by the retail trader. In his opinion the sale of gloves would be extremely high and that one pair of gloves would be sold to every individual, and therefore 9,000,000 pairs would be purchased each year. As such he proposed a tiered system of taxation:

One penny duty should be added to all gloves up to the value of ten pence

Two pence to gloves costing between ten pence and fifteen pence

Three pence for all gloves costing over fifteen pence

He estimated that this would raise a revenue of some £50,000.  Mr Fox held no strong objection to this tax, but felt that Pitt was over estimating the amount of revenue it would generate as there were ‘children, labourers and other inferior classes of mankind who never consumed this article’, but nevertheless he sincerely hoped that this tax might be as productive as the minister wished.

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Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library

26th July 1785, The Stamp Office declared that:

Anyone selling gloves without this tax would be liable for a fine of £20.

Every licensed retailer selling gloves and mittens without the words ‘Dealer in Gloves’ painted or written in the front of his shop shall be forfeits for each pair of gloves or mittens sold £5.

A stamp ticket denoting the particular rate of duty to be paid on every pair of gloves or mittens is to be affixed upon the right hand of each and every person (except those dealing with each other) who shall sell, buy or exchange any gloves or mittens without having such a stamp affixed as foresaid, forfeits for every pair sold, bought or exchanged £20.

In less than one year the newspapers began to report that the glove tax was not proving to be the great success it was expected to be, but that there was no good reason as yet to conclude that it should be repealed, despite many people trying to evade it. So it remained in place.

By the September however it was becoming clear that it was generating nowhere near the revenue expected, in fact it was achieving less than one eighth of anticipated revenue.

Despite its poor income generation, the tax was to remain in place for several years, generating only a fraction of its expected revenue.

A letter in the St James’s Chronicle, 1790, addressed to Mr Pitt read as follows.

My purpose is not to censure your system of taxation, to inveigh against you on the extension of the Excise, or to express my displeasure at the means you have pursued, to prevent our snuffing up the coffins and dried juices of our ancestors … I turn your attention to the Glove tax, which is generally hated. The gloves and stamp are tendered to the customer in such a manner, that he can purchase the one without the other, and in nine instances out of ten the stamp is left unpaid for. If you wish to make this tax productive, you must stamp the gloves, and contrive so to unite the tax with the price, such that the commodity cannot be purchased without paying it. At present none but the conscientious submit to it.

An article in the Public Advertiser, Wednesday, September 14, 1791, on the subject of the glove tax reported on an accident which they directly attributed to it.

Friday afternoon, a melancholy accident happened in St James’s Street; a modern young man, whose pockets were his gloves and his hands in them, coming briskly up the street, trod on the peeling of an apple which tripped up his heels, threw him against a lady following him, knocked her down, by which she was much bruised and he broke both his elbows – Wearing hands in pockets, says our correspondent is to subvert Mr. Pitt’s Glove Tax, but a penalty should be inflicted on any person or persons throwing parings of apples or oranges on the footpath, or his Majesty may lose some of his most valuable subjects.

By this time, it was reported that the tax was generating a maximum of just over £6,000 per annum rather than the anticipated £50,000 and so in March 1794 the government finally conceded that the glove tax was not workable and was not generating anything like the amount anticipated and the act was repealed – common sense finally prevailed.

We will leave The Right Honourable Richard Brinsley Sheridan to have the final words on the subject of the glove tax.

The inefficacy of the glove tax, might prove the futility of every one of the same sort, which could never be made productive but by means so arbitrary that the house ought not to agree to them. At present, the glove duty was so generally evaded, that almost every man who purchased a pair of gloves, would consider it as a species of shoplifting to take the stamp out of the shop with him. The system of extending taxation by stamps, to such articles as the principle of a stamp duty would not apply to, was absurd in the extreme. Stamping law proceedings and other documents, was a good idea; the stamp gave a weight, a sanction, and authority, where so applied; but could that be said of gloves, or of all the trumpery of a perfumer’s shop, to which they were now about to extend stamp duties? Would a stamp legalize pomatum, or give validity to lavender-water?

(Speeches of the Right Honourable RB Sheridan, volume 1, 1842)

 

Sources:

St. James’s Chronicle or the British Evening Post, July 30, 1785

Public Advertiser, Saturday, May 20, 1786

General Advertiser, Saturday, September 30, 1786

St. James’s Chronicle or the British Evening Post (London, England), April 1, 1790

Hair Powder Tax

One of the more obscure sources of information for family historians who are looking specifically at the 18th century, are hair powder certificates. 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.

Leaving off powder, or, a frugal family saving the guinea. A satire on the hair powder tax.
Courtesy of Lewis Walpole Library – Leaving off Powder

Individuals who used hair powder were required to purchase a certificate from their local Justice of the Peace for which they were charged one guinea.  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. It was common practice also, to fine those who did not pay this tax.

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 town before you, or, Welch wigs, or, Whimsicallities, or, How to save the tax on hair powder. (Lewis Walpole Library)
The town before you, or, Welch wigs, or, Whimsicallities, or, How to save the tax on hair powder. (Lewis Walpole Library)

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.

Marie Antoinette wearing the distinctive pouf style coiffure: her own natural hair is extended on the top with an artificial hairpiece.
Marie Antoinette wearing the distinctive pouf style coiffure: her own natural hair is extended on the top with an artificial hairpiece.

Contrary to popular belief women did not wear wigs, but simply had the equivalent of today’s hair extensions added to their existing hair. Women mainly powdered their hair grey or blueish grey and from the 1770’s it was never bright white like men. Wig powder itself was made from finely ground starch to which was added lavender, jasmine, roses and scented with orange flower and was occasionally coloured violet, blue, pink or yellow, but was most often used as off-white.

Wigs all the rage, or a debate on the baldness of the times.
Courtesy of the British Museum

In 1869 the Act was repealed as less than 1,000 people were by that time wearing wigs – maybe it was the cost of paying such a large amount of duty that led people to change their appearance. Certainly, a more natural hairstyle was adopted by fashionable young gentlemen in Regency England.

It is still possible today to find records around the country of hair powder certificates if you contact the relevant archives.

An example of a hair powder duty certificate from 1795
An example of a certificate

There were, of course exemptions from this tax.

Aberdeen Press and Journal - Monday 07 April 1800
Aberdeen Press and Journal – Monday 07 April 1800