How An Ill Thought Out Tax On Windows Changed British Culture And Architecture

Have you ever wondered where the term “daylight robbery” comes from?

It is a term that is used as a rather universal term for any product or service deemed expensive to the point of being exploitative, particularly in the context of charges people have no choice but to accept.

Its origins are based on a ridiculous and unfair tax on glass and later windows, which was so strict and unfair to the working class that people opted not for window glass replacement but to brick up all but the maximum untaxed amount of windows.

The tax itself, which existed for 155 years was described by the medical journal The Lancet as “absurd” and a tax on light itself.

The origins of the window tax begin in the 17th century, a time when glassblowing techniques had evolved to the point that thin, translucent rectangular window panes could be produced for a reasonable enough cost for most houses to have some form of window.

However, because glass was particularly expensive at that time (albeit with rapidly lowering costs), windows were seen as a status symbol, particularly when paired with the ornate curtains popular in upper-class homes during this time.

King William III, wanting to impose a tax on the wealthy but without stating that this was the purpose, imposed a variable tax on houses with over six windows, as well as a flat-rate house tax, collectively known as the Window Tax.

The reason for this is that, unlike an income tax that would require inspectors to check and analyse records and bookkeeping, a window tax could be checked on the outside simply by counting the windows.

The response by many lower and middle-class families was to brick up all but six (later seven and finally eight by 1825) windows, meaning that many rooms had no daylight whatsoever, coining the phrase daylight robbery.

Eventually, in 1851, 155 years after its inception, pressure from medical groups finally argued that people had become very ill as a result of a lack of light, and so the tax was repealed.