Hearth Tax Banner


"A Tour in Scotland and Voyage to the Hebrides, 1771"
by Thomas Pennant. Birlinn, 1998, page 216.

Tax lists provide a window - dim and narrow, but still, a window - to the past. The Hearth Tax was an early attempt to spread the pain from simply land and tradition, to a sort of 'progressive' system: each hearth would be assessed 14 shillings to raise money for the army. Thus, larger homes would have larger bills. Paupers, and hospitals were exempt. It was a good idea, well before its time. To make such a tax system work, roads and address are a basic necessity. Scotland's highlands, and Knapdale in particular, simply did not have the communication network envisioned by the Hearth Tax Collectors. Also, I suspect that in 1694, the clan system was still too strong to allow such a family oriented tax to survive.

Scotland did not impose this tax until 1691 (it had been in force, on and off, in England, since 1662), and discontinued it in 1694. The lists are interesting to historians as they include names of tenants, the number of hearths in each dwelling, and the names of each township in use at the time. In addition, the Knapdale settlements are arranged according to Landowners'. Thus, it is obvious that the major Knapdale landowner was Campbell of Auchinbreck. Within a century, most of the gentry on the 1694 list had disappeared, to be replaced in large part by Campbell of Inverneill and Malcolm of Poltalloch.

"Hearth" is not defined. Alexander Fraser (1) says that this tax, on "dwellings in which there was provision for the luxury of a fire, many of the houses of the poorer people having at this time no such accommodation." Now, I find this very hard to believe. Keeping warm is important, and so is cooking one's porridge. According to Isabella Grant, (2) in the earliest houses, the hearth was in the middle of the floor, "formed of a few flat stones with a higher one to the side against which the first could be banked." Also, "A fire was also vitally important to the primitive house itself. Unless a constant fire is kept burning to dry the atmosphere inside the house, the sods of the roof became waterlogged and heavy and sooner or later collapse."

Given all this, the small number of dwellings on the Hearth Tax List is striking to the modern reader. Granted, the 1600s had been very unkind to Knapdale, what with marauding and murdering MacDonalds in the middle of the century, and general chaos throughout the last half of the century, as two Campbells of Argyll were executed in Edinburgh by Stewart Kings. Castle Sween was destroyed in the mid 1600s, probably during the MacDonald depredations.

However, if you look at the "Statistical Accounts of Scotland",(3) completed a century later, there are actual population figures given by each Parish Minister. Accordingly, we find that in 1796, South Knapdale's population was 1524 souls; and in 1799, North Knapdale's population was 1009, for a total of 2533 souls in Knapdale as a whole. Now, the Hearth Tax list includes a number of villages in Kilberry Parish; but it misses places like Arichonan, up near Bellanoch. There are a total of 383 dwellings on that 1694 list. If there were some 2,800 people - at most - in Knapdale, that indicates some 7 people per dwelling... which is not out of line, I think, given my impression of the 'huddled masses' of my ancestors, having porridge around a centre hearth.

So, just maybe, this Hearth Tax List is a reasonably faithful picture of Knapdale in 1694!

An Addendum, from an American descendent of the Blue/McGuirman family:
Hi Heather:
I wanted to greatly thank you for compiling the 1694 Hearth Tax data. I have seen transcripts of entries in the records referring to my family (Blues/McGurman’s) but it was a thrill to see the entire record with translations of names and places and pictures of the original documents. Thank you again.

Like you, I have been contemplating if this lists tells us anything about the population of Knapdale in 1694. Undoubtedly they did not find everyone because Drynoch and Arichonan are missing, but I think they probably found most of the population as it would be in the government’s financial interest to identify and tax as many hearths as possible. Something perhaps of interest to you. From the Hearth tax list in 1694 there were at least 7 Blue families in Knapdale. By 1800, using birth and marriage records, there were at least 15 Blue families in Knapdale. Given the large families they had back then and the hopefully improving standard of living thanks to the industrial revolution this doubling in family number over the course of a century is not surprising. It may mean that your estimate of 2800 Knapdale souls in 1694 is high. I would guess based on the Blue families that the 1694 population was some fraction of the 1800 population...which was probably the maximum given the large amount of emigration that ocurred soon afterward.....

(1)Fraser, Alexander. North Knapdale in the XVII and XVIIIth Centuries. Oban, 1964. page 66.
(2)Grant, I.F. Highland Folk Ways. Birlinn, 1997. Copyright, 1961 and 1997. page 162.
(3)"Statistical Account of Scotland," volume VIII, ARGYLL (mainland.) Published originally in 1799.

The photos of the hearths were taken by Heather McFarlane, at Auchendrain Folk Museum, between Lochgilphead and Inveraray.

PDF Front Page


Hearth Tax listing by Surname

Hearth Tax listing by Place

Mapping Knapdale
Argyll Militia
Arichonan Affray
Every Day Life and Housing
Gigha: a book review
Inverneill Estates
Castle Sween, a history and poetry
Rejecting Knapdale's Establishment: The Church
Celtic Knapdale
Donald McGilp Letters
Leaving Knapdale Section


Key to the Knapdale People Data Base
Mapping Knapdale
The Militia Act of Scotland Leaving Knapdale Section
The McMillans of Knapdale
The Affray in Arichonan
Castles in Knapdale
The Free Church of Scotland
Knapdale Cemeteries
Dealing with the Poor
The Hearth Tax of 1694
Gigha: a book review
Inverneill Estates
Castle Sween, a history and poetry
Celtic Knapdale
Leaving Knapdale: Donald McGilp Letters