It seems unfathomable today, but if you owned a home in Victorian England and you wanted to bring sunlight and fresh air into your daily life, you would have to pay handsomely for the privilege. The hated "window tax" was introduced by Parliament in 1696 in England and Wales, and provided revenue for the British government for 156 years. It was a property tax based on the number of windows in a house or other residential building. In English cities, poor families often lived in crowded tenement buildings. The window tax burden fell on their landlords, who responded by closing up windows with bricks and wood, blocking out fresh air and natural light. Charles Dickens railed against the window tax in his writing, and in public speeches, until the law was finally repealed in 1851.
The pen is mightier than the sword:
- In 1824, when Charles Dickens was 12, his father was jailed because he couldn’t pay his debts. Young Charles was forced to work 10-hour days in a factory, pasting labels on bottles of shoe polish.
- Unable to afford a university education, Dickens honed his writing skills on his own. He later became a journalist and covered Parliament.
- Today, Dickens is remembered as a successful novelist, with classic tales such as Great Expectations, The Pickwick Papers, and Oliver Twist.