Britain’s Playing Card Tax

Anyone who is vaguely familiar with British social history will be aware that they have had some “different” (by that, yes I mean rather odd) taxes over the years.

Take for instance the Hearth Tax in which you paid based on the number of fireplaces in your house, the Window Tax was the same but was based on the number of windows you had. The Clock Tax, the Candle Tax, the Soap Tax, even a Beard Tax are others just to mention a few – and all were used as a means to raise funds for the government of the day.

But here we’re talking about a tax on Playing Cards.

Yes, truly. The humble deck of cards was taxed (not forgetting dice as well).

In reality they had been taxed since the late 1500s, but in 1710 the English Government dramatically raised the taxes on them, which the manufacturer was then liable for. As the rate of tax was equivalent to 12 times the price of a cheap pack of cards, you can imagine that there were forgeries.

But in a bid to prevent this, each manufacturer had their own ‘mark’, and would hand stamp their mark on the Ace of Spades to show that it was a legit version.

Still, as the taxes were excessive, forgeries happened.

And while creating forgeries of playing cards doesn’t sound too drastic, if you were caught making them the result was hanging.

While the tax itself is surprising enough, what’s even more surprising is that tax continued through until 1960. That’s 250 years! Incredible.

So if you are lucky enough to have an old deck of cards, take a closer look at it. Check out the maker, and in particular have a close look at the Ace of Spades and see if it has the hand stamp on it.

Postman’s Park: Every Name Has a Story

As a family historian I believe that every name truly has a story. But it is true that some have more story than others.

Today I would like to introduce you to “Postman’s Park” which is in London, England. This is a place that I visited while I was in England back in 2014. And I admit that it wasn’t a place I knew of the prior to my visit, but to say it’s sobering is an understatement. It gave me the same feeling that you get when you visit a war memorial. Yes, you know that feeling.

Anyway Wikipedia describes the park as …

“Postman’s Park is a park in central London, a short distance north of St Paul’s Cathedral. Bordered by Little Britain, Aldersgate Street, St. Martin’s Le Grand, King Edward Street, and the site of the site of the former headquarters of the General Post Office (GPO)”

But what makes this park special?

“Postman’s Park apart from being a beautiful park which contains headstones, also contains 54 memorial tablets (or plaques) that commemorate 62 individuals (men, women and children), each of whom lost their life while attempting to save another. It is a park that has memorials for heroic self-sacrifice.”

The park idea started back in 1887 when Victorian artist George Frederic Watts wrote a letter to The Times newspaper entitled ‘Another Jubilee Suggestion’. In this letter, he put forward a plan to celebrate Queen Victoria’s golden jubilee by erecting a monument to commemorate ‘heroism in every-day life’. It took until 1900, but this idea was eventually realised and his Memorial to Heroic Self-Sacrifice came to be.

The memorials are printed on tiles, and mounted on a wall. And each one of those plaques most certainly has a story. Reading those stories was sad. But without without the Postman’s Park memorial plaques, how many of these stories would go unknown? Probably too many.

As sad as it was, if you get the chance to visit Postman’s Park, do so. It is one of those places you won’t forget.

Postman's Park is really beautiful

Postman’s Park is really beautiful

garden at Postman's Park, London

garden at Postman’s Park, London

so of the numerous headstones in the garden at Postman's Park, London

so of the numerous headstones in the garden at Postman’s Park, London

explanation of Postman's Park

explanation of Postman’s Park

 a few of the plaques on the memorial wall at Postman's Park

a few of the plaques on the memorial wall at Postman’s Park

memorial plaque at Postman's Park

memorial plaque for Edmund Emery at Postman’s Park

memorial plaque at Postman's Park

memorial plaque for Henry Bristow at Postman’s Park

For more information about Postman’s Park:
Postman’s Park website

Reality is Stranger than Fiction

I don’t often do book reviews, but I wanted to share something about this one with you.

Having just finished reading Carol Baxter’s book “The Peculiar Case of the Electric Constable: A True Tale of Passion, Poison and Pursuit” it leaves me without a doubt that reality most certainly can be far stranger than fiction.

A Sydneysider, Carol Baxter is an internationally acclaimed author who has made her mark in the literary world with her unique genre – one I’m not even sure of the title of – but it is  true history written like a novel. Based on what I’ve read I would she’s mastered it. Carol doesn’t write a novel adding in some historical references as some do, but rather the entire story she tells is based on history.