Victorian Britain: a nation of coffee-lovers

Fri Jul 16, 2010 2:30pm EDT
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By Stefano Ambrogi

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - Victorian Britain was a nation of coffee-drinkers who paid few taxes, whose economy relied on trade and where defense spending swallowed a huge slice of income, statistics from 170 years ago reveal.

The figures, released by government statisticians for the first time, offer a glimpse of Britain from when economic records began.

They run from 1840, a year when Queen Victoria married Prince Albert and the world's first adhesive postage stamp, the Penny Black, was introduced, through to 1853 when the population topped 18 million.

It was a time when welfare handouts were non existent, divorce was still illegal, social issues were given short shrift and staple commodities like eggs were imported by the shipload.

The Office of National Statistics (ONS), which compiles an annual abstract, released the figures to show how markedly the British economy and society has changed.

In those days, at the height of empire, the government collected a mere 47.5 million pounds in taxes and close to two-thirds of that came via trade in the form of excise duty.

Last year the government collected 453 billion pounds in tax, with the majority derived from income tax.

"There was some element of personal taxation, because of course, income tax was introduced to fight the Napoleonic wars and that continued but the bulk of revenue was from goods," said Ian Macrory, editor of the ONS' 2010 annual abstract.   Continued...

<p>Queen Victoria and family in a painting by Frans Xaver Winterhalter. REUTERS/Files</p>