Treasure 42: a licence to employ a servant, 1878

This document (D1575/13/18) was chosen by Matthew, who is a Record Assistant at Derbyshire Record Office. Matthew says “it always reminds me of the old dog licences, which makes me smile but also feel slightly uncomfortable at the same time”.


Employers needed to have licences like this one to prove they had paid the male servant duty.  This system was in operation from 1869 to 1937.  Its predecessor was a tax on male servants, dating from 1777.  Rosie Cox, author of “The Servant Problem: Domestic Employment in a Global Economy” (I B Tauris, 2006) says the tax was intended to “remove male servants from all but the most prestigious households”, making it easier to recruit men to serve in the navy during the American War of Independence.

4 thoughts on “Treasure 42: a licence to employ a servant, 1878

  1. When my great uncle George Williamson died in 1936, his death certificate stated he was a retired gentleman’s servant. He lived in Norbury, Derbyshire and worked for the Clowes family. Would he have had one of these certificates? Where would i find it please?

    • Hi Judith, thanks for this question. Your great uncle would not have needed a licence in order to work, but the Clowes family would have a licence to employ him. The licence would not mention him by name, though. You will see from the image above that our example was issued by the Inland Revenue, i.e. central government. However, the Finance Act of 1908 transferred to county and borough councils the collection of various duties including male servants, meaning that your great uncle’s employer would have applied to Derbyshire County Council for the licence. We hold a couple of boxes of Derbyshire County Council records relating to the issuing of local taxation licences – I went to have a look at them just now – but these are pre-First World War, and I am afraid to say they have never been catalogued or accessioned. Most of the names listed are those of people who had applied for dog licences or for motor licences, although I did find one page showing the names of people who had servants. The records of the Local Taxation Committee 1909-1967 (D919/C/1/21) relate to the council’s collection of such duties – others include licences for killing and dealing in game, owning a gun, or having a horse-drawn carriage. Most of the committee’s business related to motor vehicles and drivers, and the early minutes include a detailed register of offences put before the committee.

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