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What was the Valuation Office Survey and why was it undertaken

Between the years 1910 and 1915, a comprehensive survey of land ownership in England and Wales was undertaken, the like of which had not been seen since the Domesday Book of 1086. The survey (sometimes referred to as the “New Domesday”) was conducted by the Board of Inland Revenue Valuation Office under the Finance (1909-10) Act, 1910.The reason for this extensive mapping and valuation exercise was because of concerns about unequal ownership of land. As part of the Liberal reforms of the early 20th century, Lloyd George, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, introduced a number of clauses into the 1909 budget with the aim of taxing private landowners. These clauses were fiercely resisted and the Bill was rejected by the House of Lords.

It was not until after a general election that the Bill reached the statute book as the Finance (1909-1910) Act 1910. The 1910 Act provided for the collection of a number of duties on land, the main one being the “incremental value duty”. This was defined as duty payable on the increase in value of a property that was attributable to expenditure by the state, such as in the provision of enhanced services and amenities (eg improved roads, drainage and other public services), as opposed to an increase due to the owner’s expenditure and efforts.

This was to be levied at the rate of 20% on any increase in the site value of land between the time of its initial valuation as at Lady Day (30th April) 1909 and the occasion of its sale or other transfer, the grant of leases for more than 14 years, or the death of the owner. Farmland was exempt if it had no greater value than its current agricultural market value. House-owners with land less than 50 acres in extent and worth less than £75 an acre were also exempt.

But in order to determine the “incremental value duty”, a valuation of the land had first to be made. All property was to be included, in both urban and rural communities, irrespective of whether or not it was later to be considered exempt. It was anticipated that the valuation process would be of great future assistance to the business of central government, helping with a reform of the rating system and in cases of compulsory purchase.

Landowners were opposed to the Act and resented the form-filling. Many hours were spent on an operation which ultimately proved to be an expensive failure. A number of landowners continued to oppose the Act’s land clauses, and carried on their fight, mainly through the law courts where a number of test cases resulted in defeat for the government and challenged the whole basis of the valuation. The outbreak of the First World War interrupted the opposition to the land clauses, although the valuation process continued. The main work of the original valuation was completed by the autumn of 1915, only six months behind schedule.

Incremental value duty was repealed by the Finance Act 1920. The valuation survey had cost in excess of two million pounds, not a fraction of which was recovered by the government from payment of increment value duty. It had been a huge costly and wasteful exercise but, for local and family historians, the large quantity of material which was produced is a real treasure trove. It provides information about ownership, land use, living conditions, working conditions and the wider community in which our ancestors were living in the years leading up to the First World War.