The Awkward Moment When A Prime Minister Taxed Time

The Awkward Moment When A Prime Minister Taxed Time

Time is such a simple concept but at the same time causes so many issues.

The very reason time zone clocks exist is to ensure that no matter where you are in the world you have a good idea of what the time is.

However, the problems that sometimes arise with different time zones are nothing compared to that time when a sitting prime minister tried to tax timepieces and nearly wiped out the clockmaking business of the UK.

It all started with William Pitt, The Younger, the Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer in the late 18th century. He had seen how watches had become incredibly popular after they became much cheaper to produce, and decided to tax watches, clocks and anything that told the time.

Basically if you wanted a watch, you needed to pay 10 shillings (which adjusted for inflation is over £64 today) for a gold timepiece, and 2 shillings and 10 pence (roughly £15) in tax alone for a watch, as well as demanding clockmakers pay an annual license.

It wiped out the clockmaking industry in the country nearly overnight, forcing thousands of clocksmiths to flee to continental Europe to make a living until the tax was repealed a year after its enactment in 1798.

Its enduring legacy was that it led to inns and taverns hanging a large, plain clock on their walls to help visitors tell the time. Whilst these clocks existed before the tax, they would later become known as “Act of Paliament Clocks” to commemorate that time a Prime Minister taxed time.