Thursday, November 10, 2011

Tally sticks and the House of Parliament

Tally sticks, or Taille sticks were the ancient medieval way that tax collection was done. In England, the sticks were made out of a soft wood, then notched and eventually broken in two after several years of tax collection. One half of the stick was kept by the owner--the other half, by the government.

As modern accounting methods developed in the later 18th and early 19th century, the taille sticks were no longer used. They were stored, however, in an official place. In England, they were stored in the basement of the Parliament building. Talk about a bunch of dry kindling--sticks that were centuries old, were heaped into bags. It was time them were "shredded" or in this case, burned.

In 1834, on 16 October, the responsibility for disposing of the tally sticks fell to Richard Whibley, the Clerk of Works at the Palace. He decided against burning them on a bonfire out in the open, as he feared such an action would upset the neighbours. The decision was made to burn the sticks in the underfloor coal furnaces that heated the House of Lords chamber. The Parliament buildings burned down (they later burned down again, during the London Blitz).