A license to… use powder?

At our visit to the archives the other day, Ian and I came across the following intriguing envelope:


Why would my ancestors need a license to use powder? Our first thought was that it had something to do with gunpowder, bearing in mind my ancestors’ penchant for hunting (see previous post). But when we looked inside, the names on these licenses were all names of the women in the Morland family:



The dates of these licenses were 1797-1799, and the names on them were the names of all the women in the Morland family at that time. Ann Morland was the head of the family, as her husband, Thomas Morland had died in 1784. Thomas and Ann had three sons and four daughters. All of her daughters are named on the licenses; Anna Eleanora, Mary, Margaretta and Eliza. Unless these female ancestors of mine were gunpowder-toting women, the licenses must have been for some other kind of powder.

Ann Morland as a young woman

Ann Morland (nee Matson) as a young woman

Ann Matson as an older woman, perhaps at the time she was living in Kendal

Ann Morland as an older woman, perhaps at the time she was living in Kendal

One of the documents revealed the answer: they were licenses for hair powder. In 1795 the government passed the Duty on Hair Powder Act, as one of many extra taxes imposed to pay for wars. Anyone wanting to use hair powder had to pay one guinea for an annual certificate.

What truly amazes me about this discovery is that these hair powder licenses were kept by every subsequent generation of Morlands, until they were eventually deposited in the Maidstone archives by my great uncle William. The Morlands certainly never had a clearout!

There are a couple of other interesting things to note here. Ann is listed as ‘housekeeper’. Does this mean ‘head of the household’? And there is another powder license in the name of Ann’s sister, Margaret Matson, who is listed as ‘inmate’.


My guess is that this means something like ‘member of the household’, as another of the documents listed, among the available options, housekeeper, daughter, inmate. So it seems that Ann’s sister never married, and lived with her in Kendal after she, Ann, had been widowed. This is a picture of Margaret as a young girl:


Another interesting thing is that these powder licenses have revealed some information that I didn’t know, and have opened up some lines of further enquiry. Ann’s husband had, as I mentioned, died in 1784, and I remember my great uncle William writing in a letter that he didn’t know whether Ann had stayed at Court Lodge, or moved back to Westmorland where she came from. These powder licenses show her living in Highgate, Kendal, with at least all four of her daughters. William also mentioned in that letter that two of her sons, William Alexander and Henry, went to school in Cumberland (with Wordsworth, as it happens – another literary connection to the Morlands!), so it looks very much like the whole family decamped up to Westmorland after Thomas’s death.

This is intriguing because the family also very clearly moved back to Court Lodge at some point not long after, as William Alexander was the head of the family at Court Lodge until his death in 1846. So it raises the questions: when did the Morlands move back to Court Lodge? And who lived at Court Lodge while Ann and her children were living in Kendal?

These questions are tantalising, and I have a few ideas as to how they might be answered. The answers, if I’m right, are quite exciting! I will do a little more research and then update this blog with what I have found out, so stay tuned!


5 thoughts on “A license to… use powder?

  1. chmjr2

    Interesting post today. First the record keeping is amazing to have these papers for so long. Then I guess nothing changes, in that the government can find so many ways to tax us.

  2. Pingback: Did Jane Austen ever visit Court Lodge? | Court Lodge Estate

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