The records of the Valuation Office in local and family history. By Laura Price.

The records of the Valuation Office stretch all the way back to the 1830s and are an invaluable source for the genealogist or local historian. They allow a researcher to trace the occupiers of land and buildings for decades. Just as importantly they give us insight into our ancestors’ lives in Ireland long ago. The enormous collection – thousands of ‘books’ and maps – cover every house and garden, field and townland, village and town in the country. These records have survived when so much of our heritage was lost. The majority of the collection was kept, organised logically, catalogued and safely stored. The records are now held in three repositories: The National Archives of Ireland, The Valuation Office of Ireland and the Public Records Office of Northern Ireland, and are generally accessible for researchers. Some of the records are available free online, with plans to add more. [Laura Price will give a lecture via Zoom on this topic on Monday 1 November to Offaly History. Get the link by emailing us at info@offalyhistory.com. You do not have to be a member and you are welcome.]

The idea of a grand, single valuation was initially legislated for in the 1820s. Why was a valuation of property needed? For taxation, of course! At the time each county was administered by a local Grand Jury and funded by a local tax called the county cess. This cess was based on the valuation of the property the cess payer owned or occupied. However, the valuation was often old, out of date and inconsistent, causing great inequity of taxation. People with similar property could be paying very different amounts of cess.

The historical geographer J.H. Andrews suggests the King’s Co. (Offaly) valuation used maps from the Down Survey created way back in the 1650s![1] Referring to the barony of Garrycastle in 1823, Andrew Armstrong, King’s Co. wrote ‘I am Quite Sure there is Twenty Thousand acres – More in Said Barony than at present Pays County Cess..’.[2]

The topic was debated in parliament and a decision was made to create a uniform national valuation of property on which county cess could be levied. The valuation of Ireland was a complex undertaking involving a number of stages and organisations. The archivist Frances McGee has written an excellent book on the subject, The Archives of the Valuation of Ireland 1830 – 1865.[3] It is required reading for anyone looking for an in-depth history of the organisation.

The first priority for the valuation was accurate detailed maps. In 1824 the Ordnance Survey, under the command of Colonel Thomas Colby and Lieutenant Thomas Larcom, was instructed to create a set of 6” maps of the country. This was a military organisation, assisted by civilians on the ground.

Gunter’s Chain and Tape Measure, used for surveying land. Some of the many artifacts on display at the Valuation Office of Ireland, image courtesy of the Commissioner of Valuation.

To facilitate the valuation the Boundary Survey was set up in 1825 to study and map the boundaries of every townland and barony in the country. This Boundary Survey section comprised mainly Irish engineers and surveyors, and was led by an engineer called Richard Griffith. Surviving records include maps, Boundary Remark Books and Boundary Registers.

Sir Richard Griffith

Griffith

The 1826 Valuation Act provided for the creation of the role of Commissioner of Valuation, who was to create a system to value land and buildings in Ireland as a basis for taxation. The first commissioner was Richard Griffith of the Boundary Survey, who remained in the role until 1868.

The Ordnance Survey employed a team of antiquarians and Gaelic scholars led by George Petrie. The team’s function was to follow the Ordnance Survey to verify local placenames and translate them into English. This activity is sometimes referred to as the Topographic Survey. In the process they studied and recorded the history, folklore, traditions, and topography of the country. Their records have survived in the form of the Ordnance Survey Name Books and in their letters back to headquarters.

Herity, Michael (Ed.), Ordnance Survey Letters, Four Masters Press, Dublin, 2008, available to buy at https://www.offalyhistory.com/shop/books/ordnance-survey-letters-offaly.

George Petrie

From 1830 the valuation of the country began. It started with the Townland Valuation from 1830 to 1844. Richard Griffith organised teams of valuators and surveyors in the field and provided written instructions on exactly how to value land and buildings. Rather than value individual holdings they were to value the land of a townland as a whole. Buildings greater than £3, then later £5, and their occupiers were to be included. The valuators recorded their work in manuscript books under the subjects Field (land), House (urban areas), Quarto (urban areas), Mill and Appeal (recording the very complex appeal process). All surviving copies of these books are held at the National Archives of Ireland. The original plan was for the Grand Jury to use the Townland Valuation to levy cess on the county using their own valuator or applotters to value individual holdings. The Poor Law Act was also introduced in the 1830s with an entirely separate valuation system! In 1844 the decision was taken to wind down the Townland Valuation and instead to value each and every building and piece of land (every ‘tenement’) and record its occupier. This valuation would be used for both the poor rates and the county cess.

George Petrie

Thus, the Tenement Valuation began. Every tenement was numbered and matched to its plot on the Ordnance Survey’s 6” map.

Front page of the Primary Valuation (Griffith’s Valuation), King’s County and County Westmeath, Alexander Thom & Sons, Dublin, 1854, online at http://www.askaboutireland.ie/griffith-valuation.

The result of all this work, the Primary Valuation of Ireland, began to be published county by county, from 1847 until 1864 (King’s Co. in 1854). Known almost universally as Griffith’s Valuation, it records the townland, tenement number, occupier, immediate lessor (the landlord), a description of the tenement (house, land etc.), the acreage of the land, the rateable valuation of the land and the buildings, and finally the total rateable valuation. This Rateable Valuation was the basis for any tax to be paid – the occupier paid an amount per pound of valuation, for example, sixpence in the pound. It is available free on http://www.askaboutireland.ie/griffith-valuation.

Griffith’s Valuation of part the town of Shannonbridge within the townland of Cloniffeen, Parish of Clonmacnoise, King’s County, online at http://www.askaboutireland.ie/griffith-valuation.

Map of the townlands of Raghra and Cloniffeen including the village of Shannonbridge, Parish of Clonmacnoise, King’s County, Griffith’s Valuation Maps, online at http://www.askaboutireland.ie/griffith-valuation.

Part of the Shannonbridge Town Plan, King’s County, Griffith’s Valuation Maps, online at http://www.askaboutireland.ie/griffith-valuation.

Within a few years of publication, valuators were dispatched to record any changes to the Primary Valuation. New occupiers or immediate lessors were recorded, as well as significant changes to the property and any changes to its valuation. Valuators returned every few years to update the records. As their record books became full and harder to read they were ‘cancelled’ and a fresh copy made. These books are called various things, cancelled lists, cancelled books, revision books, and they record changes in property and occupiers from the 1850s to the 1970s. They are an effective way to track the occupancy of properties over many decades. They are useful for family history and absolutely vital for local history. These books are held at the Valuation Office of Ireland and the Public Records Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI).

We value Griffith’s Valuation as a ‘census substitute’ to replace the lost 19th century censuses. It gives us the heads of households for about 70% of the country from the 1850s and beyond. But the records created for the Valuation of Ireland are much more than that. They contain snippets of information that we could find nowhere else.

For example, the Boundary Register of the Parish of Clonmacnoise names the fifteen men who carried out the Boundary Survey there in 1837?[4] A House Book can tell us that an ancestor’s long demolished house had two storeys and a thatched roof, with a cow-shed and a turf-shed out the back. We know that Mrs. Bridget Connolly ran a huckster’s shop in Shannonbridge in the 1840s, and that her widowed neighbour, Mrs. Nolan, ran a lodging house.[5] A field book can tell us the type of soil our ancestors farmed on and sometimes what crops they grew. Appeal Books are a treasure trove indeed, recording the back and forth of the appeal process, explaining the logic behind some of the valuation decisions. The Appeal Book for the Barony of Maryborough East mentions the location of ‘the oldest house in Maryboro – 500 years old or 400’ in 1850 and includes a valuator’s short scathing analysis of major proprietors in the barony.[6] Let us just say the phrase ‘rack rent’ appears frequently!

Tullamore Quarto Books show us that Dr George Pierce’s house on Charleville St. in 1844 ‘has always been considered the best private house in Tullamore, good situation, extensive pleasure ground in front and in rear, large walled in garden’[7] [this is now the town hall, ed.] while Thomas Berry’s house on the same street was ‘a remarkably neat cottage lately built, but the situation is not desirable, being opposite the Jail Gate, good garden, can be made into 2 houses’.[8] (This is the brick house near the railway station and currently for sale, ed.] Then there is the note in the Edenderry Quarto Book about Samuel Brierton and John Gill’s business on Main St. describing it as ‘New made with two separate concerns Yard in common Grocery and Spirit establishment & Shop. Good Situation Mr. Brierton built the concern and lately let a part of them to his son in law Mr Gill. A very good business situation and has a good rear’.[9]

Griffith’s maps sometimes reveal a little extra such as this one showing fieldnames in the townland of Belmount or Lisderg: Rigney’s Park, White Park, Limekiln Park, Fiveacres Field, and Spring Park.[10]

Map of the townland of Belmount or Lisderg, Parish of Tisaran, King’s Co., Griffith’s Valuation, online at http://www.askaboutireland.ie/griffith-valuation/.

Cancelled Books allow us to pinpoint three of the houses in which schoolmaster Manus O’Donnell lived in Shannonbridge from the 1860s to the 1920s.[11] For example, in the 1860s he lived in House #2, on the Raghra side of the village:

Cancelled Book of the Town of Shannonbridge, 1863-1874, Parish of Clonmacnoise, Electoral Division of Shannonbridge, Union of Parsonstown, King’s Co., Valuation Office of Ireland, image courtesy of the Commissioner of Valuation.

In my presentation I will explain how to access this treasure trove, both in repositories and online. There will be a case study of a house in Shannonbridge showing how the Valuation Office records helped to build a history of the building and its inhabitants from the 1840s to the 1970s, and explaining how this research was expanded to include every house in the village. I will include some more examples of the useful and interesting facts to be found among the records.


[1] Andrews, J.H., Plantation Acres: An Historical Study of the Irish Land Surveyor and his Maps, Ulster Historical Foundation, 1995, p366.

[2] Letter from Andrew Armstrong, King’s County to the Chief Secretary’s Office, 15 Nov 1823, CSORP/1823/1968, National Archives of Ireland (NAI).

[3] McGee, Frances, The Archives of the Valuation of Ireland 1830 – 1865, Four Courts Press, Dublin, 2018.

[4] Boundary Register, Parish of Clonmacnoise, 1837, OL/3.2847, NAI.

[5] Shannonbridge House Book, Parish of Clonmacnoise, OL/5/3211.

[6] Maryborough East Appeals Book, 1850, OL/19/24/5, NAI.

[7] Quarto Book of Tullamore, King’s Co., 1844, p.60, OL/7.0089, NAI.

[8] Quarto Book of Tullamore, 1844, p.61, OL/7.0089, NAI.

[9] Quarto Book of Edenderry, 1842, p.4, OL/7.0047, NAI.

[10] Map of the townland of Belmount or Lisderg, Parish of , King’s Co., Griffith’s Valuation, online at http://www.askaboutireland.ie/griffith-valuation/.

[11] Cancelled Book of the Town of Shannonbridge, Parish of Clonmacnoise, Electoral Division of Shannonbridge, Union of Parsonstown, King’s Co., Valuation Office of Ireland.