Guide to the archives of the Valuation Office
The valuation of Ireland was a cadastral survey made for the purpose of levying tax on property.
A valuation price was put on every piece of property in the country and this became the basis on which local tax was charged, at a rate per pound of valuation. The work that lay behind the initial valuation took place between 1830 and the mid-1860s, first in the Townland Valuation when townlands were the smallest unit valued and, from 1844, in the Tenement Valuation when individual tenements were valued. This established a base-line valuation that was up-dated by revision from that time until the end of the twentieth century for domestic dwellings and continues to be revised for commercial property. The archives created by the initial valuation are held by the National Archives. The revision documents are held by the Valuation Office. In general, archives relating to counties in Northern Ireland are held by the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland in Belfast and some are in the National Archives. The work created a uniform, standardised and national valuation that covered the country.
The valuation was carried out under the authority of Acts of Parliament passed between 1826 and 1864, with minor amendments made after that date. Some of these Acts remained in force until repealed by the Valuation Act, 2001. The legislation set out the framework of the valuation and instructions, issued at intervals, determined the operational requirements, such as the detail that was to be recorded and the manner of carrying out the work. The Acts and instructions are available for consultation. Over the period 1830-65, changes were made to the requirements of the valuation in response to both practical difficulties and external factors, the most significant of which was the replacement of the valuation in townlands by the valuation in tenements.
Background to the valuation
In the early nineteenth century, counties were administered by grand juries. These bodies provided services including roads, bridges, courthouses and infirmaries and were funded by a tax known as county cess that was levied on occupiers of property. Dissatisfaction with the county cess system was widespread and had been the subject of parliamentary debate and discussion by select committees since the late eighteenth century. Following the report of a further select committee (the Spring Rice Committee) in 1824, steps were taken to remedy the problem once and for all by establishing a uniform and national valuation on which the tax would be based. The report of the Spring Rice Committee acknowledged that accurate maps were an essential prerequisite to the cadastral work and recommended that the maps should be made by the Ordnance Survey. However, before the mapping work could be carried out, it was necessary to establish officially the boundaries of the territorial divisions and the Boundary Survey was set up by an Act of 1825 to do this part of the work. The first Valuation Act was passed in 1826 and the field work was started in 1830 in County Londonderry (Derry). The valuation of other counties took place from north to south, following the publication of the Ordnance Survey maps, and the dates of the work are different in every county.
The work of valuation
The valuation was based in an office in Dublin and was organised around field work that took place in each county. The valuation was headed by a Commissioner and assisted by other staff. Richard Griffith was commissioner between 1830 and 1868. The staff consisted of clerks, draftsmen and office staff based in Dublin and valuators and surveyors who worked mostly in the field. The valuation was founded on information collected during the field work. This work was organised by barony and the valuators worked their way systematically through the townlands and parishes of each barony in a county, recording the information required. Office work was carried out to prepare a preliminary valuation for appeal. On completion of the appeals the valuation was settled and became the official document for use in local taxation. Office premises in Dublin were at first located in Fitzwilliam Street (at the rear of Griffith’s private house) and from the 1860s in Ely Place, where special storage was provided for the large quantity of archives. The Valuation Office moved to its current location in Lower Abbey Street in the late 1990s.
The Townland Valuation
The Townland Valuation was the first valuation and took place under Acts passed between 1826 and 1836. The objective was to create a valuation in counties, baronies, parishes and townlands for the whole country. The smallest unit was to be the townland and individual holdings were not valued, hence the name ‘Townland Valuation’. In the field work, townlands were divided into ‘lots’ by quality and information about the land and some houses was recorded. Houses and land were valued separately. The names of individual occupiers were not noted systematically unless they held a house that was valued at more than £3 (between 1831-6) or £5 after that date. Staff recorded the information required in field books, house books and on maps. In the office the data collected in the field work was checked and calculated and used to create the preliminary valuation that was circulated for appeals. Appeals were made by parish vestries and were heard in public sessions, first in each barony by a committee of appeal and later at county level by a committee of revision. The valuation became official once agreed by the committee of revision and published in the Dublin Gazette. The proportion of the county cess to be paid by each occupier in a townland was decided by locally-appointed officers.
A number of changes were made to the Townland Valuation over the period 1826-39, including the creation of a threshold of £3 for the valuation of houses (1831) and the increase to £5 (1836), the application to buildings other than dwellings (1831), the definition of exempt buildings (1832), the standardisation of the descriptions of land, the establishment of a system for valuing houses using tables of codes and the definition of a method that took account of the additional value of houses in towns (1833), the recording of names of occupiers of houses valued (1835-6), the lifting of the requirement that the valuators work in teams of three and the introduction of the check valuation (1836), the addition of a further and final committee of revision for county-level appeals (1836) and the requirement to have the quality lots of land coincide with farms (1839).
Twenty-six counties were valued in this manner before the system was changed in 1844.
The Tenement Valuation
While work in townlands was proceeding county by county, changes were taking place in the background that affected the valuation and brought about the introduction of a tenement valuation. In 1838 the poor law was introduced to Ireland. The poor law was financed by the poor rate, a property tax levied on individual tenements or holdings, for which an unrelated valuation in tenements (the Poor Law Valuation) was carried out under the Poor Law Commissioners from the late 1830s. The work of the Townland Valuation was also examined in critical terms by select committees of the House of Commons in 1836 and 1844. This resulted in a radical departure in late 1844 when the basis of the valuation was altered from townlands to tenements. These provisions were later confirmed by the 1846 Valuation Act. This Act applied to the six counties not valued by the Townland Valuation and was to be used for poor rates and county cess. The Townland Valuation remained in force in counties where it was complete and its work was continued in counties already under way. The tenement provisions of the 1846 Act were later extended to some other counties and in 1852 a further Valuation Act was passed, applying the valuation in tenements to the whole country for all local taxation and ending the valuation in townlands. In counties already valued by the Townland Valuation, the work was re-examined and amended in order to make the valuation in tenements. By the mid-1860s, the entire country was valued in tenements and the initial valuation was complete.
Under the Tenement Valuation, every individual tenement or holding was recorded, including the names of the occupiers. The documents contain large numbers of names of householders. The field work and office work took place in the same manner as in the Townland Valuation, although the amount of work was greatly increased, and the preliminary valuation prepared for appeals was published as the Primary Valuation, or Griffith’s Valuation. In the Tenement Valuation individual occupiers could appeal their valuation. Under the 1846 Act, appeals were made at public hearings and under the 1852 Act the procedure was altered to an administrative one. Further appeal could be made under both Acts to the Court of Quarter Sessions. Following the appeals, the valuation was finally settled and recorded in the ‘cancelled books’, or revision books, now held by the Valuation Office.
The archives of the valuation
The work of valuation created a large quantity of archives that are now useful for researchers seeking information on a wide range of subjects, from family history to academic studies. The documents cover the entire country and provide an important record over a period when major changes took place and few other country-wide sources are extant. Although the work of valuation was complex and technical, the archives were made according to a standard method. It is possible to find out where individual occupiers lived, the size, quality and location of their farm, the type of house occupied and its location and to identify similar information about the surrounding locality. It may also be possible, using the later revision documents, to follow how the family, property or locality changed up to the end of the twentieth century.
The majority of the archives concern the valuation itself but a small quantity of administrative documents include instructions and correspondence. The field work was carried out using pre-printed notebooks, including field books (used to record agricultural land), house books (used to record buildings) and maps (used to mark out the location and extent of quality lots in the Townland Valuation and individual tenements in the Tenement Valuation). In the Tenement Valuation, tenure books were also made. The office work created further documents, including quarto books, calculation books and copies of books and maps, and produced the preliminary valuation that was printed for use at appeals. In the Townland Valuation this was a large poster-like list and in the Tenement Valuation it was printed in a book as the Primary Valuation. Following all appeals, the official valuation was entered in books that are still held by the Valuation Office, and are known as the ‘cancelled books’.
The books of the valuation were made in parishes, with a new book for every parish. For rural areas the printed six-inch or 1:10,560 maps made by the Ordnance Survey were used as the base map on which the valuation information was drawn by hand. For towns, varying from small villages to large cities, town plans were made in manuscript and usually at the large scale of sixty inches to the mile or 1:1,056. In counties valued in both Townland and Tenement Valuations, new field books were not made by the Tenement Valuation but other existing documents were in some cases re-used. In many cases a further house book was made in the tenement work and this provides information recorded at a later date. There are some differences between the documents created in counties valued for the first time under the Tenement Valuation and counties previously valued
The archives covering the period of the initial valuation are arranged in twenty separate series of documents, each of which is listed. The documents are interlinked, and information of interest may be spread over several series. Each individual document is listed in its series and is dated as closely as possible. Dates were noted in the majority of books but almost no dates were recorded on maps. Some documents were also combined in books: for example, in many counties field books were bound with the house book for the parish, and many calculation books were bound with the check house books. There are also some unexpected or unique combinations. These occurrences are noted in the lists. Some of the archives are in fragile or worn condition, and some may not be currently available to researchers or may be made available only in surrogate form.
Approximately 30,000 documents are listed in the valuation archives in the National Archives and it is usually possible to find some documents relating to a parish or a town but not all documents have survived. The books in the main series (field books, house books, quarto books and tenure books) were originally made in respect of every parish or town in the country. List books were made for every county but are extant for only ten counties. Some series of documents were made only in specific cases, such as rent books under the 1846 Act, and survey books under the Tenement Valuation. Other books appear to have been made only occasionally, such as comparison books or preliminary books. A similar situation describes the maps where many are not present.
Please consult the finding aids to the Valuation Office in the reading room. Some records have been digitised and are searchable on our Genealogy website.
For useful background information please see:
 Counties Cork, Dublin, Kerry, Limerick, Tipperary and Waterford and cities of Cork, Kilkenny, Limerick and Waterford.