A History of UK Road Tax

Horse drawn Hackney carriages (the forerunner of the familiar British black taxicab) were taxed in London as early as 1637.

An Act of 1747 introduced a wider tax on all horse-drawn carriages. This legislation was later extended to include steam Powered vehicles which started to appear around 1770. The use of such vehicles on the road was largely supplanted in the 19th century by the advent of railways. Having said that, Steam Rollers and slow-moving 'traction engines' hauling heavy loads for circus proprietors, sawmills and similar enterprises could be seen in regular use right up until the latter part of the 20th century.

Under this act, Highwaymen and Bank robbers were prohibited from using firearms - it was however, permitted for them to wave a stick or use a pistol that expelled a flag with the word Bang printed on it.

Surprisingly, this part of the legislation did not prove to be a blinding success - although a later amendment that stipulated that all Burglars must wear an eye mask, black and red hooped vest and carry a sack marked SWAG seem to have been generally well received by the criminal fraternity of the time.


1749: Highwayman Clarence Pinkheart brings panic, alarm and
terror to villages across the south of England with his 'Bang Gun'


The first internal combustion engine was constructed in England by Broderick Stanley Heape in his Pudding Lane London workshop in 1666ad.

All went well at first until his 998cc overhead cam V4 prototype developed a slight mis-fire at 15000 rpm.

According to the charred remains of his wifes Diaries, Broderick decided to investigate the problem by using a lighted match to see into the gas tank - Parts of that very engine are still in earth orbit to this very day.

There are many in the United Kingdom who would assert that technically, Broderick Heape was the first man in Space.


Many years later in 1862, without any reference to Heape's work, Jean Etienne Lenoir built a crude engine in France powered by illuminating gas.

The first non-fissile petrol engines appeared in 1883: Gottlieb Daimler developed a lightweight petrol engine and in a pathetic attempt to follow in Broderick Heapes footsteps, fitted it to a bicycle …………how he ever expected to put a bicycle into Space is beyond my comprehension……………didn't he realise that the tyres and pedals would melt on re-entry ??!!

Karl. Benz fitted his version to a three-wheeled carriage while BSA fitted their first engines to structures like bridges and scaffold towers - Daimler and Benz soon evolved their adaptations, but BSA never quite managed to eliminate the bridge and scaffold qualities from their motorcycle frames.

The Locomotive Acts of 1861-65 became law well before the first motor car graced the English roads in 1894. It referred to ''every locomotive propelled by any power containing within itself the machinery for its own propulsion.'' Wow - I so glad they used simple language in those days !!

The act stipulated a speed limit of 4 miles per hour on the open road and 2 m.p.h. in towns. In a State backed effort to encourage the working man of Britain to use this 'new' form of transportation, the British Government introduced a Petrol tax.

Based on vehicular power, a mere £2.10s (3 months average wage) was the annual duty for vehicles of less than 6.5 hp.

Acts of 1919 and 1920 laid the basis of the legislation which required motor vehicles used on the public roads to display a visible sign that the registration fee had been paid. So, when the popular petrol tax was scrapped in 1921, a £1-per hp visible road tax disc was introduced - Uk Road Fund Licenses (Tax Discs) as we know them were born.

Similar in size to today's discs, the earliest examples had a vertical 'expiry' cross in the background, shadowed by either of four differing lines to note the year at a distance.

The discs were required to be displayed in a special holder fixed to the front area of the vehicle. These special holders (details of which were specified in the 1921 Act) are available for purchase from fromanothertime.com


Originally metal, they are now more often made of smooth self-adhesive plastic.

These days, car owners invariably display the tax discs in the corner of the windscreen, passenger side. If you intend fitting a vintage tax disc to your vehicle (Car or Motorcycle) it is highly advisable to use one of our authentic holders

Nailing them to the windscreen is not recommended.

Our friend Clarence Flowerdarling had that idea and accidentally nailed his hand to the dashboard of his precious MK2 Jaguar.

Luckily for Clarence, our dim but well meaning mate Dan Gumpworm just happened to be passing with his pneumatic cutter (Don't we all keep one of those at hand ready for just such an emergency ?)

We now call Clarence 'Lefty' and just sometimes we still see small parts of his car gathering at the side of the road in thunderstorms........................I don't know what happened to the Tax disc.


Anyway, back to the plot - Lest I should inadvertantly digress from the matter at hand. ( Actually, the rest of this is pretty boring - until you get right to the bottom)

The Road tax duty introduced in 1921 could be paid annually or three-monthly. For those who like to know these things, expiry dates were 24th March (Spring Equinox), 30th June (Summer Solstice), 30th September (Autumn Equinox) and 31st December (Winter Solstice)

Until 1974, administration of the tax discs was in the hands of local authorities. Then the task was centralised under the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) in Swansea, South Wales.

Replica vintage and out-of-date Tax discs are available from fromanothertime.com and are reproduced with the kind permision of Her Majesty's Stationary Office (HMSO) under licence number C02W0005643.  

To legally use a motor vehicle on the road in the United Kingdon the owner must purchase and display a valid tax disc. These are obtained from DVLC Swansea, Local Vehicle Licence Offices and Post Offices.  When obtained over the counter at a Post Office, the disc is likely to be filled out by hand, by the issuing clerk.

To obtain a valid tax disc, a vehicle owner must produce:

The duty payable
A completed Tax application form
A certificate of insurance

and for vehicles over 3 years old

An - MOT certificate. (MOT Certificate - Annual roadworthiness certificate. Introduced in 1960 for vehicles over ten years old. This was reduced to three years in 1967. MOT certificates are issued by specially licensed garages or test centres.)

Originally, tax discs were provided by H.M. Stationery Office, with various security printers being responsible for the actual production.

Bradbury, Wilkinson & Co. Ltd. undertook the work in the 1950s. From 1976 the printing was carried out by Harrison and Sons, Ltd. at their High Wycombe plant using a Chambon press. Currently the majority of the printing is undertaken by De La Rue plc on their Jumelle press and Joh Enschedd en Zonen of Holland.

All unsold tax discs have to be accounted for and are destroyed under Government supervision.

This means that Museums, collectors and owners of vintage, classic and veteran vehicles who wish to make sure that their vehicles look absolutely right, are pleased to purchase replica age related Tax Discs from fromanothertime.com.  A blank replica Tax Disc from this source can be completed in the style of the era with the correct vehicle details.  This simple addition not only enhances the appearance of the vehicle but imparts key information to a viewer without comprimising originality.


fromanothertime.com supply blank datestamped high quality replica Tax Discs for all years 1921 -1991. The discs are correct in every way - colours, type, size and Style for each year. Where applicable, they possess the correct security text background. With a starting price of just $14.99 they represent amazing value for money !!

From the first Tax Disc issued in 1921 right up until the present day, UK Tax Discs are circular in shape with a printed design that varies between 7.0 and 7.5cm in diameter. As issued to the vehicle owner it comes with a margin or selvedge containing additional information and making up a rectangle about 10.5 x 8.5cm. The margin is discarded by cutting or by folding behind the circular part or tearing round rouletted or perforated guides.

With some exceptions the same basic style of tax disc was used for all classes of vehicle, from motor-scooter to juggernaut truck, and from taxi to mobile crane. The vehicle class, which nowadays has over 150 variations, was sometimes printed on the disc but for vehicles other than private cars, it is more usual for the issuing counter clerk to hand write all the necessary information onto the disc.

Each disc is 'tied' to the vehicle by the inclusion of the class (''[Bicycle] Motor Cycle'', ''[Private] Car'', "[Hackney] Taxi", etc.), manufacturer or brand-name (''Ford' ' ''Volvo'', etc.) and registration number(In the absence of a registration number, the Chassis or Frame number is used), along with additional information such as engine size or nominal horsepower, colour and number of seats (during periods when this information was required to be included).

The discs were valid for a full calendar year; or for three months (1921 to 1960) or four months (1961-1981) or six months (from 1981). The shorter options were provided primarily for less well-off vehicle owners, or for cars which were laid up through the winter months; their overall annual cost reflects the additional administration and was (and is) higher than the whole-year option.
Prior to 1961 the annual licences always expired on 31st December, thereafter the expiry date is given as month and year

The basic design has gradually evolved over the 80 odd years the discs have been in existence, but can be subdivided into nine different types The dates used on all discs refer to the expiry date of the licence, and not to the date of issue - however, all discs are datestamped at the time of purchase - usually by hand.

Each disc bears a unique reference number. Initially these were simple 6- or 7-digit numbers, with or without commas to delineate the thousands and millions and applied in a variety of type fonts; various prefixes were later used to restrict the numbers to a manageable size.

Reverse side
Mostly the text on the reverse of tax discs has related to the surrender of licences. The wording changed to ''Refund of Duty'' with the advent of Type 7 in 1977, when Swansea is mentioned for the first time. From 1987 the lower half of the text has been in white letters on a black background (Type 9). The one exception to all this was in 1925 when the text was an advertisement for Shell motor spirit and oil

The End.

Dear Trev - Many thanks for your hugely interesting and informative narrative on the history of UK Road Tax.
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