The gestation of Griffith's Valuation was a complex one, with valuation methods evolving through trial and error, and initial limited aims that only gradually expanded to encompass the full universal Valuation.
Firstly, the initial Townland Valuation Act (1826) allowed for a complete assessment of every parcel of land and tenement (building) in Ireland, to enable an equitable replacement for the unevenly applied local cess taxes. The aim was to calculate a notional annual income for each townland and village, without naming the individual occupiers who would be obliged to pay tax on that income. The figues were to be supplied to local authorities who would then decide who had to pay what.
When Griffith began valuing in Londonderry in 1830, a lower threshold of £3 was adopted for buildings to be assessed, excluding the large majority of householders but still covering a significant number of dwellings and commercial premises, especially in towns. The valuation continued on this basis for the next six years, covering eight of the northern counties. By 1836, however, it was clear that even with a £3 threshold the surveying would last for a very long time indeed. In that year the threshold was raised to £5, covering only the most substantial buildings.
The year 1838 saw the introduction of the Irish Poor Law, a system of relief for the most destitute. Its funding was based on full 'tenement' assessments carried out for the local Board of Guardians of each of the 138 Poor Law unions, naming the occupiers and the notional annual income their holding should produce. These tenement valuations soon became a source of violent contention, with widespread accusations of bias. For the authorities in Dublin Castle, it quickly became obvious that it made no sense to have two competing systems of local taxation, based on differing valuations of the same property. In 1844, with so-called townland valuations complete for 26 of the 32 counties, Griffith was told to change the basis of assessment by dropping the £5 threshold and covering all property in the remaining counties, all in Munster, with the exception of Dublin. The aim was to see if a uniform basis could be created for unifying Poor Law rates and cess. The experiment was a success, and two Tenement Valuation Acts in 1846 and 1852 authorised Griffith to extend the system throughout Ireland - a procedure he had in fact already begun. The results were published between 1847 and 1864, with the southern counties earlier and the northern counties later.
In the course of this long-drawn-out administrative saga, large quantities of manuscript records were produced. Firstly, the pre-1836 valuation of the northern counties, based on the £3 building threshold, created local valuers' 'house books' and 'field books', the former including the names of occupiers, the latter concerned purely with soil quality. They are particularly useful for urban or semi-urban areas in northern counties before 1836.
After the change in the basis of assessment in 1844, the main categories of valuers' notebooks continued to be known as 'house books' and 'field books', but the distinction became more than a little blurred, with information on occupiers appearing in both. To add to the merriment, other classes of notebook were also created:
The survival of pre-publication Valuation Office records is patchy, with some parishes having four or more books while others have none. The only way to find out if there is something for a parish you are interested in is to examine the records themselves. There are two major collections, one in PRONI, the other in NAI. The PRONI records are all labelled 'Field Books', concern only the six counties of Northern Ireland and are only available onsite in Belfast. Use the 'Browse' section of the eCatalogue under 'V'.
The National Archives of Ireland took in five separate accession batches from the VO, in 1947, 1949, 1977, 1979 and 1998 and now holds almost 30,000 pre-publication items. In 2003, the LDS microfilmed the manuscript notebooks from the four accessions then catalogued and this is the collection now online at genealogy.nationalarchives.ie. The last accession was the largest, and included more than 12,000 valuation maps. These are currently (April 2020) being conserved, catalogued and digitised, with full public access expected by 2021. A wonderful guide to NAI's holdings, and to the detailed working of the VO before the publication of the Primary Valuation, is Frances McGee's The archives of the valuation of Ireland, 1830-65, (Four Courts Press, 2018).
NAI have done an excellent job of making these complex records intelligible and accessible - the introductory text for each of the book types is a master-class in the valuation process and the codes used by the valuers. Their database transcript is suspect, however. The copy freely available at FindMyPast.ie has a more intuitive search interface and allows browsing.
While the records may appear marginal and messy compared with the published Valuation, it should be remembered that Griffith's, far from being the record of a settled population, is in fact a snapshot of the aftermath of a catastrophe, the Great Famine of 1845-c.1850. In the many areas where enormous changes took place between the original survey and final publication, the pre-publication records may be the only surviving evidence of entire populations.
The 1852 act envisaged regular revisions to the valuations to record any changes in occupier, size of holding, lessor or value. In practice, revisions began sporadically within a few years. From about the 1860s until well into the 1990s, a system of handwritten amendments, coded by colour for each year, was employed, with a new manuscript book created when the number of alterations threatened legibility. These are the Revision Books, also known as 'Cancelled Books', still available for areas in the Republic at the Valuation Office in the Irish Life Centre, Lower Abbey Street, Dublin. The VO is currently scanning the full collection with a view to making it available online. For the moment, the scans are only available onsite. Areas currently covered (August 2018) are Cos Carlow, Cavan, Clare, Cork, Donegal, Dublin, Galway, Kerry, Kildare, Limerick, Mayo, Meath, Monaghan, Offaly, Roscommon. Sligo and Tipperary. The LDS Family History Library has microfilm copies of the full collection, unfortunately in black and white. The Revision Books for Northern Ireland are in PRONI. An excellent PRONI sub-site at www.nidirect.gov.uk/proni allows online research by placename on the full set, with links to high-quality scans of the originals. Unfortunately a full revaluation of Northern Ireland took place in 1935 and so no revision books are online after that year. Other Northern revaluations took place in 1903 for Belfast and 1956/7 and 1975, with revisions for the intervening years and up to 1993. These are open to the public onsite in PRONI.