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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course English: Taxes, Lists, Business, Electoral and Insurance Records  by Dr. Penelope Christensen. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).

Contents

Duties or Tariffs

Import and Export Duties (Customs)

Duties have been payable on certain imported goods since the reign of King John (1199-1216), and in fact custom duties were the only regular taxation before the Civil War (1642-1646). David Hey (The Oxford Companion to Local and Family History , 1996) refers to customs as the anchor of English public finance in the 15th century, although the monarch also received revenue from crown lands.

The complex history of the administration of customs and excise is given on the website of the UK National Digital Archive of Datasets, operated by the University of London Computer Centre (ULCC) . Briefly, the national mediaeval records at TNA include:

  • ŸKing John’s duty imposed 1202-1206.
  • ŸThe Ancient Custom from 1275-1297 on staple goods, principally wool, skins, and leather but also on tin, lead, butter, cheese, lard and grease.
  • ŸThe New (or Petty) Custom from 1303 on wool, leather, wax and imported cloth.
  • ŸTunnage was a levy on wine.
  • ŸPoundage on all non-staple goods exported or imported by aliens or denizens (except Hanse merchants).
  • ŸButlerage on wine imports from 1327.

There was also a wide range of local dues imposed by ports and local communities, the records for which may be held locally or be at TNA. Over time 1425 articles were liable to duty and apart from those listed above included such diverse items as:

  • The so-called breakfast table duties on tea (from 1724), coffee, cocoa and sugar.
  • Alcoholic liquors
  • Tobacco and snuff from 1751.
  • Hydrocarbon oil
  • Hat Duty 1660-1860
  • Lace
  • Silk
  • Handkerchiefs
  • Playing cards 1711-1960
  • Hats
  • Dried fruit
  • Salt
  • Sealing Wax
  • Starch
  • Coffin nails

The Exchequer sent out books for the customs officials to complete in triplicate being a set each for the:

  • Customer or collector who recorded all goods exported and imported and all moneys received, for which he issued a receipt called a cocket.
  • Controller who made a similar return but did not receive the payments.
  • Searcher who made an independent return to prevent fraud. In the 17th century Surveyors were appointed to check the work of the searchers.

The mediaeval books show:

  • Ÿ Numbers and names of ships using the port.
  • Ÿ Name of the master.
  • Ÿ Date of arrival and departure.
  • Ÿ Name of merchant in whose names the goods were shipped, and whether he was a denizen, alien or Hanse merchant.
  • Ÿ Each item of customable cargo, often with its value.
  • Ÿ The amount payable (in the collectors’ accounts only).

Port books 1656-1799 give:

  • Date on which duty paid (not date of arrival or unloading)
  • Name of ship and tonnage
  • Home port
  • Name of master
  • Ship’s next destination.
  • Names of the merchants, sometimes with the merchants’ marks.
  • Whether merchants were aliens.
  • Nature of cargoes
  • Amount of duties paid (except for coastal trade)
  • Occasionally the names of those passengers shipping goods on which duty had to be paid.

Separate books were created for overseas trade including both exports (outwards) and imports (inwards), and coastal trade. An example is shown and transcribed in TNA guide D9:

On 12 July 1566 the merchants Patrick Garratt of Dublin and Robert Brewood his agent entered the barque Jesus of Hilbre, master Thomas Queyntrie of 14 tonnes. It was importing sheep and badger skins to Chester and later carried cloth, soap and coal back to Ireland.

Surviving mediaeval accounts are mainly in Exchequer class E 122, arranged by port and then by date of account and some are in print, for example those for Hull 1453-1490 (Childs). Some 20,000 of the later port books 1565-1799 are extant, however many are poorly preserved.

Local record societies have published quite a number (see E. L. C. Mullins, Texts and Calendars: An Analytical Guide to Serial Publications, 1958 and Texts and Calendars II: An Analytical Guide to Serial Publications 1957-1982, 1982), examples include:

  • Williams for London 1565-1696 (1697-1799 do not survive).
  • Port of Grimsby Ship Registers 1824-1918 on seven films starting at FHL film 2186551.

The summary, or compotus, prepared for the audit at the Exchequer contains accounts but no names of individual merchants unless they were exempt from payment. TNA also has records in C (Chancery), IR (Inland Revenue), LR (Land Revenue) and SP (State Papers) and details of these can be accessed online. Although lists are not indexed online, many of the court cases give names of those involved. Further information on mediaeval customs accounts can be found in TNA research guide D8, and later port books 1565-1799 in D9.

The government-employed customs and excise officials and tax collectors collected the duties and were supposed to prevent smuggling, see the TNA research guide D38 for records of their employment.

Smuggling

Increased duties, especially those on wines and spirits (brandy, rum, gin), during the late 18th and early 19th centuries resulted in widespread smuggling. This was largely successful because the customs officers found it impossible to police, and also because of social approval. There are hundreds of stories of worthy citizens turning a blind eye or actively assisting this free trade, and of customs men in league with the smugglers. Kipling’s A Smuggler’s Song is apt:

If you wake at midnight, and hear a horse’s feet,
Don’t go drawing back the blind, or looking in the street.
Them that asks no questions isn’t told a lie.
Watch the wall, my darling, while the Gentlemen go by!
Five and twenty ponies,
Trotting through the dark –
Brandy for the parson,
‘Baccy for the clerk;
Laces for a lady, letters for a spy.
And watch the wall, my darling, while the Gentlemen go by!
If you see the stable-door setting open wide;
If you see a tired horse lying down inside;
If your mother mends a coat cut about and tore;
If the lining’s wet and warm – don’t you ask no more!
If you do as you’ve been told, ‘likely there’s a chance,
You’ll be give a dainty doll, all the way from France,
With a cap of Valenciennes, and a velvet hood –
A present from the Gentlemen, along o’ being good!
Five and twenty ponies,
Trotting through the dark –
Brandy for the parson,
‘Baccy for the clerk;
Them that asks no questions isn’t told a lie.
Watch the wall, my darling, while the Gentlemen go by!

It is reckoned that at its height smuggling employed some forty thousand people, mainly in the south of England close to the continent, but also in other coastal areas, and represented a quarter of England’s overseas trade. The modern coastal tourist trade thrives on these old tales and many readable books with illustrations are available, for example:

  • ŸCoxe (A Book about Smuggling in the West Country 1700-1850, 1984)who includes smuggling ballads.
  • ŸWaugh (Smuggling in Kent and Sussex 1700-1840, 1987) who has a list of key dates concerning the history of smuggling 1690-1853, and a glossary of terms.
  • ŸMorley (Smuggling in Hampshire and Dorset. 1700-1850, 1987) who has a more extensive glossary.
  • ŸWood (Smugglers Britain, 1966) who has a chapter on Norfolk smugglers who used windmills to rapidly warn of the approach of the customs officials.
  • ŸLodey’s (Was Your Ancestor a Smuggler? Family Tree Magazine Vol. 5 #11, page 3-4) article for family historians.
  • ŸDerriman’s article (Smugglers, Customs Men and Privateers. Cornwall Family History Society Journal #56, page 21-26) on the Cornish trade.

Maybe you’ll find an ancestor mentioned as a smuggler or one of their onshore assistants and customers, or witnesses at their trials? I have a bunch of ancestors in Brighton and Rottingdean, Sussex in the 16th century who were listed in parish registers as fishermen, but who show up on a list of known smugglers as well. Was it fishing with a little smuggling on the side, or smuggling with a little fishing to make them look respectable? The poet Kipling lived in Rottingdean for a time and must have heard plenty of such stories.

Another kind of smuggler was the owler who smuggled goods, especially wool out of England; term was also used for a vessel so employed.

Manufacture or Sale of Goods (Excise)

Duties levied on certain goods produced at home (rather than overseas) are known as excise duties. The Board of Excise was set up in 1643 to collect them, and was amalgamated with the Customs department in 1909 as the Board of Customs and Excise.

Excise duties were regularized at the Restoration as part of new era of taxes on consumption and were of-course hated! They were imposed most notably on alcoholic drinks, but spread to other commodities such as salt (1732), paper, coal, glass, soap, candles and home-produced spirits. As further complications the hackney carriage tax became a stamp duty in 1831 (see section on stamp duty) and then an excise duty in 1847, and the tax on male servants became an excise duty in 1869. In the 20th century, excise duty is placed on items such as alcoholic drinks, petrol (gas) and tobacco products and many luxury goods.

I can find no reference in genealogical textbooks to records of excise duties payable by named individuals and thus useful for genealogists. Whether this is because no-one has bothered to look for them is uncertain.

Twentieth century duties are numerous (see chart below ), but records of these are unlikely to be available for research.

Chart: Some 20th Century Excise Duties

DATES
DUTIES
Pre - 1909-1941
Medicine
1916-1948
Betting duties
1919-1960
Entertaint duty
1919-1966
Gaming duties
1916-1993
Match and mechanical lighter
duties
1926-1929
Unsuccessful betting duty
Pre-1929
Railway passenger duty
1957-1963
Television excise duty
1957-1985
Film levy
1961-1964
Television advertisement duty

Records of Customs and Excise are in classes with the prefix CUST at TNA, and also at HM Customs and Excise.


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Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online course English: Taxes, Lists, Business, Electoral and Insurance Records offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about this course or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at wiki@genealogicalstudies.com

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