History of the boundary and the marks

The London District 1845-1861

The ad hoc procedure of legislating for each new canal or railway authorised was replaced by the Coal Duty, London Act 1845 which continued the duties until 1862 and extended them to all coal coming within 20 miles of the General Post Office in St Martins le Grand by any mode of transport. Any railway company was, however, allowed 500 tons per annum free of duty for the bona fide "Purposes of the Engines of the said Company". The duty on coal entering the port of London remained unchanged.

The duties were payable "to such Person or Persons, at such Place or Places, in such Manner, and under such Regulations, as the Lord Mayor, Aldermen, and Commons of the City of London, in Common Council assembled, shall from Time to Time direct to appoint". It was only in 1851 that the method of collection of duties was laid down by statute, under the Coal Duties (London and Westminster and adjacent counties) Act 1851. For modes of conveyance other than railway the onus was on the coal merchant receiving the coal to pay the duty, though the City could instead appoint collectors to receive the duty as it entered the London District (as the area of application of the duties was called) by canal or road. As a safeguard, merchants sending coal into the London District had to make returns of all such coal, canal companies had to make monthly returns of such coal, and the City was empowered to appoint inspectors of coal traffic on particular canals and to require lock-keepers to make periodic returns of coal passing through their locks.

Railway companies had to make weekly returns of the coal they brought into the District and to pay the duties themselves (See Coal and Corn and Finance Committee Minutes passim for evidence of default on the part of some companies). The same safeguards applied in this instance and likewise the City could appoint inspectors of the coal traffic on a railway. These opportunities were exercised -- see Coal and Corn and Finance Committee Minutes passim (eg payments of allowances to railway traffic managers, station masters, lock-keepers, turnpike men etc. Minutes 12, 14th Dec 1861, 159).

The City was permitted, in agreement with railway and canal companies, to set up "a Boundary Stone, or some other permanent Mark" where the railway or canal entered the District. Similarly, in collaboration with local surveyors of highways -- annually appointed parochial officials who were, even at this date, responsible for non-turnpike roads (see the Webbs' The story of the King's highway) -- it was allowed to set up such marks on any "Turnpike Road or Public Highway". The marks originally set under the 1851 Act were moved after the 1861 Act and are, therefore, no longer in position. However the London district coal dues map and its Index tell us quite a lot about the location of boundary marks erected under the 1851 Act. From this it appears that there were only 40-50 marks errected at this time; roads were covered far less thoroughly than they were under subsequent Acts.

The existing marks on rivers and canals are all obelisks originally made for the 1851 boundary, as are a large number of the existing railway marks. However, only six or seven existing road posts were made for the 1851 Act (Type 2a, Type 2b and maybe Type 2z). Of these, only the single example of a Type 2b post (No 90) is dated: it was made in 1859. It is possible that this design was not produced until the late 1850s and that a different design was used earlier, and that only posts of the later design were reused on the 1861 boundary. Evidence for this is a drawing of a "City coal-tax octroi post" in the Illustrated London news in 1853: if this is an accurate representation of the design used at that time, it is not like any existing type of post. It consists of a plain shaft of square cross-section with a pyramidal cap. On one face of the shaft is the City's shield in a decorative cartouche, with what might be a small inscription below (not readable in the drawing). It is not clear what material it is made from.

The 1851 Act defines the London District as the area "situate within the distance of twenty miles in a direct line from the General Post Office", so the distance was as the crow flies, not the distance along the railways, canals, etc, as indeed the map shows. The City obtained counsel's opinion on this in 1851 -- see Case and opinion as to the measurement of the 20 mile limit for Coal Duty under 8 & 9 Vict. c. 101 and 14 & 15 Vict. c. 146 Chamberlain's Department. Coal Duties: Miscellaneous COL/CHD/DM/05/04/009. At first sight it seems unnecessary to have done so, but for the fact that the 1845 Act did not use the words "in a direct line", specifying merely "within the distance of twenty miles from the General Post Office". There is some evidence that the alternative interpretation of these words had been used: an editorial in The Times (11th November 1851) accused the City of covertly increasing the coal duty area by this new wording.

The 1851 Act changed the definition of the Port of London for the purpose of the duties so that its downstream limit became Bilmaroy Creek [now Bill Meroy Creek or Meroy Creek] on the Essex bank, and the western entrance [ie the river lock] of the Thames and Medway Canal Basin on the Kent side, where the boundary presumably continued to be marked by the obelisk erected in 1826. As discussed above under The Port of London, this was some way upstream from the original boundary point of Yantlet Creek (though still slightly further from General Post Office than the 20 mile radius). It is not clear why this change was made, though it seems that it was in effect confirming what had become the de facto boundary. However, a few years later, in the 1857 Act setting up the Thames Conservancy its seaward boundary was specified as being at Yantlet Creek, making the change in the coal duty boundary less understandable.

The 1851 Act also changed the regulations in respect of drawbacks. Coal brought into London and taken out again without being removed from the railway or vessel in which it arrived was exempt from duty; coals transfered from one mode of transport to another were subject to a drawback of 12d. out of the 13d. duty, the City retaining the other 1d to pay for administering the drawback system. It also restricted the remission of duty on coal used by railway companies to coal actually consumed beyond the London District. The Coal Duties (London, etc) Drawback Act 1857 allowed the drawback to be paid even when the coal had been removed from the vessel or railway wagon in which it had been brought into London.

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