History of the boundary and the marks

The coming of the canals


The end of the eighteenth century saw the construction of the cross-country canals in England and of course coal was a commodity which they were particularly suited for carrying. For the history of canal building and in particular the dates of opening of the various canals mentioned below see Hadfield The Canals of the East Midlands (including part of London) and The Canals of South and South East England.

However, allowing coal to be brought to London by canal would obviously be a threat to the economics of the coasting trade. This powerful interest group managed to raise this consideration from the sectional to the national by contending that any decline in this "valuable Nursery of Seamen" would withdraw "a considerable Resource from the Naval Service of the Kingdom" (In the words of the committee appointed to inquire into the state of the coal trade of this Kingdom in 1800).

The result was that parliament prohibited the bringing of coal by the Oxford Canal (opened 1790) nearer to London than Reading. (Under its Act of incorporation of 1769 the prohibition was on coal being brought below Oxford but this was relaxed to Reading by an Act of 1786.) It subsequently prohibited the bringing of coal by the Grand Junction Canal (opened 1800) nearer than Grove Park north of Watford (Under the canal's Act of 1793 as amended by one of 1795).

The Select Committee just mentioned recommended the lifting of restrictions on coal brought to London by inland navigation, and the prohibition on the Grand Junction was changed into a restriction of 50,000 tons per annum, on which duty had to be paid, by an Act of 1805 which was enacted initially for one year only. Customs officials were responsible for collecting Government duty on coal at Grove Park. A duty 1s. 3d. per ton in lieu of Orphans duty was also collected and paid over to the City every quarter. The Act was extended for periods of one, one, and three years by Acts of 1806, 1807, and 1808 respectively.

The 1805 Act required the Commissioners of Customs to erect

" ... a stone or post on or near to the towing path of the Grand Junction Canal, at or near the north east point of Grove Park as contiguous to the wharf now in the possession and occupation of the Earl of Clarendon (and on the south side thereof) as the same can conveniently be placed ... "

This stone is no longer in position and it is not known what form it took (See Bawtree's "Some notes about the Grand Junction Canal, Acts of Parliament and other matters" and Faulkner's The Grand Junction Canal).

In 1807 John Middleton wrote:

"Since the opening of the Grand Junction Canal, many coals have been brought by it from the pits in Staffordshire to London. This commerce increased in the years 1804 and part of 1805, in a very extraordinary manner, and promised to continue the supply of a considerable proportion of the coal used in London. But the coal owners in Durham and Northumberland, as well as the persons engaged in the shipping of it, became alarmed at the prospect of losing their monopoly of that trade, and they had address enough to prevail upon the legislature to tax all such coals as should pass by that canal to London, so much as to amount nearly to a prohibition."

This suggests that before Customs officials were stationed at Grove Park to collect the duty there was no means of enforcing the previous prohibition.

The Thames and Severn Canal (authorized by an Act of 1783) on the other hand was opened in 1789 without any restriction on coal being brought to London along it. Little was brought thus apparently according to Hadfield (The Canals of South and South East England). After 1810 however duty would have been payable on all coal brought below Staines as an Act of that year made such coal liable to the coastwise duties in order, as the Act says, "to encourage and protect the Coasting Trade of the Realm, and the Dues of the City of London, and his Majesty's Revenue". Although the Act was in response to the opening that year of the Kennet and Avon Canal (authorized by an Act of 1794) it applied to coal brought by any inland navigation below that point.

The Wilts and Berks Canal, although opened in the same year as the Kennet and Avon, was for some reason not subject to the same provisions. Coal brought by this canal was forbidden to pass below Staines under the provisions of its Act of that year. Under the canal's Act of incorporation of 1795 the limit had been Reading.

The 1810 Act was at first for a term of one year but was, together with that of 1808 relating to the Grand Junction, continued by a series of almost annual Acts so as to expire on 1st August 1825: for 1811-1813 by an Act of 1811, for 1813-1815 by an Act of 1813, for 1815-1816 by an Act of 1815, for 1816-1817 by an Act of 1816, for 1817-1819 by an Act of 1817, for 1819-1820 by an Act of 1819, and for 1820-1825 by an Act of 1820.

In 1825 customs duties in Britain were completely reorganised by a series of Acts; previous legislation was repealed by the Customs Act 1825 and new duties including the Orphans Duty on coal brought to London by canal were imposed under the Customs, etc Act 1825 which although passed in 1825 did not come into effect until 5th January 1826. This five month gap in the Orphans Duty was due to administrative oversight and was not noticed until after the Act was passed (Coal and Corn Committee Journal 6, 8th September 1825, 304).

The Thames and Medway Canal was authorised by an Act of 1800 and opened in stages between 1801 and 1824. The canal joined the Thames at Gravesend, upstream of Yanlet Creek but just downstream of the alternative boundary mentioned under The Port of London above. However, there is no mention of the coal duties in the Act, even though the coal is one of the commodities the canal was to intended to carry and there is a specific saving for the rights of the City as Conservator of the Thames. However it seems that coal merchants in Rochester did send coal to London by barge via the canal without paying the duty -- see Case for the opinion of Common Serjeant as to the liability to pay the duty on coal brought into the Port of London through the Thames and Medway Canal in Chamberlain's Department. Coal Duties: Miscellaneous (COL/CHD/DM/05/04/008).

When the duties on sea-borne coal were changed as part of the reform of the coal trade in 1831, the London, Westminster and Home Counties Coal Trade Act 1831 changed the duties on canal-borne coal so as to mirror those on sea-borne coal. As the government duty on coal had been abolished by the Coal, etc, Duties Act 1831 they were no longer collected by Customs officials, and the City was given power to make its own regulations for collection.

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