History of the boundary and the marks

The Port of London


Up to the end of the eighteenth century all coal imported into London had come coastwise by ship from Newcastle upon Tyne as this was the only practicable method of transport of a commodity such as coal in bulk over such distances. The method of collection of duty on sea-borne coal remained virtually the same throughout the life of the duties, even after the reforms of 1831. The full details are given in Smith's Sea-coal for London but in essence the duty was paid by the masters of ships upon their arrival at the Port of London.

The duty was originally levied on coal entering the Port of London, which was not just the River Thames in the City, but stretched all the way from Staines to Yantlet Creek, the creek which separated the Isle of Grain from the Hoo Peninsula in Kent. It was defined in two charters of James I as running:

... from the bridge of the town of Staines in the County of Middlesex, and toward the east, unto London Bridge, and from thence to a certain place called Kendall, otherwise Yenland, otherwise Yenleet towards the sea, and east and in the Medway ...

Although this seems clear enough, it appears that in practice the seaward boundary was sometimes taken to be at Gravesend, which was the first settlement of any size upstream from Yantlet Creek. According to Pocock's A chronology of the most remarkable events that have occurred in parishes of Gravesend, Milton and Denton in the county of Kent (p 18):

1791. June. The first coal ship unloaded her cargo, at the new built wharf of Mr Gillbee, in Denton Marshes, in order to evade the duty.

According to his The history of the incorporated town and parishes of Gravesend and Milton in the county of Kent (p 113), it seems that this arrangement was sanctioned Customs officials:

... the commissioners of His Majesty's Customs deem this parish of Milton to be the last in the Port of London ... many people suppose a large elm tree which grows by the riverside to be the end of the Port of London, but the parish of Milton extends a quarter of a mile below it.

At this time the greater part of the duty on coal was the government duty -- 8s. 10d. per chaldron to the City's 1s. 2d. -- but the City authorities were still taking the boundary to be at Yantlet Creek in a request for a legal opinion in 1839 (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 Chamberlain's Department. Coal Duties: Miscellaneous COL/CHD/DM/05/04/008). Some Acts of parliament in the early nineteenth century such as the London Coal Trade Act 1803 and the Coal Duty, London Act 1845 refer somewhat vaguely to "any part of the Port of London at or to the westward of Gravesend". The boundary was fixed definitively at Gravesend in 1851 -- see The London District 1845-1861

There were no boundary marks erected specifically in connection with the duties on seaborne coal, although there were limit stones of the port, which could be considered to be the oldest type of coal duty mark. As they are not specific to the coal duties this site does not deal with them in detail (except for the London Stone at Staines (No 83 in the list) one of the limit stones which was fortuitously on the 1861 London District boundary). A good account of the limit stones is to be found in Howe's article "The old limit stones of the port".

There was also a boundary mark at Gravesend which related to the alternative definition of the seaward limit discussed above. Writing in 1843, Cruden says that this mark was originally a tree which was blown down and replaced by a stone in 1826 (The history of the town of Gravesend in the county of Kent, and of the port of London pp 36-37).

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