History of the City of London coal duties

Early history and the Great Fire


The Corporation of the City of London had exercised the right of metage (ie measuring) of coal -- amongst other commodities -- entering the Port of London since medieval times and these rights were confirmed by two Charters of James I. The second of these declared that the City's rights included weighing as well as measuring and fixed the amount they could charge for weighing at 8d. per ton. It did not specify the metage fee, though it seems that it was 4d. per chaldron (see Note on units). It also defined the limits of the port, which stretched all the way from the Isle of Grain to Staines (see section on The Port of London).

The existence of administrative machinery for recording the import of coal into London and the collection of fees for weighing and measuring meant that the city possessed a convenient method whereby extra revenue could be raised without having to devise an ad hoc administrative apparatus. This is one of the factors mentioned by Reddaway in The rebuilding of London after the Great Fire which led to the choice of coal duties as a means of raising revenue after the Great Fire of London. The first rebuilding Act of 1666 was mainly concerned with what we would call nowadays town planning (eg laying down the types of building which could be erected and the width of streets etc) but also imposed a duty of 12d. per ton or chaldron on all coal entering the Port of London to be applied to certain specific expenses in connexion with the rebuilding. The duty was to run until 1677, but its inadequacy was soon recognised and by an Act of 1670 it was extended to 1687 and increased to 3s., half of which was to go to help pay for the rebuilding of St. Paul's Cathedral and the parish churches destroyed in the Fire.

The City's share of the duties (ie 1s. 6d. per ton) lapsed in 1687 whereas the portion for St Paul's was continued and eventually became a government duty.

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