History of the City of London coal duties

The Orphans Fund


As stated above, the City's share of the rebuilding duties lapsed in 1687 though it was found to be a very useful source of revenue while in operation. Even before the fire the City's finances were in a rather precarious position and of course the fire made things worse. Thus in 1672 the city decided to disregard the spirit, and arguably the letter, of the law by charging to the coal duties any expenses which could conceivably be ascribed to the effects of the fire -- see Reddaway's The rebuilding of London after the Great Fire, chapter 7. This relieved the situation until the City's portion of the duties expired in 1687, but the financial troubles continued and by 1694 the City owed considerable sums to various creditors, notably to the funds which they held on trust for the orphans of City Freemen. The City had a quasi-judicial function in respect of the estates of Freemen paid into the Chamber of the City, to be administered by the City. Although it is sometimes said that there was no element of choice on the part of those paying the money in (eg the reports of select committees on the Orphans Fund in 1812 and 1822), in fact the executors could give sureties instead (see Carlton The court of orphans). In that year, after several previous attempts (see the report of the 1812 select committee), the City obtained an Act for the Relief of the Orphans and other Creditors of the City of London.

In the words of the Act:

... the Mayor, Commonalty and Citizens of the City of London, have been, and are answerable for, and chargeable with, all Monies of the Orphans of the said City from Time to Time paid into the Chamber of the said City; but by reason of sundry Accidents and publick Calamities, are now become indebted to the said Orphans and other Creditors, for principal Money and Interest thereof, in a much greater Sum of Money than they are able to satisfy and pay, unless some Assistance be given them for the same.

This Act of 1694 is the ancestor of that which set up the posts which are listed on this site. Among other things, the Act gave the City power to levy duties of 4s. per ton on wine and increase by 4d. per chaldron the coal metage fee confirmed by the Charters of James I mentioned above. These duties were to last "for ever" and there was an additional duty of sixpence per ton or chaldron of coal to last from 1700 to 1750. The duties were to be levied in the same way and with the same sanctions on non-compliance as the duties imposed in 1667. They constituted a fund usually known as the Orphans Fund which was at first charged with the interest on the debt.

The background to the passing of the 1694 Act and the subsequent history of the Orphans Fund are covered in detail in Carlton's The court of orphans and Doolittle's "The City of London's debt to its orphans 1694-1767".

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