History of the City of London coal duties

The extension of the duties to public works


The 6d. duty was extended for a further 35 years in 1748 (ie until 1785) by the Orphans, London Act 1748 which allowed the City to pay off principal debt as well as interest, for a further 46 years by the Thames Embankment Act 1766 (ie until 1831), and for a further 5¾ years by the Temple Bar Improvement Act 1804 (ie until 1837). Under these two latter Acts (as can be deduced from their titles) and a number of specific Acts (which are listed in select committee reports of 1812, 1822 and 1829) the Orphans Fund was charged with "considerable sums of money for defraying the expenses of several public works" (in the words of the London Bridge Approaches Act 1829), including the building of Blackfriars Bridge (originally authorised by the Blackfriars Bridge Act 1756).

1778 was a particularly active year when no fewer than 11 improvement Acts made use of the Orphans Fund. A listing of their names gives an indication of the works undertaken:

Thus began the tradition of using the coal duties to finance public works, though this change in the application of the duties did not go without criticism, both as to the ethics of making any such change and as to whether all of the improvements benefited all those who coal was taxed - a criticism voiced throughout the life of the duties (See the section on the Unpopularity of the duties). The select committee report of 1812, for example, said:

When it is considered that the Orphans Fund was established upon principles of justice towards innocent parties suffering by a course of public calamities which bereft them of their whole property, it will be difficult to reconcile the diversion of those Funds towards objects, of however great improvement, while yet so small a portion of the objects for which they had been assigned was accomplished.

This particular complaint was, however, soon satisfied: by 1829 partly, in all probability, as a consequence of the criticisms expressed in this and later select committee reports (of 1822 and 1829) the debt to the Orphans was almost "annihilated" (in the words of the Act) and the London Bridge Approaches Act 1829 (later extended by the London Bridge Approaches and Fleet Market Removal Act 1830) extended the duties until 1858 and directed that the revenue from the duty of 6d. was to be devoted to a fund to be used for paying for work on the approaches to London Bridge and for defraying the expenses of other public works. It also said the 4d. metage fee should also be devoted to the same fund when the debt to the orphans was finally liquidated.

The rebuilding of the bridge, which was progressing at this time, was authorised by the Rebuilding of London Bridge Act 1823 which was extended in 1826 and 1827, the money coming from the Bridge House Estates (For which see Betts London City and the people) and a government loan. Later in the century the Orphans Fund and the London Bridge Approaches Fund were applied to various other public works in London which are mentioned in more detail below.

An interesting map, Plan of London shewing public works, shows the improvements made in the City and surrounding areas between 1766 and 1852.

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