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30 August 2006
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Making History

Coal and wine tax posts

Listener's query
"In the late sixties, when visiting friends in south London, we walked up onto one of the heaths and came upon a square cast-iron post. It was similar to those placed at the outer edges of pavements to prevent horse-drawn carts cutting across corners. It was square, not round, painted white and bore the arms of the City of London - a red cross on a white shield. I was told they were found all around London at 18-20 miles distance and that duty was paid at these points on coal or wood destined for London City. Would it be possible to find out about these posts and the associated taxes?"

Brief summary
From mediaeval times the City of London Corporation collected dues or taxes on coal and other commodities being brought into the city. This was known as "metage". Coal coming up the river was originally unloaded and weighed and a fee charged. From the time of the Plague and the Great Fire of London in the mid 1660s, London had huge debts. Money from the coal tax was used for the rebuilding of St Paul's Cathedral, the Guildhall, markets and Newgate Prison. The debts continued and in 1694 an act was passed allowing the City to charge duty on wine coming into the Port of London.

By the 19th century there were still debts, and in 1861 the London Coal and Wine Duties Continuance Act led to the setting up of the coal and wine tax posts. The funds from this system were used to pay for the debts, as well as for building bridges over the Thames, pavements, new roads, the Thames embankment and many other features of 19th-century London. The growth of canal and railway traffic meant extra collecting points for taxes had to be set up outside the City boundaries. These points were by canals and railways, tracks and roads into London.

The tax was finally officially ended in 1889, but many posts remain as fine examples of industrial archaeology - many of them are Grade II listed. Of the original 250-260 posts, more than 200 still remain in a ring around London.


Further reading

Stephen Inwood, A History of London (Macmillan, 2000)
Ben Weinreb and Christopher Hibbert, editors, The London Encyclopaedia (Papermac, 1993)


Websites

Coal and wine tax posts (with map, photos, etc)
www.rhaworth.pwp.blueyonder.co.uk/coalwine

City of London - coal tax posts
www.cityoflondon.gov.uk/leisure_heritage/corp_history/coal_posts.htm

Coal and Wine Tax Posts in the borough of Elmbridge
www.elmbridge.gov.uk/tourism/heritage/coalwine.html

Hertfordshire's coal posts
www.brookmans.com/history/projects/index.shtml

Coal posts - photos around Orpington, Kent
www.wsn.co.uk/coalposts


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