March No.2 2021

Club News on our 300th edition

We hear that Gerry Thompson is in Mayday hospital. Gerry suffered a number of falls which were diagnosed as blood pressure problems. He is now having a pacemaker fitted. You can contact Gerry via the contacts page on this website. We wish him all the best for a speedy recovery.

Committee Meeting 11th March and date for first post-Covid meeting – 7th October 2021

The Committee met by Zoom and decided on a provisional Club meeting date of 7th October. Various ideas for running luncheons without a Luncheon Secretary (any volunteers?) were discussed and will be taken forward. Bob Witham to book provisional speaker. Andrew Banfield with Jenny will organise an outing for 2022.


Hope you are all keeping well and surely looking forward to the glimmer of light on the horizon regarding the possible opening up of social activities. My thanks go to Dennis Evans for submitting an extensive article which I have reluctantly had to cut down due to limitations of space – a constant problem. Further thanks are due to Ian Payne for using his technical expertise in managing the layout and dispatch which would be quite beyond me.

A Brief History of Customs & Excise Duties and Trade’ by Dennis Evans

With the emergence of nation states and their centralised governments, it became apparent that funds would have to be obtained from the populace, to supply and maintain services and security for all the citizens. By Direct Taxes (e.g. on income and wealth), or Indirect Taxes (e.g. Purchase / Sales Tax, VAT and Customs Duties).

Although customs existed in the 3rd Millennium before Christ, in Egypt and The Orient.
The Romans undoubtedly brought a Customs system of taxation to Britain.
It is however generally acknowledged that Edward I founded our present Customs Service. The “nova costuma” [New Customs], enacted in 1275, legalised what had been an ancient but arbitrary means of raising revenue.

The triangular system of control through the appointment of customers.
(Collectors), controllers to check on the customers and ‘chercheurs’.
(Searchers) to check on both, has survived with modifications to the present- day.
In 1507 the first ‘Book of Rates’, forerunner of the present – day Tariff was produced, for many articles including particularly wine and wool were now liable to tax.

In 1671 King Charles II appointed the first Board of Commissioners to manage the Customs on his behalf.

Collectors of Customs were appointed at each principal Port, with the boundary of each ‘Collection’ connecting so that the entire coastline was covered, in an attempt to combat smuggling.

The role of the Collector then, as now, was to assess and collect the proper duties and revenue, and the stopping of those goods whose Import or Export was prohibited.
A new tax, the Excise, was imposed by the Long Parliament during the Civil War (1642 – 1651).

This was intended as a temporary tax to pay for the war, but it proved to be an effective way of raising more revenue and the law was not repealed when the war ended.
At first this tax was levied on just a few commodities like beer, cider.
From then on governments looked at any items that were either luxury, or some essential goods or possessions from which they could raise revenue, here are a few of them, some bizarre.

  1. Hearth / Fireplace Tax (1662 – 1689) On how many in the house.
  2. Salt Tax (1693 – 1825) At this time salt was a very valuable commodity. This tax in China financed the building of the Great Wall of China.
  3. Window Tax (1696 – 1851) You will find many bricked up windows around the country to avoid paying this tax [The saying ‘Daylight Robbery’ came from this].
  4. Candle Tax (1709 – 1831) Chandleries were taxed.
  5. Playing Card & Dice Tax (1710 – 1960) Could only be made by authorised makers, who stamped the Ace of Spades, and the pack was in a sealed wrapper, which is why the Ace of Spades is the fancy card in the pack even today.
    [Any person printing fake cards, the penalty was hanging].
  6. Wallpaper Tax (1712 – 1836).
  7. Soap Tax (1712) Repealed by William Gladstone in (1853) When he realised how much revenue he would lose, he thought up Death Duties / Inheritance Tax to balance the books.
  8. Glass Tax (1746 – 1845).
  9. Men’s Hat Tax (1784 – 1811).
  10. Bricks Tax (1784 – 1850) To help pay for the wars in the American Colonies.
    10″ x 5″ x 3″ maximum size at that time became standard.
  11. Glove Tax (1785 – 1794).
  12. Clock Tax (1797 – 1798).
    And believe or not in Russia they had a Beard Tax.

During the second half of the 19th century Customs Duties were removed from most items, in pursuance of the policy of Free Trade.
Changes were on the horizon, however, due to increasing competition from other trading nations. The First World War (1914 – 18) heightened these and there was a return to protectionism, for British industry could not survive the competition from the duty-free entry into the country of foreign goods and duty of 10% was imposed on almost all foreign goods in 1932.

The administration of taxes at ports of entry has been greatly facilitated by containerisation and the sealed and certified handling it offers. This certainly fitted well with E.U. operations and sadly is proving something of a boarder issue since we left. Perhaps it can be offset to some extent by computerised bureaucracy which we may hope will restore some of the previously easy boarder transits.

Whatever happens it seems unlikely that taxes will be abandoned whether originating in the U.K. or imposed at borders by other nation states, just as happened in ancient history.

Editor: One of the most intriguing tax boundary controls I have come across was the “Great Indian Salt hedge” 1840s to 1880s running up to 1,100 miles in length, 12ft high and 14 ft thick. It was to control and tax the movement of salt. Different types of trees were used to suit the local environment. It was of course planted by the British.

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