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England Customs and Excise Records (National Institute)

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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course English: Occupation Records-Professions and Trades and English: Occupations-Military & Services  by Dr. Penelope Christensen. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).

Customs and Excise[edit | edit source]

History of Customs and Excise[edit | edit source]

H.M. Customs were responsible for collecting duties payable on certain imported goods at ports and for preventing smuggling; they were not always successful. The Board of Excise collected duties on certain home-produced goods from 1643 and remained in farm until 1683 when Commissioners were appointed. Customs and Excise were not actually amalgamated until 1909 with the creation of the Board of Customs and Excise.

Customs duties are nothing new—the earliest known record of customs payments is a Saxon charter of 742 (Lodey) but it wasn’t until 1203 that King John centralized the collection of revenues and appointed officers to undertake the different tasks. The early history of the Customs and the duties of the different types of officers have been well described by Lodey. There was a farming system in operation until 1671 when the Board of Customs was developed to regulate it better. The port duties of the customs included:

  • ŸEnforcing shipping regulations by searching ships and collecting appropriate duties.
  • ŸPreventing political rebels and other criminals from entering or leaving the country.
  • ŸQuarantining ships.
  • ŸWreck salvage.
  • ŸCollecting light dues for Trinity House (for lighthouses and lightships).

These was carried out by:

  • ŸLand(ing) Surveyors who supervised the Land(ing) Waiters dealing with imported cargoes.
  • ŸCoast Waiters who dealt with coastal shipments.
  • ŸTide Surveyors supervised Tide Waiters or Tidesmen or Searchers who went aboard vessels to scrutinize the cargo.
  • ŸBoatmen who were employed to row officers out to vessels.
  • ŸCollectors collected the duty monies and safeguarded it until they sent it to London with an official Customer or, later, took it themselves.
  • ŸA Comptroller was appointed to prevent fraud; he kept independent accounts that were also sent to the Exchequer in London.

The Revenue Vessels were intended to be the first line of defence against smuggling, by halting the passage of illicit goods at sea. Prevention of smuggling on land was attempted by a system of Riding Surveyors who were each responsible for about 20 miles of coast up to five miles inland, and reported to their collector. They supervised Riding Officers who each patrolled at least 4 miles of coast. The Preventive Water Guard was established in 1809 to provide a link between the revenue cutters and the riding officers, and to counteract the escalation of smuggling during the Napoleonic Wars a Coast Blockade was formed in Kent and Sussex, those counties closest to the continent. Protection from the often violent smugglers was provided by Dragoons from 1703, but nevertheless many Customs and Excise Officers were wounded or murdered in the course of their duty. Pensions for widows of officers killed by smugglers were only instituted in 1784.

Real improvements in prevention came:

  • ŸOn land in 1811 when the Land Guard of Riding Officers were renamed the Mounted Guard, with recruits coming from cavalry regiments from 1832 and the coast divided into three sections.
  • ŸBy sea in 1822 when the Revenue Vessels joined with the Preventive Water Guard to form the Coastguard under the control of the Customs.
  • ŸThrough technological advances such as the telegraph system, enclosed docks and bonded warehouses.
  • ŸAs the movement towards free trade lessened the incentive to smuggle (Lodey).

Records of Customs and Excise[edit | edit source]

Most of the records are at TNA and they have three useful leaflets, D9 (Port Books 1565-1799), D38 (Customs, Excise, Tax Collectors and Civil Servants) and M 44 (Coastguard); Bevan (Tracing Your Ancestors in the Public Record Office), and Watts and Watts (My Ancestor was a Merchant Seaman. How Can I Find Out More About Him?) are the other references to use for records. Local newspapers, and even national journals such as the London Gazette, reported incidents of encounters between Revenue Men and smugglers, so these are good sources for family history stories. There is a good tourist market for accounts of the illicit trade, examples for southern England include books by Coxe (A Book about Smuggling in the West Country 1700-1850), Morley (Smuggling in Hampshire and Dorset. 1700- 1850) and Waugh (Smuggling in Kent and Sussex 1700-1840). I am sorry to relate that two of my Dashwoods were guilty of conspiracy with smugglers. In 1628 my relative Robert Dashwood was removed from the post of Collector of Customs at Watchet, Somerset for being in league with the smugglers. The ‘trade’ was so rife there that Dashwood usually sat drinking with the smuggling ships’ captains while gangs of men unloaded the ships. Over in Dorset in the later 1700s the Ridout gang bought immunity from prosecution by leaving tubs of brandy at night on the doorstep of Thomas Dashwood a solicitor and J.P. of Sturminster Newton.

Customs Records[edit | edit source]

There is much detailed information about customs officers careers as well as ages and places of birth in a variety of records held at TNA, such as:

  • ŸEstablishment Books (Pay Lists) in CUST 18 for 1675-1813 and CUST 19 for 1814-1829 which are arranged by place.
  • ŸMinute Books 1734-1885 in CUST 28 give details of postings of officers, including commendations or reprimands, but no family details.
  • ŸStaff Lists 1671-1922 (incomplete) in CUST 39.
  • ŸOther Pay Lists and Staff Lists are in TNA 30 and T 42, and other Salary Lists for 1682-1826 are in CUST 20.
  • ŸSuperannuation Registers 1803-1922 in CUST 39 are pension records that contain some family details. Dates covered for Ireland are 1785-1851.
  • ŸOfficers’ Applications for Pensions can be found in T1 with indexes in T2. Naturally the widow’s pension applications contain the most family detail.
  • ŸCorrespondence Files of Outports, that is ports other than London, in CUST 50 also contain references to officers.
  • ŸWarrants for Appointments of Customs Officers 1714-1797 are in C 208 and indexed in C 202.
  • ŸIrish Board of Customs Register of Appointments 1761-1823 are in CUST 20, and other records in CUST 39.
  • ŸIrish Staff Lists for 1684-1826, including some Excise men are in CUST 20 as well.
  • ŸScottish Staff Lists are in a separate series in T 43 covering 1714-1829.
  • ŸPort Books since the 13th century record duty payable on cargoes; they are arranged by port and year and show the ship’s voyages and masters as well. Those for 1565-1798 are in class E 190, but those for London 1696-1795 are lost.

For officers active during the period 1875-1930 there is an indexed directory Ham’s Customs Year Book.

Excise Records[edit | edit source]

Excise records are excellent and you can trace a man’s career from enlistment to death. Records similar to those for Customs Officers exist for Excise Men in a number of TNA classes, such as:

  • Ÿ Minute Books 1695-1867 in CUST 47 list Excise men’s postings; there are several volumes for each year but each is indexed. They are similar to the ones for Customs.
  • ŸEntry Papers are in CUST 116 for 1820-1870 and contain, firstly, a letter of recommendation giving name, age, birthplace, marital status, and a character reference, and secondly, a letter from his training officer regarding proficiency in writing, spelling and arithmetic; they are indexed.
  • ŸPay Lists for the English Excise 1705-1835 in T 44, and the Scottish Excise 1708-1832 in T 45.
  • ŸPension Records 1856-1922 are in CUST 39 and are similar to those for Customs.
  • ŸIrish Excise Men 1824-1833 and Irish Revenue Police 1830-1957 are covered by CUST 110-111.

For officers active during the period 1875-1930 there is an indexed directory Ham’s Inland Revenue Year Book. Bright (Charles King—Excise Officer. Cockney Ancestor (East of London FHS) #71 page 31-34.) and Howarth (John Siddall: Excise Officer. Family Tree Magazine Vol 5 #1, page 32-33.) have written about the lives of individual Excise men. It is worth noting that local excise collectors can be noted in parish registers as Officer of the Excise or Revenue Officer. It is worth searching out Customs and Excise Museums in the relevant port, there’s an excellent one in Exeter where my ancestor’s brother worked.

England was still having a problem dealing with the religion issue after the restoration of the monarchy and in 1673, in order to ensure that all civil and military officers were committed to the Church of England, every such person had to obtain a Sacramental Certificate. The Test Act (Camp 1999) required that this certificate be obtained from a clergyman with the signatures of two churchwardens and two witnesses and lodged with the Clerk of the Quarter Sessions (Chapman 1999). County archives have these records now and they are an alternate and confirmatory source of information. The example in below concern a Customs Officer in my family, but the law applied to most of the service officers mentioned in this course. I was able to get photocopies of three sacrament certificates for Zachary Dashwood, my 8th great grand uncle, for 9 June 1673 at St. Martin, 11 July 1680 at St. Sidwell, and 13 July 1689 at Holy Trinity, all in the city of Exeter, Devon.

Sacrament Certificate for Customs Officer 1673

We John Prince Minister of the Parish and Parish Church of St. martin in the county of the citii of Exon [Exeter] and Nicholas Tripe ChurchWarden of the same Parish and Parish Church, do hereby certify that Zach. Dashwood one off the officers of his Maties Customs in the Port of Exonupon the Lords Day commonly called Sunday, the Eighteenthday of May Last Pastimmediately after Divine Service and Sermon, did in the Parish Church aforesaid receive the Sacrament of the Lords Supper according to the usage of the Church of England. In witness whereof we have hereunto subscribed out Hands the said Ninthday of Junein the Year of out Lord, One Thousand, Six Hundred Seventy and Three.

John Prince Minister of the Parish and Parish Church of St. Martin In the Countie of the Citii of Exon
Nics TripeChurch Warden of the said Parish and Parish Church

Francis Oliver of the Countie of the Citii of Exon Gentleman and Thomas Lane of the Countie of the Citii of Exon Joiner do severally make oath, that they do know Zachary Dashwood in the above written Certificate named, and who now present hath delivered the same into this Court: And do further severally make Oath, That they did see the saidZachary Dashwood receive the Sacrament of the Lords Supper in the Parish Church of St. Martin In the Countie of the Citii of Exon in the said Certificate mentioned; and upon the Day, and at the time in the said Certificate in that behalf certified and expressed: And that they did see the Certificate above written subscribed by the persons above named” And farther the said John Prince and Nicholas Tripe do say upon their respective Oaths, That all other matters or things in the said Certificate recited, mentioned or expressed, are true, as they verily believe.

Jurat’ in Curia [signed] Tho: Lane
1 Jur. 14 Jul 73 Fran: Olliver



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Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online courses English: Occupation Records-Professions and Trades and English: Occupations-Military and Services offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about this course or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at wiki@genealogicalstudies.com

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