The Coal Posts of London and Hertfordshire

Almost opposite the hotel that I’m staying in at the moment is this white post below.

Water Lane, Watford Coal Post

Coal Duty Marker Pot, Water Lane, Watford.

It is an old Coal Post and is around 140 years old and it goes back to a time when coal entering London was taxed, specifically at this time to fund bridges over the River Thames.

The story surrounding this situations goes back much further however and The City of London has collected dues on coal and other goods entering London since medieval times.

The Plague of 1665, and the Great Fire of London a year later, used up many of the City’s funds for rebuilding works and so an Act of Parliament was passed which increased the duty payable on coal entering the Port of London with the monies raised going towards the massive rebuilding work. In 1667 the First Rebuilding Act was passed, authorising an increase in the duty payable on coal entering the Port of London, partly for this purpose.

The funds collected from these taxes, together with the “Orphans Fund”, were used for the rebuilding of St. Paul’s Cathedral and numerous other City churches, Guildhall, the City’s markets and Newgate Prison.

Despite all of this, the City remained in debt and in 1694, an Act “for the Relief of the Orphans and Other Creditors of the City of London” was passed which gave the City the power to impose a duty on each tun (a large cask) of wine entering the Port of London, and increase the duty payable on coal and so could be said to be the forerunner  of the Act of 1861 that led to the setting up of the Coal and Wine Tax Posts.

Once all debts had been repaid, surplus funds were used to finance the building of a number of bridges over the Thames, street paving and new roads into London with several further Acts for raising building funds were passed during the 17th and 18th centuries.

The money raised was used for improvement schemes including the building of the Thames Embankment and the erection of the Holborn Viaduct. It was also used for the purchase of the River Thames bridges, including Kingston upon Thames, Hampton Court and Walton on Thames, to free them from tolls.

The tax was finally ended by an Act of Parliament passed in July 1889. But although the law had gone, the tax posts remained, and many have survived and painted in bight white paint although some are in black or feature as stone monuments.

Until the 19th Century, the transport of coal and other goods into London had been by sea. But the growth of the canal and railway systems meant that collecting points for taxes had to be set up beyond the boundary of the City.

Originally an official was stationed by the posts, at the side of a road or on the bank of the canal, to record the tonnage and collect the duty.

But as canal trade dwindled with the arrival of the railways, it became uneconomic to employ collectors and it eventually became the responsibility of the operating company to collect and pay the taxes to the Clerk of the Coal Market.

There are estimated to be 250 coal posts in the countryside surrounding London and more than 40 of those are in south Hertfordshire, although the exact number is not known. Some are at busy road junctions, others are buried away in woodland and hidden in hedgerows, perhaps where officials found out that people were bypassing the official and well-trodden tax points.

Most of them can be found around 15-20 miles from the old General Post Office in the City of London, in fact there is another one just a few yards away from the boundary post where I have moved to in Bushey Heath.


About Stephen Liddell

I am a writer and traveller with a penchant for history and getting off the beaten track. With several books to my name including several #1 sellers. I also write environmental, travel and history articles for magazines as well as freelance work. I run my private tours company with one tour stated by the leading travel website as being with the #1 authentic London Experience. Recently I've appeared on BBC Radio and Bloomberg TV and am waiting on the filming of a ghost story on British TV. I run my own private UK tours company (Ye Olde England Tours) with small, private and totally customisable guided tours run by myself!
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3 Responses to The Coal Posts of London and Hertfordshire

  1. Boyer Writes says:

    I love your history posts. Thanks for them!!
    I just received the first copies of my new, devotional book from the publisher, RAIN ON THE ROOF. Everyone has a little “rain” in their lives…some more than others…Thus the title with inspirational readings.
    As you know, it is exciting when a book is actually in the hand. I hope you’ll take a look. Best to you. Stay well.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Nancy and congratulations on your new book. Yes, there is nothing like that excitement. My favourite part is actually when I write the dedication as I leave that to the end. I just finished my Secret Gardens of London book yesterday so hopefully after some minor re-writes and tweaks it too will be ready for publication! And yes, I will definitely take a look.


  2. Pingback: Coronavirus Diary 2 – Goodbyes but no good grub | Stephen Liddell

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