The History and Antiquities of London, Westminster, Southwark, and Parts Adjacent, vol. 3

Allen, Thomas


Custom House, 1660.




The house for

the reception of custom

in London was built in , by John Churchman, of the sheriffs. This building probably existed till the great fire of ; a new customhouse on a large scale was erected in , at an expense of which was also burnt down by fire, in , in . years afterwards another custom-house, more spacious in its dimensions, and more regular in its structure, was raised, in which the business was conducted until a fire, which broke out on the morning of the , laid the whole building in ashes, destroying several documents relating to the customs, as well as property to an immense amount. poor orphan girls, servants to the house-keeper, perished in the flames, and man was killed by an explosion of some barrels of gunpowder in the vaults, which occasioned a shock similar to that of an earthquake.

Previous to the destruction of the custom-house, which had become very inadequate to the increased business required to be transacted in it, the lords of the treasury had determined on erecting an edifice on a large scale, and had actually adopted a plan, submitted by Mr. David Laing, the architect, under whose direction the present custom-house was erected.

The new custom-house, which is situated on the banks of the Thames, east of London-bridge, extends in length feet, and in breadth ; the grand front facing the river, from which it is separated by a terrace, is of Portland stone.

The centre is quite plain to the height of the ground floor of the building, but above the windows there is an entablature, divided into two compartments, ornamented with figures in alto relievo. In one compartment the commerce and industry of the country, and the arts and sciences connected with them, are allegorically represented; and in the other, the costume and character of the various nations with which we traffic are delineated. These groups are boldly executed; and the height of the figures being nearly five feet, they can easily be distinguished from the terrace. Between the entablature is an inscription recording the date of the erection, surmounted by a large sun-dial, which is sustained by two recumbent figures of Industry and Plenty.

Each wing has six columns of the Ionic order; these give a grandeur to the edifice which, on so extended a scale, might appear as carrying the simplicity of architecture too far. There is one great disadvantage in viewing the custom-house from the terrace, because it is much too narrow to include the whole building in one coup d«oeil; and it can only be seen to advantage from the river.

The interior of the building is admirably constructed. There are necessarily several entrances to this noble pile; the two principal ones are in Thames-street. They lead through halls rather commodious than large, to the grand staircase, which, by a double flight of steps, leads to lobbies at each end of the long room. This room, which in the centre is 190 feet in length, and

66 in width, is divided into three quadrangular compartments, by eight piers, surmounted by three domes, through which the rooms are ventilated.

Such was the late building.

In the course of the year , the foundations of this extensive pile of building were found to have given way, and in , in the same year, the long room and a great portion of the building fell; the accident fortunately occurred in the day time, and no lives were lost. Government immediately set about repairing the damages, which was principally done by under-pinning the entire building and repairing the foundation; this was necessarily an arduous work, but it was entirely accomplished, and almost a new building was opened to the public in .

The front towards the river of the present edifice consists of a centre and wings; the former is embellished with a portico of Ionic columns, elevated on an arched basement, the columns surmounted by an entablature and ballustrade, a poor common-place design, which was substituted at the last repair for the series of lofty arched windows, which lighted the long room. The wings retain the attached Ionic columns of the old design; the ends of the building and the back front are destitute of architectural ornaments, and the latter is built of brick with stone dressings; the ends and river front being faced with stone. The interior has been much altered at the recent repair; the long room is a vast dull looking apartment covered with a coved ceiling, the soffit pannelled; light is admitted by piercing some of the pannels, which clumsy contrivance detracts greatly from the beauty of the whole. The other offices are built for convenience rather than effect. R. Smirke, esq. was the architect who superintended the recent repairs.

The whole produce of the customs, on the exports and imports of England, were for many years farmed at the year ending the , they amounted to ! Such has been the growth of British commerce during a period of less than centuries and a half. The levying of duties on ships and merchandize is generally attributed to Ethelred, and is said to have been resorted to by that king, in , when all vessels trading to London paid certain duties at , or Belin's-gate, as it was then called.

The principles upon which the revenue of the customs, which were originally on exports only, were vested in the king were, , because the king was bound of common right to maintain and keep up the ports and havens, and to protect the merchants from pirates; and secondly, because he gave the subject leave to depart the kingdom, and to carry his goods along with him.

In , the custom duties were sanctioned, as a source of revenue, by the parliament of Edward I.; but the fees must have been very small for more than centuries afterwards, for in the year queen Elizabeth farmed them to Thomas Smith, for



a year. The queen was induced to do this in consequence of the representations of a person of the name of Carmarthen, to her majesty, that she had lost in the customs, during the preceding years. Smith, who had been a collector of the duties, well knew their value, for he gained upwards of by the contract.

In the year the customs amounted to of which London alone paid In they were farmed at ; and in they amounted to During the half of the last century, the customs remained nearly stationary, although commerce had greatly increased: the late reign was , however, in which great skill and ingenuity were displayed in inventing means to increase the revenue; and although the

official value of the goods

is still computed, with reference not to the prices they bear in the current year, but to a standard fixed so long ago as , yet in a duty of per cent. was levied on our exports, the value of which was taken, not by the official standard, but by the declaration of the exporting merchants.

The net income of the customs for was and for .

On the east side of is

This object is in collection Subject Temporal Permanent URL
Component ID:
To Cite:
TARC Citation Guide    EndNote
Detailed Rights
View all images in this book
 Title Page
 CHAPTER I: The site, extent, buildings, population, commerce, and a view of the progressive increase of London
 CHAPTER II: List of the parishes and churches in London, with their incumbents, &c
CHAPTER III: History and Topography of Aldersgate Ward
CHAPTER IV: History and Topography of Aldgate Ward
CHAPTER V: History and Topography of Bassishaw Ward
CHAPTER VI: History and Topography of Billingsgate Ward
CHAPTER VII: History and Topography of Bishopsgate Ward, Without and Within
CHAPTER VIII: History and Topography of Bread-street Ward
CHAPTER IX: History and Topography of Bridge Ward Within
CHAPTER X: History and Topography of Broad-street Ward
CHAPTER XI: History and Topography of Candlewick Ward
CHAPTER XII: History and Topography of Castle Baynard Ward
CHAPTER XIII: History and Topography of Cheap Ward
CHAPTER XIV: History and Topography of Coleman-street Ward
CHAPTER XV: History and Topography of Cordwainer's-street Ward
CHAPTER XVI: History and Topography of Cornhill Ward
CHAPTER XVII: History and Topography of Cripplegate Ward Within
CHAPTER XVIII: History and Topography of Cripplegate Yard Without
CHAPTER XIX: History and Topography of Dowgate Yard
CHAPTER XX: History and Topography of Farringdom Ward Within
CHAPTER XXI: History and Topography of Farringdon Ward Without
CHAPTER XXII: History and Topography of Langbourn Ward
CHAPTER XXIII: History and Topography of Lime-street Ward
CHAPTER XXIV: History and Topogrpahy of Portsoken Ward
CHAPTER XXV: History and Topography of Queenhithe Ward
CHAPTER XXVI: History and Topography of Tower Ward
CHAPTER XXVII: History and Topography of Vintry Ward
CHAPTER XXVIII: History and Topography of Wallbrook Ward