London, Volume 5

Knight, Charles
1843

CVII.-The Excise Office.

CVII.-The Excise Office.

 

 

If a stranger from any part of England, Scotland, or Ireland, however remote, were to pause in the midst of , and inquire to what purpose that large pile of building opposite to him were appropriated, he would, to , on learning that it was the , have a livelier idea of the operations of the Board of Revenue, which has its seat there, than the inhabitant of London, provided that neither had been brought into direct contact with its officers by the nature of his business. In the country the officer of Excise, or the exciseman, as we may more familiarly call him, is often seen hurrying through the same hamlets and pleasant lanes, often at untimely hours, on errands which seem half mysterious. In London nobody ever sees an exciseman, except those who are. in the habit of receiving him as an official visitor, and to many the only representative of the existence of such a tax as the Excise is the great building in . The forces by which it levies some millions a-year for are as invisible to them as the officers of another department--the Stamps. The Post Office sends forth its emissaries, every hour, through the streets of the metropolis, and there is now scarcely any person who has not the satisfaction of contributing at least a few pence annually to this department of the revenue; but it is only a limited number who personally have dealings with the Board of Stamps and Taxes, or with the Customs and Excise. The latter is by far the most pervading part of the taxing system, except the Post Office. -half of the Customs'

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duty of the United Kingdom is collected in the port of London, and -thirds of it are obtained in the ports of London and Liverpool. The great mass of inland dealers in articles of foreign produce, although they well know that by means of duties the price is enhanced to them by the wholesale merchant, and again by them raised to their customers, yet they see nothing of the agency by which this process is rendered necessary. In the case of the Excise, however, every part of the country is parcelled out with as much distinctness as its legal and ecclesiastical divisions. There is the

Collection,

which corresponds in importance with the county, and is the primary division; then the

Collection

is divided into

Districts,

which may be regarded equivalent to the hundreds and wapentakes; and next come the

Rides

and

Divisions,

which are the parishes and townships of the Excise territory. Nearly officers of various grades are stationed in these districts, and are busily employed in going over every part of the which is assigned to them, for the purpose of charging the Excise duties on various classes of traders. But before going further into the nature and operations of the Excise, it may be as well briefly to notice the history of the system, more especially as this is not easily to be found in any single book; and where it is given, the facts are stated with a brevity which is not very instructive.

In this present year, , duties of Excise have been established in England exactly a couple of centuries. Clarendon states that an attempt was made to introduce these duties in ; and Prynne gives the following account of the matter in a small tract published in , entitled,

A Declaration and Protestation against the illegal and detestable, and oft-contemned new Tax and Extortion of Excise in general, and for Hops, a Native and uncertain commodity in particular.

He states that,

Our late beheaded King Charles,

by the advice of the Duke of Buckingham and other evil counsellors, granted a Commission under the Great Seal to Lords and others of the Privy Council, to set on foot an Excise in England. The production of the Commission was moved for in Parliament, and on its being brought before the House, a debate took place, which ended in an unanimous vote as to the scheme being contrary to the Constitution. A conference with the Lords subsequently took place on the subject, in which Sir Edward Coke, on the part of the Commons, took a principal part. He described it as

Monstrum, horrendum, informe, ingens,

descanting upon each of these strong terms;

Yet, blessed be God,

he added,

cui lumen ademptum,

--

whose eyes were pulled out by the Commons,

which he hoped their Lordships would before the monster was fully brought forth to consume and devour the nation. Eventually the King cancelled the Commission, and for a time the matter was dropped.

In , when the struggle between the Parliament and the King was becoming of life and death, and each party required all the means it could command to carry on the contest, the Parliament still set their faces against raising a revenue from Excise duties; and, in , published a contradiction to the rumour that they intended to levy such duties. The entry on the Journals of the House, under this date, is as follows :--

The Commons House of Parliament, receiving information that divers public rumours and aspersions are by malignant persons cast upon this House, that they intend to assess every man's

pewter, and lay Excises upon that and other commodities, the said House, for their vindication, do declare that these rumours are false and scandalous; and forasmuch as those false rumours and scandals are raised by ill-affected persons, and tend much to the disservice of the Parliament, it is therefore ordered that the authors of these false, scandalous rumours shall be searched and enquired after, and apprehended and brought to this House to receive condign punishment.

As their necessities became greater, however, they were obliged to resort to the much-condemned impost. On , an ordinance of the Lords and Commons was issued for the speedy raising and levying of monies

by way of Excise, or new impost,

for the maintenance of the forces raised by Parliament,

until it shall please Almighty God, in his mercy, to move the King's Majesty's heart to confide and concur with both his Houses of Parliament for the establishing of a blessed and lasting peace.

It was further ordained,

for the better levying of the monies hereby to be raised, that an office from henceforth be erected and appointed in the City of London, to be called or known by the name of the Office of Excise, or new impost, whereof there shall be

eight

Commissioners to govern the same, arid

one

of them to be treasurer, with several registrars, collectors, clerks, and other subordinate officers,

as the Commissioners may determine. Of the Commissioners appointed, were Aldermen of the City, and another was of the Sheriffs of London. The office which they established was open from in the morning to , and from till in the afternoon; and it was placed under the cognizance of a Committee of the Lords and Commons, appointed for advance of money, which sat at Haberdashers' Hall. The Commissioners of Excise were empowered to call in the aid of the trained bands, volunteers, or other forces, if necessary. The articles in the list of duties were ale, beer, cider, and perry. The brewers were required to enter weekly, in the new office, the quantity of beer sold, the names of the buyers, and were not to deliver any beer without obtaining a ticket from the new . The duty on strong ale or beer, of the value of the barrel, was if sold to the retailers, and ls. if for private use. Private families, who brewed, paid a duty also. An Excise duty was also imposed, at the same time, on wine and certain groceries, on wrought silks, furs, hats, lace, and or other articles. The Royalists at Oxford soon followed the example of the Parliament, and adopted the new system of taxation, but they also declared that it should only be continued during the war. Although the people of London were so favourable to the Parliament, the new Excise Duty created riots in London, and the populace burnt down the Excise House in Smithfield; and Pymm, who is called by Blackstone the father of the Excise, in a letter to Sir John Hotham, remarks, that it would

be necessary to use the people to it by little and little.

The Parliament, however, went the length of subjecting meat and salt to the new tax, but they, some time afterwards, abolished it on these articles. A Declaration of Parliament was made in ,

upon occasion of tumults and great riots, which then, lately before, had happened, and were privily fomented in several parts of the kingdom against the receipts of the Excise;

and it was upon this occasion that they observed that as

this duty is by experience found to be the most easy and equal way, both in relation to the people and the public, so the Lords and Commons are resolved, through all opposition whatsoever, to insist upon the due collection thereof;

but they

100

promise, when the peace of the kingdom is settled, to show

how much more ready they are to ease the people of this charge than they ever could be willing to impose the same.

For the present the people were enjoined to pay the duties to officers appointed to receive the same in each or wapentake; the civil force was called upon to assist them; and

Sir Thomas Fairfax, general of the whole forces of the kingdom, is hereby desired to order and enjoin all colonels, captains, officers, and soldiers, under his command, upon application made to them, speedily to suppress all such tumults, riots, and unlawful assemblies

as those which had called forth the Declaration. The opposition to the Excise does not appear to have diminished much by the repeal of the duty on salt and meat. There were still frequent riots, the people being very averse to await with patience the time for taking off the others, although the Parliament stated in their Declaration that they could not at present take off further duties, and that,

in consequence of the Excise being pledged for debts, they must require its payment.

Allusion is then made to

malcontents,

who gave out that the charge of collection was so great that

half the receipt and income were consumed upon officers.

This the Lords and Commons deny, and

assure the kingdom that until the late obstructions and oppositions, the charge in collecting the Excise hath never amounted, upon the whole receipt, to full

two shillings

upon every

twenty shillings

received.

They then point out the various important public objects to which the Excise revenue () had been applied, and

to no private use whatever;

while on the credit of this revenue various debts, they said, were pledged,

which must be discharged before this receipt can in justice or honour be laid down.

In the party pamphlets of this period neither of the great parties could fairly attempt to raise a popular clamour against its opponents on account of the Excise. It is true that, in the early part of his reign, Charles . was compelled to abandon his Excise scheme, and in of his declarations he charged Parliament with imposing odious excises upon their fellow-subjects; yet stern necessity obliged him to resort to them as well as the Parliament. Nevertheless the Royalist pamphlets endeavoured to show that the Excise was a scheme of the Republicans, and, like all other obnoxious taxes, it brought upon the Government for the time being, for whose use it was paid, a full share of odium. In a scurrilous pamphlet appeared, purporting to be written by

Mary Stiff, charwoman,

entitled

The Good Women's Cryes against the Excise on all their Commodities.

It is printed as prose, but written in doggrel rhyme, and in not very decent language, and sufficiently shows the nature of the popular outcry against the tax.

of the earliest financial measures of the Government, after the Restoration, was the abolition of the Excise on all articles of consumption, except ale, beer, cyder, and perry, which produced a clear annual revenue of These duties were divided into equal portions, called the Hereditary and the Temporary Excise. The was granted to the Crown for ever, as a compensation for the abolition by act of Parliament of various feudal tenures,--as the court of wards, and purveyance, and other oppressive parts of the royal hereditary revenue. The other half was only granted for the life of the king. On the accession of James II., Parliament granted him for life the Temporary Excise, and increased it by additional duties on wines, vinegar, tobacco, and sugar, which,

101

however, were only retained for a short period. The Government of the Revolution would gladly have made itself popular by abolishing the more obnoxious of the Excise duties, but its necessities would not allow of such a course. The duty on glass and on malt was imposed in William's reign, and the distilleries were subjected to Excise duties as well as the brewers. The salt duty was reimposed, and the duty on ale and beer increased, the latter producing an addition of a-year to the revenue. During the years of the reign of William III. the Excise duties averaged nearly a million a-year. The expensive wars of Anne's reign redered it necessary still further to increase the number of articles subject to Excise, and duties were imposed on paper, stainedpaper, and soap. This branch of revenue produced an average of during the years of her reign. The produce of the Excise, during the peaceable reign of George I., averaged per annum, with no addition to the number of excisable articles, except a small duty on wrought'plate.

The Excise still remained the most obnoxious branch of the public revenue. The laws for its protection were very severe, and no other tax so constantly and inconveniently interfered with the trading classes, or excited so wide-spread a prejudice; for the unpopularity of the duties on importation was chiefly confined to the towns on the coast, but the Excise laws were felt by persons in every corner of the country. It was a current opinion of the political writers of the day, in which Locke and Davenant had been deceived, that taxes of every description fell ultimately upon the land; and this is a point of importance in the consideration of Sir Robert Walpole's attempts to introduce his great scheme for extending the Excise. He had Land and Trade against him, and was baffled by the most violent and ignorant burst of popular clamour which it was ever the fate of a minister to encounter. A short notice of Walpole's scheme will not, perhaps, be unacceptable to those who take an interest in the history of finance; and the reception it met with is also exceedingly characteristic of the times. At that period the fiscal laws of the country were daily outraged in the most open and daring manner. The highwaymen, who pursued their occupation with impunity on all the roads leading to London, had their counterpart in the desperate class of men who carried on the trade of smugglers along the coast, murdering the officers of the revenue, setting fire to custom-houses, and riding in armed gangs of or more, within half a dozen miles of London, on the banks of the Thames. A committee of the , appointed in to inquire into the frauds and abuses committed in the Customs, and which did not complete its task, reported that since Christmas, , a period of years, the smuggling of tea and brandy had been conducted openly and audaciously, that the number of custom-house officers beaten and abused amounted to , and had been murdered. In the same period lbs. of tea and gallons of brandy had been seized and condemned, and upwards of persons prosecuted; and boats and other vessels had been.condemned. Owing either to the adroitness of the smugglers or the corruption of the revenue officers, only hogsheads of wine had been condemned in these years; but the number

run

in Hampshire, Dorsetshire, and Devonshire was ; and informations had been entered against persons. The sense of honour amongst the mercantile classes of that day was at, low point. It was proved before the

102

committee in question that by perjury, forgery, and the grossest collusion, the revenue was frequently defrauded to the amount of a of the duty on tobacco; and that in the port of London a loss of per annum was sustained by the dishonest manner in which the drawback on re-exportation was obtained, which in some cases exceeded the sum originally received by government. When Walpole introduced his plan, on the , for the correction of these abuses, he held in his hand a book which had belonged to a tobacco-merchant in the City, shewing of the modes of defrauding the government by collusion with officers of the revenue. False quantities were entered at the times of importation, and this column was covered by a slip of paper artfully pasted down, on which were written the real quantities. The import duties were paid on the or false quantity, and the drawback obtained on the real quantity; and, of course, the amount was larger than the other, and the government was defrauded to the extent of the difference. In the case which the minister quoted, the merchant obtained in each case a drawback to nearly twice the amount of what he had actually paid duty for upon importation. Another variety of fraud in the tobacco trade was that of receiving the drawback for exportation and then re-landing it. A great trade was carried on in this way with Guernsey, Jersey, the Isle of Man, and the ports of Dunkirk, Ostend, &c. Besides persons apparently respectable, and custom-house officers, who were engaged in plundering the revenue, watermen, lightermen, and City-porters called gangsmen, were equally active in

socking,

--a cant term then in use for stealing tobacco from ships in the river. This practice was discovered in ; and it appeared that tons of tobacco had been

socked

on board ships and on the quays, and deposited in houses from to Woolwich, in the course of year. custom-house officers were dismissed for participating in these frauds, and several of them were prosecuted at the expense of government. In mentioning this circumstance, Walpole observed,

And it is not a little remarkable, when we recollect the professions of patriotism, virtue, and disinterestedness which are now so copiously poured forth, that not a single merchant, though the facts were so notorious and shameful, assisted the state, either by information or pecuniary exertion, to suppress the fraud or bring the delinquents to punishment.

The plan of the minister for the correction of these abuses was, to benefit the fair trader by putting down his unprincipled competitors, and to improve the revenue without the addition of new duties. Conceiving that the laws of the Customs were insufficient to prevent fraud, there being only check--that at the time of importation-he proposed that tobacco should be subject to the laws of the Excise as well as those of the Customs. While the total duty would not be increased, the Customs duty was to be only -farthings the pound, and-he added:--

I propose for the future that all tobacco, after being weighed at the Custom-house, and charged with the said

three

-farthings per pound, shall be lodged in a warehouse or warehouses, to be appointed by the Commissioners of Excise, of which warehouse the merchant-importer shall have

one

lock and key, and the warehouse-keeper to be appointed by the said commissioners shall have another, that the tobacco may lie safe in that warehouse till the merchant finds a market for it, either for exportation or home consumption.

If he sold for

103

exportation, the quantity, after being re-weighed, was discharged of the Customs duty of -farthings; and if for home consumption, he paid also the same duty, and on delivering it to the buyer, an inland duty of fourpence to the proper officer appointed to receive the same. This is precisely, in in its main features, the admirable principle of the present warehousing system; but in vain did Sir Robert Walpole urge the merits of his plan, and plead for it

as a most innocent scheme, hurtful to none but smugglers and unfair traders.

, In vain did he assert and demonstrate, with great clearness, that his measure would increase the revenue, and

tend to make London a free port, and, by consequence, the market of the world.

The alarm had been thoroughly sounded from end of the country to the other, even before the minister brought forth his project; and when his intentions were only surmised the country was lashed into such a state of blind fury that it seemed to have lost its common sense on this occasion. Ballads were printed and sung about the streets, with a wood-cut of a dragon with several heads at the top. This monster drew a chariot, in which sat a portly person (Walpole), receiving large sums of gold which issued from of the mouths of the beast. A tobacconist set up a new device on his paper, of wooden shoes on a shield, with an exciseman and a grenadier, as supporters. According to the ,[n.103.1]  the terms used in the game of Quadrille were changed, and to be

beested

was to be excised, while sort of card was called the Projector (Walpole), and others, Commissioners; and so, it states, the humour ran through the town. The same violent partizan manufactured a story of a lady having been robbed of guineas only out of , by a highwayman, whose politeness rather astonishing her, she had courage enough to express her surprise; on which he said,

Madam, I rob like a gentleman! I assure you I do not belong to the

Projector ;

I am none of his gang.

On the , when Walpole introduced his new measure,

not only the members solicited the attendance of their friends, but letters were delivered by the beadles and other officers in the parishes and wards of the city, to induce a numerous party to assemble at the doors and in the avenues to the House, in order to overawe the proceedings of the legislature.

[n.103.2]  Deputies from the provincial towns had been sent to London to oppose the measure, and the corporations throughout the country were very generally active for the same object. The newspapers of the day state, that on the

a vast number of eminent merchants and traders appeared in the Court of Requests' lobby, and places contiguous to the

House of Commons

, to solicit against the excise.

The debate was maintained with great spirit until o'clock in the morning--an hour then very unusual, and on a division, there voted with the minister , against . As Sir Robert left the house some of the exasperated people outside attempted to do him some personal injury, but were prevented by the interference of his son, and his friend General Churchill. Several divisions took place in subsequent stages of the Bill, and the ministerial majority dwindled from to . A private meeting was now summoned by Sir Robert of the principal members who had supported the Bill, at which he was urged to proceed with the measure,

104

notwithstanding the violence of the opposition both from within and without. Walpole is reported to have said that,

in the present inflamed temper of the people the Act could not be carried into execution, without an armed force; and there will be an end of the liberty of England, if supplies are to be raised by the sword;

and he would, he said, resign rather than enforce taxes at the expense of blood. On the , when the Bill stood for a reading, he moved that it should be postponed to the , or, in other words, he abandoned his scheme. The Wine Bill, a measure of similar character, was never brought in. No great national victory could be hailed with such exuberant triumph as that with which the country greeted the defeat of the minister's

monster project.

This defeat was celebrated in London the same evening by bonfires, illuminations, ringing of bells, and other public demonstrations of joy throughout the whole city: the Monument was illuminated. The demonstrations in the provinces were, if possible, still more fervent. The rejection of a great measure would now be known at such a place as Bristol by midnight, or within hours after the event had been announced; but, in , the news of the dropping of the tobacco bill was brought to that city by an express which arrived at o'clock the following night. The merchants knocked at each other's doors to announce the good news; bonfires were lighted in the streets, of large size opposite the Excise-office; at in the morning the bells of the city-churches struck up a merry peal, and continued ringing all that day and even on the Saturday; barrels of ale were also given away in the streets; and effigies were burnt, probably the representing the prime minister and the other an exciseman. The

courier

for Liverpool with the good news passed through Coventry on Thursday,

when the joy that immediately appeared in every countenance was inexpressible, and demonstrated itself by ringing of bells, bonfires, and illuminations, with the sound of trumpets, drums, and French horns,

warming-pans

, and everything that could make a noise, while healths went briskly round to all the honest (?) gentlemen that were against the excise.

At Liverpool, the day on which the news arrived (Friday, ) was spent

in ringing of bells, wearing of gilt cockades on leaf tobacco, under which was written

No Excise;

ships' colours were displayed, and those of the Exchange, and guns fired in honour of the glorious

204

.

Effigies were burnt both at Coventry and Liverpool. At Southampton, also,

somebody

was carried round the town in effigy, and then thrown into the fire.

At Chester, where messengers with the intelligence arrived on the , there were lighted

the greatest number of bonfires ever known in the city:

opposite the recorder's was kept in for days. A great ball was given, and the Exchange was illuminated by candles, being the number of the worthy gentlemen who had opposed the obnoxious measure. From Lewes, the received a private letter which began by saying:

No news (newspapers, we suppose, are meant) come to this place, but we are glad to hear from private accounts that the old English spirit still appears for the preservation of our liberties and properties.

At Rye, most probably a great stronghold of smugglers,

every

one

expressed an insuperable delight in being happily rescued from further excises and

wooden shoes

.

At Cambridge there were great rejoicings, but Cambridge was far outshone by

105

Oxford. The rampant proceedings at the latter university on the defeat of the minister sufficiently indicate that political hatred of the most violent kind was the chief motive of the leaderrsof the opposition, and truly they had a superfluity of ignorance and prejudice at their command, such as does not often glad the feelings of political bigotry. At Oxford, says Archdeacon Coxe, in his

Life of Walpole,

the gownsmen joined and encouraged the mob, Jacobinical cries resounded through the town, and

three

days passed in this disgraceful manner before the Vice-chancellor and proctors could restore tranquillity.

Walpole remained undismayed amidst this political storm, and so far from being disgraced, as was fondly anticipated by his opponents, the king dismissed several persons who had deserted the ministerial ranks. The Earl of Chesterfield was deprived of the office of Lord Steward of the Household days after the Excise-bill was abandoned, and his dismissal was followed by that of other peers who held official situations. Lord Cobham and the Duke of Bolton were deprived of their regiments, and the friends of the minister were appointed to several of the vacant posts. The king's speech, on closing the session, alluded to

the wicked endeavours that have lately been made use of to inflame the minds of the people, and, by the most unjust misrepresentation, to raise tumults and disorders that almost threatened the peace of the kingdom.

The extravagant ideas of liberty and of their own superiority over all other people which were entertained at this period by the English are quietly satirised by Goldsmith's

Chinese Philosopher,

who listened to a conversation carried on between a debtor through the gate of his prison, a porter, and a soldier, the subject being an apprehended invasion from France. The prisoner feared that liberty, the Englishman's prerogative, would be endangered if the French were to conquer. The soldier with an oath exclaims that it would not so much be our liberties as our religion that would suffer, and the porter terms the French a pack of slaves fit only to carry burdens. Andrew Marvell, Blackstone, and Johnson were great vilifiers of the Excise. Marvell describes it as

a hateful tax;

Blackstone, writing in ., says that

from its

first

original to the present time its very name has been odious to the people of England,

and the great lexicographer's definition is well known.[n.105.1]  The Excise laws have been so injudiciously framed, and in many instances rendered so unnecessarily vexatious, that they have, in consequence, obtained more than their due share of the discredit which attaches generally to all taxes. Above acts of Parliament for enforcing Excise regulations are a trap to even the fairest trader; and, at the best, it is no light evil to conduct manufacturing processes under a system of interference and regulation enforced by heavy penalties. While the Commissioners of Excise Inquiry give some instances of the prejudicial effects of such a system, they also point out the manner in which they may be diminished.

The Gin Act of , an unwise and futile attempt to put down intemperance by a tax intended to make that liquor too dear for the poor, who solely or chiefly

106

used it, is, at least, an instructive chapter in the history of Excise laws. Sir Joseph Jekyll, the Master of the Rolls, [was the author of this Act, which raised the duty on gin and other spirituous liquors to the gallon, and required that only licensed dealers paying per annum for a license should be allowed to retail spirits.

No man could,

says Lord Cholmondeley,

no man would observe the law; and it gave such a turn to the spirit of the people, that no man could, with safety, venture to become an informer.

The Jacobites endeavoured, as usual, to turn the discontent of the people at this measure to their own profit, and serious fears were for a time entertained of an insurrection of the populace of London. Sir Robert Walpole, writing to his brother Horace on the , gives an account of these machinations.

The scheme that was laid was, for all the distillers that were able, to give away gratis, to all that should ask for it, as much gin and strong waters as they should desire, and the great distillers were to supply all the retailers and small shops with as much as they should want, to be distributed and given away in like manner. The shops were to begin to be opened on Tuesday evening, the eve of Michaelmas Day, and to be continued and repeated on Wednesday night, that the mob, being made thus drunk, might be prepared and ready to commit any sort of mischief; and in order to this, anonymous letters were sent to the distillers and town retailers in all parts of the town, to instruct them and incite them to rise and join their friends and do as their neighbours did.

Several of these letters were placed in the hands of the government by the officers of Excise. As a means of prevention troops were paraded in the several places where the mob were likely to assemble. What follows is taken from the newspapers of the day. On Tuesday a large party of the Life Guards and Horse Grenadiers remained all night under arms in Covent Garden, and troops were stationed at the house of Sir Joseph Jekyll, the author of the obnoxious bill. On Wednesday various parts of London and were patrolled by the troops. Several persons were taken into custody for shouting

No gin, no king,

and many others were lying about the streets dead drunk with

taking leave of Geneva.

The

Craftsman

of says, that

Mother Gin died very quietly ;

but the real struggle against the law was of a nature not to be put down by an armed force, and in the above paper of the same day it is remarked,

but though the common people are deprived of gin, there are various drams invented and sold at the gin-shops in lieu thereof, as sangaree, tow-row, cyder boiled with Jamaica pepper, &c.

At several brandy-shops in , , Thieving Lane, , , Whitechapel, , the Mint, and , drams were sold under the following names:--Sangaree, tow-row, cuckold's comfort, parliament-gin, make-shift, the last shift, the ladies' delight, the baulk, King Theodore, or Corsica, and cholic and gripe waters. People carried spirits about the streets for sale in barrows, baskets, litters, &c. The apothecaries were allowed to sell spirits to sick persons; and on the Saturday after the new act came into operation, the newspapers state that

several apothecaries' shops had so large a call for gripe and cholic waters, &c., by the poor sort of people, the masters were obliged to employ an additional number of hands in serving them.

A person in sold drams coloured red in

107

bottles, and a paper about them with the following directions :--

Take

two

or

three

spoonsful of this

four

or

five

times a-day, or as often as the fit takes you.

In a number of the

Old Whig

for , when the Act had been in operation about a month, it is stated that,

since the suppression of gin, the coarse pieces of beef, &c. have sold much better at the several markets about town than before; the lower class of people, being deprived of that liquor, have now good stomachs ;

and the writer observes that

this must make meat cheaper generally, for if the coarse pieces fetch a price, the best pieces must be lowered.

Some temporary effect of this kind might be produced at , but the evasion of the Act soon became so extensive as to render its restrictions worse than useless. The number of offenders against the law was so great, that there were presently a number of informers, in spite of the personal hazard attending the occupation. They were pelted in the streets, and of them was actually murdered by the populace. The newspapers of announced that several apothecaries and chemists had been convicted, and had paid the penalty of for evading the Act. According to Lord Cholmondeley's speech, it appears that even magistrates endangered their safety in the execution of this law; and between intimidation and the expenses of prosecution, it became a dead letter, while the people were more than ever addicted to the use of ardent spirits. Before the Act was put in force, of the justices at Hicks' Hall made a report, which showed that within , , the Tower and Finsbury divisions, exclusive of London and , there were houses and shops in which spirituous liquors were sold, and this they believed to be short of the true number: they computed that there were not fewer than such houses within the bills of mortality. At present the number of gin-shops in the metropolis, taking its limits in their widest sense, is under , though the population has increased threefold. In the Gin Act was modified, after years of vexatious and unprofitable trial, during years of which period persons were convicted of offences against the law.

Above half a century elapsed after the defeat of Sir Robert Walpole's Excise scheme before any minister ventured again to enter upon the consideration of new Excise duties. at least of Mr. Pitt's predecessors had been afraid of proposing any fresh taxes of this nature; but he successfully carried measures of the very same nature as those which Walpole was compelled to abandon. In he imposed an Excise duty on bricks, and several classes of traders were compelled to take out licences; and in he proposed to transfer the greater part of the duty on foreign wines from the Customs to the Excise, as a means of preventing extensive frauds upon the revenue: for even allowing the consumption to have been only equal to what it was in , the revenue suffered an annual loss of Walpole's scheme relating to tobacco would have rendered necessary an

army

of additional excisemen: Mr. Pitt's plan respecting the wine-duty required an addition of officers to the Excise establishment. The wine-merchants of London and their brethren in the country represented the difficulty, if not the impossibility, of subjecting wine to the Excise laws, and the danger of extending those laws; but a great change had taken place in the public mind in the course of half a century, and the people remained

108

perfectly quiescent. divisions took place on the bill, but the minority never exceeded . In order to put an end to the smuggling of tobacco, by which the revenue sustained a loss of a-year (out of million lbs. consumed millions were smuggled), the same minister proposed in to transfer the greater part of the duty from the Customs to the Excise, and, of course, to subject the manufacturer to the survey of the exciseman. On this occasion he alluded to the success of the transfer of duties in regard to wine; and although a few members expressed their disapprobation of the extension of the Excise system, the measure was carried through both Houses with great ease. In the following year a motion for the repeal of the Excise duty on tobacco was brought forward, and was supported by votes; but it was resisted by the minister, who had a majority of . He showed that the change effected in the previous session was already benefitting the country at the rate of a-year.

Pitt could now carry any fiscal measures which he, seriously thought necessary; and in not fewer than articles were subject to the Excise laws, and the gross amount of this.branch of revenue was about millions and a half. In the number of officers employed in England was . The highest amount which the Excise produced in any year, for England, was in ; and the largest number of officers in this department, for the United Kingdom, was in , their salaries amounting to Between and duties were transferred to the Customs, which yielded a-year, and others were entirely repealed, amounting to , making together The duty on several articles has also been reduced. The amount of duty paid into the chief office, in , for the

London Collection,

was , and in only In the gross Excise revenue for the United Kingdom was , and the charges of collection amounted to , or per cent. At present only articles are subject to the Excise Duty, namely, auctions, bricks, glass, hops, licences, malt, paper, soap, British spirits, and vinegar.

In the number of traders in England, Ireland, and Scotland, who were surveyed periodically by Excise officers, was , divided into classes. Firstly, persons visited for the purpose of charging the

growing

duties, as maltsters, soap-makers, brick-makers, paper-makers, &c. Secondly, persons who paid a licence according to the extent of their business, as brewers and tobacconists. Thirdly, innkeepers and retailers of beer, and others who dealt in articles upon which an Excise duty was levied. Fourthly, persons who dealt in tea, coffee, pepper, tobacco, and other articles which paid Customs duties; and, lastly, there were others who paid no duty, but were subject to a cautionary survey-tallow-melters, for example, as a check upon soap-makers. The cost of these surveys amounted to for the English country Collections, and to for the London Collection. The duty on spirits in the London Collection amounted to , and on soap to The limits of the district in which the chief office is situated excludes parts of the metropolis, so that the above statements do not afford a correct notion of its relative importance. Some traders who live in London go out of London to pay their duties, those who

109

reside just beyond the extremity of paying at Greenwich in the Rochester Collection; and those in a part of parish are in the Hertford Collection, while a trader living near Croydon pays his duties in . In distilleries at , Whitechapel, and contributed , and soap-manufacturers in the metropolitan district paid , but not all of them at the chief office. Since several of the surveys have been abolished either by acts of Parliament or by direction of the Treasury. Thus, above dealers in tea, wine, tobacco, and brewers have been exempted from Excise control. The number of surveys in year of tea, wine, and tobacco dealers was about millions; permits were annually required before goods in certain quantities could leave their premises; and stock-books were supplied to them to keep an account of their stock and sales. These administrative improvements are of real practical value, and the restrictions so long insisted upon are proved on the whole to have been useless.

We have now to speak of the establishment in , which is charged with the collection and management of the Excise revenue. Before the Excise revenue in Scotland and Ireland was managed by separate boards, consisting all together of commissioners, each board being independent of the English board. The business is now better conducted by instead of

commissioners. The Chairman has a salary of a year; the Deputy-Chairman has , and the other Commissioners have per annum each. The Commissioners hold courts, and decide summarily in cases of infraction of the Excise laws. Formerly the Board never had any communication with traders, except by verbal messages through their officers, but since they have adopted the plan of giving written answers. The number

110

of persons employed at the chief office is about , who were principally distributed in the following departments, in :--The Commissioners, who constitute the Board; employed in the Secretary's office, persons; in the Correspondents' office, ; in the Solicitors', , the latter offices having each subdivisions for the Scotch and Irish business. In the Accountants' office there were persons, with similar subdivisions; in the Receiver-General's department, , and in that of the Comptroller-General; in the Auditor's office; in the Security office; in the Store office; in the Diary office. The number of Surveying General Examiners was . Many important changes have taken place in the organization of the chief office since . The departments of Account for England, Scotland, and Ireland have been consolidated; that of Comptroller of Cash has been abolished; the Comptroller-General and Auditor-General's department have been consolidated. The Excise Printing-office was abolished by authority of the Treasury in ; but a Distillery, for the re-distillation of smuggled foreign spirits, is still under the management of the chief office. In the years after the peace considerable reductions were made in the , in consequence of duties being abolished. The number on the English establishment reduced in these years was . The total repeal of the salt duty was followed by the reduction of officers; salaries, By the repeal of the leather duty officers were reduced, salaries ; by the repeal of the beer duty officers, salaries ; of the duty on printed cottons by the reduction of officers, salaries ; and the reduction of the duty on candles was followed by a reduction of officers, whose salaries amounted to In the Excise establishment was considered to be in so efficient a state, and so well managed, that Mr. Pitt pointed it out as a model for other public departments.

The outdoor business in London is conducted by General Surveyors, to each of whom is assigned a district called a

survey,

and these are broken up into about smaller divisions, in each of which a house is rented for the business of the department. The English country establishment, in , consisted of Collectors and Supernumeraries, Clerks, Supervisors, Divisions, Ride officers, Permanent Assistants and temporary, Supernumeraries, and Permit Writers. The Collections in England and Wales (exclusive of London) are divided into districts, and these districts into

rides

and

foot-walks.

Where the traders are scattered, and the officer is required to keep a horse, it is called a ride; but where they are more numerous, and a horse is not necessary, it is called a division or foot-walk. The circuit of a

ride

is about eighteen miles, and that of a division is under . The Collector, the chief officer of a

Collection,

is allowed, a clerk, and visits each xnarket-town times in the course of a year, to receive the duties and to transact other business connected with the department, besides having to attend to matters relating to the discipline and efficiency of the service. The number of officers in a Collection varies from to . The supervisors are in charge of a

district,

and next come the ride and division officers, whose operations he constantly checks by surveying, at uncertain times, the same premises. The labours of a supervisor and the officers under him are often very

111

heavy. The latter are called upon to survey manufacturing processes at the most untimely hours. Before going out each day the officer leaves a memorandum behind him, stating the places he intends to survey, and the order in which he will visit them, and he is obliged to record the hour and minute when he commences each survey. He is never sure that the Supervisor will not resurvey his work, and if errors are discovered they must be entered in the Supervisor's

diary.

These diaries are transmitted to the chief office in London every months, and no officer is promoted without a strict examination into them, in reference to his efficiency. The Surveying-General Examiner is a check upon the Supervisors, and is dispatched from the chief office to a certain district, without any previous intimation. When a supervisor's character is taken out for promotion, his books are examined for year, and the books of all the officers under him for a quarter of a.year; all the accounts are recast, and if in the books of the officers errors are discovered, the supervisor is quite as responsible as if they had taken place in his own books; and a certain degree of neglect on his part would retard his promotion. This inquiry is conducted by the country examiners; and when this has been done, the investigation is taken up by a surveying-general examiner, for the purpose of ascertaining the disposal of the supervisor's time: whether it has been judiciously employed or not; whether he has been too long employed on a duty which ought to have occupied a shorter period, &c. months are required for completing the investigation; and when the report is laid before the Board the name of the officer is not given. The clerks of the Diary office have all been distinguished for their ability as supervisors. No is promoted unless, having served a certain fixed period in grade, he for advancement, but this involves the rigid examination just alluded to, which is technically termed

taking out a character.

It is now doubted whether Mr. Pitt's plan for the periodical removal of officers from district to another is attended with so much advantage to the service as has generally been supposed. A corrupt officer will endeavour to effect a collusion with the trader of another district, and the fraudulent trader will attempt to corrupt the new officer. Frequent removals also interfere with the comfort of families, and interrupt education. About officers change their residences each year.

Previous to the was on the west side of : it was formerly the mansion of Sir J. Frederick. In the trustees of the Gresham estates obtained an act to enable them to make over the ground whereon Gresham College stood to the Crown for a perpetual rent of per annum.

For this paltry consideration,

says Mr. Burgon, in his

Life and Times of Sir Thomas Gresham,

was Gresham College annihilated; nay, the very site of it parted with for ever.

He adds :--

Will it be believed that the City and the Mercer's Company further agreed to pay conjointly, out of their respective shares of the Gresham estate,

1800l.

to the Commissioners of his Majesty's Excise, towards the charge of pulling down the College and building an

Excise Office

.

The dismantling of the College was begun on the . The is plain in design, but of most commanding aspect. The merits of this edifice are known far less extensively than many others of inferior character.

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There are architects of the present day who state that for grandeur of mass and greatness of manner, combined with simplicity, it is not surpassed by any building in the metropolis. It consists of ranges, of stone, the other of brick, separated from each other by a large court, which, during the re-building of the , has been temporarily used by the mercantile and shipping interests as an Exchange. The entrance to each structure is by a staircase in the centre, which leads by a long passage to the various apartments of the commissioners and clerks. The architect of the was Mr. James Gandon.

 
 
 
Footnotes:

[n.103.1] The Craftsman, a weekly newspaper, commenced in 1727, as the organ of the country party. It was written with great spirit, and some of the opposition leaders occasionally contributed to it.

[n.103.2] Coxe's Life of Sir R. Walpole, vol. iii. p. 81.

[n.105.1] Mr. Croker, in his variorum edition of Boswell, shows that there is very good ground for believing that Johnson's inveterate hatred of the Excise had its origin in a prosecution against his father for some breach of their laws. Hence the terms in which he speaks of a Commissioner of Excise in the Idler, and the scurrilous definition in the Dictionary. The latter was actually submitted by the Commissioners to counsel for an opinion as to its libellous character.-See Croker's Boswell.