Coal Duty Markers

Nicholas Blatchley

Coal Duty Marker in Wormley Wood
Nicholas Blatchley
Coal Duty Marker on Slipe Lane by the railway
Nicholas Blatchley
Coal Duty Marker on Slipe Lane by the River Lea Navigation
Nicholas Blatchley

Most listed buildings in Broxbourne, as elsewhere, are houses, churches, pubs and the like — buildings you can go inside. Six of them, however, are very different in character. These are Coal Duty Markers.

London Coal Duty

The City of London’s tax on coal imports from other parts of the country had been in place for centuries, but it was increased after the Great Fire of London and used to fund the rebuilding. Poetic justice, you might say, but the practice continued long after London was rebuilt. The area affected expanded, too, and by the 19th century extended north as far as Ware.

Acts in 1851 and 1861 allowed for the erection of markers on the boundary of the area and also slightly reduced its extent, so that it now passed roughly along the border between Cheshunt and Wormley. About 280 markers were built in a very irregular circle around London, of which around 200 survive today, situated besides road, railways and canals — or, in the case of one of Broxbourne’s markers, in the middle of a wood.

Coal Duty was highly unpopular, and in 1889 the new London County Council abolished it. However, most of the markers were left in place.

Coal Duty Markers in Broxbourne

There are six Coal Duty Markers in the Borough of Broxbourne, out of the thirty-four in Hertfordshire as a whole, mainly at various points on the border between Wormley and Cheshunt. The listing for one of these describes it as being “one of seven in district”, the seventh presumably being over the border into a different borough. This may be the one at Northaw.

Three of these are quite close together, along Slipe Lane on the border between Wormley and Turnford. This is because they marked the boundary for the main road (the Great Cambridge Road until the later 20th century), the railway and the River Lea Navigation — all points at which coal might well enter the London Coal Duty area.

Other markers stand on Holycross Hill, the route down from Wormley West End to Flamstead End, and on Darnicle Hill by the railway bridge, presumably guarding both the road and rail routes.

The sixth, though, is more puzzling, standing beside a rough path in Wormley Wood. One possible explanation for this is that it may have represented a coal-smuggling route from Wormley West End down to Hammondstreet Road in West Cheshunt, that tried to avoid the Holycross Hill marker.

The Markers

Altogether, five different designs were used for the Coal Duty Markers, of which three are represented in Broxbourne. The most common type, normally found beside roads, include the three more westerly markers (Holycross Hill, Wormley Wood and Darnicle Hill) as well as the one near the junction of Slipe Lane and the main road.

These are described in almost identical terms in their listings:

Painted cast iron, about one and a half metres high. Square post with flat pyramid top, chamfered corners and roll-moulded knecking. Raised crest with painted cross (City of London arms).

The “raised crest” is variously described as a “raised shield”, “raised armorial shield” or a “raised armorial crest”. The Wormley Wood marker’s description adds “Below the shield, an inscription ‘Act 14 & 14 VICT C I ? 4 ?’. The marker is now no longer set vertically, but leans to the left.”

The Slipe Lane marker by the railway is described as:

Stone obelisk 3 metres high, the tapered shaft broken at the top, and rising from a wider tapered base, the east face of which bears the inscription ’14 & 15 VIC C 146′. The shaft east face has the crest of the City of London, a quartered shield with a dagger in the north-west quarter.

The River Lea marker’s description is:

Granite obelisk about one and three quarter metres high, and half a metre square on base, tapering to flattened pyramid top. East face has City of London crest carved in stone and 14815 Vic, C146 inscription. 

However, when I visited the monument recently, I found no trace of the inscriptions, which have presumably worn more than those on the other markers.

Legacy of a Vital Part of Our History

The Coal Duty Markers aren’t, perhaps, the most visually arresting of Broxbourne’s listed buildings, and it can be easy to walk past them without looking twice. However, they mark a time when the borough played a crucial part in an important but divisive tax, and as such offer us a link to the past.

This page was added on 06/01/2023.

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