Coal Tax Posts
Post 131 overlooking Epsom Racecourse
When I first moved to the area I spent a lot of time walking through the countryside in an attempt to get my bearings. Having latterly lived in urban areas, I was pleasantly surprised at the amount of green space. One of these walks took me into Epsom Common. Even better was the fact that this led directly to yet more green space in Ashtead Common....but what was this strange object I nearly walked in to? A white, waist - height post with a curious message...'24 & 25 VICT CAP 42'...I was puzzled.
I was (and confess I still am) a keen science-fiction fan. I also like a good mystery. Imagine a fertile brain combined with the thought processes of an unguided missile and a spectacular lack of common sense, that's me. I carried on walking, trying to decipher the message and work out why the post was there. I had never seen one before and decided nobody else could have done either. A few minutes later I stumbled over another one!
I thought for a while, not enough to make me go all wobbly with a sudden need to lie down, but certainly long enough to come up with some sort of explanation. In fact, any sort would do. There was only one possible reason - they were landing marks for a forthcoming invasion from the Planet Zaarg.
This made sense. Clearly if you've just travelled a zillion light years to overthrow some puny planet, your average Inter Galactic Time Warrior would need a bit of navigational assistance before final touchdown near Malden Rushett. Who should I tell? The Council? United Nations? The Residents Association? Would anyone believe me? In practice, people don't, so I kept it to myself - although each night I hid a torch under my bed, just in case. I'm not really sure what good this would have done, other than make an alien invader squint long enough to enable me to make a getaway before he/she/it zapped the entire borough into another dimension. Provided the batteries didn't run out, I felt prepared.
Post 122 is situated on busy Dorking Road,
alongside the standard 'Borough of Epsom & Ewell' sign
In fact these posts had a more practical, down to earth application, but we will need a brief history lesson. Since 1605, the Corporation of the City of London, the municipal and governing body of the City and major financial location, raised funds by weighing/measuring the amount of coal brought into the Port of London. Bearing in mind the City covers only one square mile and the Port of London stretches 40 miles along the River Thames from Gravesend to Staines, this could be considered a pretty smart move. Collection of duties was quite straight forward as coal was brought to wharves where the amount conveyed could easily be determined.
It was decided to increase the amount that could be raised in this way following the Great Fire of London in 1666. Much of this extra money was allocated to rebuilding St. Paul's Cathedral and other new churches to replace those destroyed by the fire. In 1718 it became a Government Duty and following further increases helped fund the Napoleonic Wars.
With the development of rail and canal transport during the 19th century, Acts of Parliament were passed to take these into account. The boundary was changed to a 20-mile radius around London and in 1851 it was decided that approximately 50 posts would be erected. Although duties were not actually collected at these points, they were there to show where an individual would be liable. The London Coal and Wine Duties Continuance Act of 1861 reduced the catchment area to the Metropolitan Police District, which varied between 12 to 18 miles from the centre. Approximately 280 posts were installed, although some of the earlier posts were re-used. 211 of these survive and it was one (in fact two!) of these I saw that fateful day. So not an alien invasion at all. Looking back, I always had certain reservations about this theory anyway.
The funds raised were later used for public works such as Blackfriars Bridge, the Old Bailey, a unified Sewerage system and the Thames Embankment. Nevertheless, taxation on a necessity is never going to be popular and hits the poorest hardest. Further resentment was felt as the catchment area was significantly larger than that where the monies were being spent; so from 1870 an attempt to address this issue was made by systematically abolishing toll charges for the use of certain bridges in outer London. However it wasn't until the formation of the London County Council in 1889 that an Act was passed to abolish the duties altogether and the final amount was collected. In our area, all but one of the remaining posts were subsequently categorised as Grade 11 listed.
There are five main types, the most common subsequently being classified as 'Type 2' which were positioned beside roads and tracks. These are cast iron posts about 6½ feet high, of which about 4 feet would be above ground.
Close up of a 'Type 2' post, this being Post 127
off a path at the end of Beaconsfield Road, Langley Vale
They were made by Henry Grissell at Regent's Canal Ironworks in East London and feature the red and white shield of the City's Arms. These are subdivided depending on the date they were built, the design of the makers' nameplate and the inscription; in our area the majority are of 'Type 2e', which were built in 1862 and carry an oval makers plate on the back. The inscription 24 & 25 VICT/CAP 42 is the parliamentary reference number for the London Coal and Wine Duties Continuance Act of 1861, which was made up as follows:
- '24 & 25' refers to an Act that resulted from a Session of Parliament starting in the reigning monarch's 24th year since accession and continuing into their 25th;
- 'VICT' refers to the reigning monarch at the time, which was Queen Victoria;
- 'CAP' is short for 'caput', the Latin version of 'Chapter' and '42' as it was chronologically the 42nd Act of that period.
Type 4 Post 121 submerged in the undergrowth near the Rye Brook.
In the background is a train heading for London Waterloo
We also have a solitary 'Type 4' post, which were stone or cast iron obelisks just under 15 feet tall positioned by railways opened before 1866. These have also been sub-divided, our example being a 'Type 4a', which were made of stone but with no surviving inscription.
Locations Of Local Posts
We are quite lucky; of the twenty posts in our area, nineteen still exist, although the one outside Tattenham Corner Station needed to be re-sited in 1994 following a train running through the buffers into the surrounding area. The existing posts have been allocated a 'Nail Number', named after Martin Nail the Historian. He created a unified coal tax post numbering system starting from Dagenham in Essex on the north side of the River Thames, running round London in an anti-clockwise direction, to Crayford in Kent on the south side. It will be noted that they are often positioned where a road changes its name as this reflected the position of the boundary.
The interactive map below shows the actual locations:
Click on the map. Go on, I dare you. The posts are indicated on the map by a red balloon, whilst on the left is a numerical list; click on one of these and the relevant post will be pointed out accompanied by a description box. To manoeuvre around the map, hold down the left mouse button, drag the screen into position and let go. To zoom in and out, either use the + and - buttons or click & drag the vertical slide bar top left; better still, if your mouse has a scroll wheel, use that. If you prefer a map version, click the 'Map' box in the top right corner, then 'Satellite' to return.
Clicking and dragging the little orange man onto roads (which will subsequently be highlighted in blue where the function is available) will give you the opportunity to use 'Streetview'; you may need to use the rotating navigational ring in the top left corner to point yourself in the right direction. Post 122 is particularly easy to find, as it is right next to the Borough sign.
Have a go, it's far easier than me trying to explain, most things are.
If interactive maps aren't your sort of thing, here is a more traditional format complete with Ordnance Survey Grid References. Copyright restrictions prevent me from adding the relevant part of the map here, however all these posts can be found on Sheet 187 of the 1:50,000 Landranger Series and 114a - 120 can also be found on Sheet 176. Variations have been indicated, with the ones in the most attractive settings highlighted:
OS Grid Ref.
|Malden Rushett:||114a||TQ 165 618||Post no longer exists. Was south side of Fairoak Lane, 800 yards west of Malden Rushett crossroads. Disappeared following road widening circa 1965|
| ||115||TQ 166 600||On west side of Leatherhead Road where it becomes Kingston Road, outside 'The Star' Pub|
| ||116||TQ 173 601||On a public footpath on north edge of Ashtead Common, 800 yards south of Rushett Farm|
| ||117||TQ 178 606||On the same footpath as 116, but 500 yards south east of Rushett Farm|
|Epsom:||118||TQ 183 611||North side of Christ Church Road opposite Stew Pond car park entrance|
| ||119||TQ 181 611||South side of Christ Church Road east of Glanmire Farm opposite 'Borough of Epsom & Ewell' sign. A plate with the inscription ACT /24 & 25 VICT / CAP 42 has been added|
| ||120||TQ 181 609||On same footpath as 116 and 117, near Woodcock Corner, 250 yards south of Glanmire Farm|
|Ashtead:||121||TQ 193 597||A Type 4 post on railway land (don't trespass!) south east of railway line where it crosses the Rye Brook near Epsom Common|
| ||122||TQ 194 594||Alongside 'Borough of Epsom & Ewell' sign on the north side of Dorking Road where it becomes Epsom Road|
| ||123||TQ 199 583||Buried in bushes on the east side of Pleasure Pit Road, just south of the junction with Headley Road and Wilmerhatch Lane|
| ||124||TQ 200 579||By stables on north side of footpath to Greenslade Avenue, west of Headley Road. No date or makers name, inscription slightly re-worded to ACT/24 & 25 VICT/CAP 42|
|Langley Vale:||125||TQ 201 574||South side of Langley Vale Road where it becomes Downs Road, east of junction with Headley Road|
| ||126||TQ 209 572||On bridle path 300 yards south of Langley Bottom Farm on west side of track leading to Nohome Farm|
| ||127||TQ 215 575||East side of footpath 27 yards south of east end of Beaconsfield Road|
|Epsom Downs:||128||TQ 219 577||20 yards east of Walton Road bridleway, 150 yards north of junction with Old London Road bridleway, south of racecourse|
| ||129||TQ 221 578||West side of Old London Road by its south crossing of the Race Course|
|Tattenham Corner:||130||TQ 223 581||East side of Old London Road by the 5 furlong post of the Race Course|
| ||131||TQ 225 581||Originally on the east side of Epsom Lane North in front of the wall of Tattenham Corner station, but moved during the station rebuilding of 1994 to 100 yards south of the station on the grassy knoll|
| ||132||TQ 225 584||North side of Tattenham Corner Road, outside 'The Tattenham Corner' Public House|
|Tadworth:||133||TQ 226 578||East side of Epsom Lane North, outside No 100. A plate with the inscription ACT /24 & 25 VICT / CAP 42 has been added|
Many are in pleasant settings and I can particularly recommend a stroll or bike ride to see the highlighted selections above; here are a couple of suggested walks that include them:
A Walk Along The North Edge Of Epsom and Ashtead Commons from Stew Pond Car Park to 'The Star'
This is a walk that is pleasant enough to go from one end to the other and back again even though you are retracing your steps - a total of 2½ miles. It utilises a good surfaced path running in a southwesterly direction connecting posts situated where paths running into London cross. Stew Pond car park is off the B280 (Christ Church Road) in the northwest corner of Epsom Common.
Opposite the car park entrance is Post 118 (above). Walking/biking west, you will soon reach Woodcock Corner and Post 120 (below) just before entering Ashtead Common.
After a few minutes you will see Post 117 positioned at an intersection with a path running from Rushett Lane to Dorking Road (below); this is the post that is not Grade 11 listed.
Carrying on, you will then cross a bridleway running between Rushett Lane and Ashtead, with Post 116 tucked behind a recent signpost (below).
Eventually the traffic noise picks up and you emerge near 'The Star' Public House on Kingston Road/Leatherhead Road, where you will find Post 115 by the car park. From here either return the way you came, or take one of the paths heading southeast towards Ashtead railway station, although note that a bike is not suited for this bit. You can then complete a very pleasant triangle by heading north through Ashtead Common back to Stew Pond. If using public transport, the best bet is to start and return by rail to Ashtead as the Common is immediately outside the station. The triangular walk is approximately 3¾ miles. Bus wise, the 465 from Kingston serves 'The Star', whilst the E9 from Epsom will get you to Christ Church, but then a ¾ mile walk through Epsom Common is needed to reach Stew Pond - during which you will be near or alongside the busy road at times.
Links to timetables for these services are at the end.
A Walk Across The Racecourse
This is easy to access by alighting from Tattenham Corner Station or by using bus 460/480 from Epsom which stops nearby. The walk is approximately 4½ miles. Otherwise, use the infrequently served Epsom Downs Station (add ¾ mile) or bus 166 to Bunbury Way (add ½ mile) followed by a walk uphill, although diverting through the golf course is a possibility, cycle helmets recommended. You will easily find Post 132 outside 'The Tattenham Corner' Public House and Post 131 overlooking the racecourse - see the picture at the start.
Follow the Old London Road across the racecourse and you will come across Post 130 alongside the 5 Furlong marker (above) - Post 131 can also be glimpsed on the grassy knoll behind. Carrying on for a few minutes, Post 129 (below) will be found just before you cross the racecourse at the southern end.
Taking the Walton Road Bridleway, Post 128 lurks 20 yards into the bushes (below) whilst Post 127, as seen in 'Post Description', is off the path at the end of Beaconsfield Road.
The walk to the final post takes in some spectacular views, although the post itself (126) is in a rather sorry state, being well and truly sunk into the ground (below).
You could then simply retrace your steps, but there are alternative pathways which are immediately apparent on the Interactive Map above.
Ashtead station is ideally situated with easy and frequent access from our area, however Oyster and Travelcards are not valid. Tattenham Corner station is also ideally situated and Oyster and Travelcards are valid, but you'd have to travel all the way via Croydon and Purley to get there. Epsom Downs is easily accessed (change at Sutton), Oyster and Travelcards are valid, but the station is infrequently served (no Sunday service) and ¾ mile away from the walk itself.
Use the Railway Journey Planner
to get train times, which include any alterations to services due to engineering works for the date selected. Unfortunately the fares information is unreliable.
Horses exercising past Post 129
Far more information on Coal Tax Posts, including those in the rest of London, can be found on Martin Nail's 'City Posts'
Thanks to Peter Reed and Hazel Ballan, Epsom and Ewell Local and Family History Centre
Text and Photos by Nick Winfield June 2013