Historical Account of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne Including the Borough of Gateshead. Originally published by Mackenzie and Dent, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 1827.
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CORPORATION DUES AND TOLLS.
Formerly, the free burgesses of Newcastle upon Tyne were resolute in harassing and oppressing every foreigner, as they emphatically call all non-freemen, with restrictions and exactions as vexatious as they were numerous. They endeavoured to monopolize all business within the town. A foreigner was not allowed to keep a shop, but by the sufferance of the corporation; and "it is in the recollection of many persons now living, that a foreign barber, who carried on a very extensive business on the Sandhill, was obliged, in order to have his shop there, to shave the corporation gratis!" (fn. 1)
During the last century, the number of non-freemen rapidly increased, and they gradually obtained a large proportion of the commerce and manufactures of the place. Under these circumstances, they began to investigate the claims set up by the corporation, many of which they proved to be founded in usurpation; and the corporation has consequently abandoned them. These changes have tended to increase the trade, wealth, and population of the town; and, at the same time, to decrease the number of resident free burgesses, who are now estimated at not more than fifteen hundred.
Anciently, various grants of duties and tolls were made to the corporation for limited periods of time; and which being renewed for many reigns, the body of the people continued to pay the accustomed demand, without examining into the legality of the claim; while others, who understood the subject, shrunk from entering into litigation with so powerful a body as the corporation. Even the ship-owners, though an opulent body of men, quietly paid the corporation, for some centuries, a duty of five-pence per chaldron upon all coals sent from Newcastle. In 1794, the question was tried in the name of Sir William Leighton, an alderman of London, when it was decided that the corporation were only legally entitled to 2d. per chaldron, which sum is now paid. From the quantity of coals now annually sent from the port of Tyne, the loss of the corporation by this decision may be estimated at £10,000 a year.
The claim of toll thorough, which is made by the corporation upon all goods, the property of non-freemen, brought into or carried out of the town, was long and steadily opposed.. (fn. 2) Many paid a mere acknowledgment, while others refused to pay any thing to the persons hired by the corporation to collect the tolls. On Jan. 30, 1810, they were let by public auction to John Armstrong; but the real tenant was George Dixon, keeper of the turnpike gate at the south end of the Tyne Bridge. His nearrears of rent, during the first two years, amounted to £400, which he contended he was not liable to pay, as great numbers of persons refused to pay any tolls, and that the corporation should either proceed against the defaulters or make good the loss. He was therefore thrown into gaol, but obtained his release by giving up the tolls. The amount of tolls still continued to diminish; and, at length, the corporation tried the case against J. G. Lambton, Esq. M. P. for the county of Durham, at the Midsummer assizes for 1820, for toll on corn carried by him out of the town for the use of his collieries in the neighbourhood. The defendant's counsel conceived that the case made out by the plaintiffs would not justify a verdict in their favour, and therefore declined calling his witnesses; but the jury, after having a summary of the evidence from the judge, found a verdict for the plaintiffs.
This verdict not being satisfactory to the non-freemen interested in the question, and as some documents were found which it was conceived would secure a verdict against the corporation, the cause was again tried before Judge Bayley and a special jury, at the Midsummer assizes for 1821, Mr. Anwick Smith, paper manufacturer at Langley, in the county of Durham, being the defendant. The suit against him had been commenced by the corporation. Another action had been kept alive against Mr. Smith during the four preceding years, and he had been fruitlessly once and again brought to the assizes, when, in the preceding June, the corporation entered a discontinuance, and paid him his taxed costs. After a long trial, the plaintiffs now obtained a verdict.
It being desirable to avoid these expensive trials, to fix the amount of tolls, to include in the schedule of tolls articles of modern use, and to obtain greater authority for their collection, an act of parliament was obtained by the corporation in the 3d year of the present reign, and by which tolls are made recoverable by distress and sale.
There are certain small tolls or duties, claimed by the corporation, upon the importation and exportation of goods and merchandise belonging to non-freemen, and which are called Quay Dues and Town Dues. Some years ago, many merchants refused to pay these duties; but the smallness of the sums usually paid, and the great expense of a law-suit, induced them ultimately to acquiesce in the demand. The claims formerly made by the company of Free Porters and the company of Free Meters will be noticed hereafter.