Coal Trade: Introduction

Journal of the House of Lords: Volume 62, 1830. Originally published by His Majesty's Stationery Office, London, [n.d.].

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'Coal Trade: Introduction', in Journal of the House of Lords: Volume 62, 1830, (London, [n.d.]) pp. 1435-1437. British History Online [accessed 12 April 2024]

In this section

Appendix, No.2.

(Note.-The Figures in the Margin refer to the Pages in the Printed Report.)


BY THE LORDS COMMITTEES appointed a Select Committee to take into Consideration the STATE OF THE COALTRADE in the United Kingdom, together with the Duties of all Descriptions and Charges affecting the same, as well in the Port of London as in the several other Ports of the United Kingdom; and to report to the House; and to whom were referred certain Petitions and Papers, on the Subject of the Coal Trade;


That the Committee have met, and directed their Attention, in the first place, to an Act passed in the Forty-seventh of George the Third, for the Regulation of the Coal Trade in the City of London and Westminster. By that Act Regulations were enacted for the Vend and Delivery of Coal within the Cities of London and Westminster, and certain Parts of the Counties of Middlesex, Surrey, Kent and Essex. It having been represented that these Regulations were alike injurious to the Coal Owner and to the Consumer, the Committee proceeded to inquire into the Effect of the several very minute Provisions of this Act.

It will be necessary to premise, that in speaking of the Newcastle Chaldron, it is to be understood that it amounts to as nearly as possible Double the London Chaldron.


On the Ship arriving at or to the Westward of Blackwall, the Captain is required, within Twenty-four Hours at furthest, to send to the Clerk of the Coal Market a Copy of the Certificate given at the Port of Shipment by the Fitter or other Person of whom he purchased his Cargo, in conformity to the 9th Ann. C. 28. This Certificate contains the Day of the Month and Year of loading, the Ship's and Master's Name, the exact Quantity put on board, calculated in Newcastle Chaldrons, the usual Name of the Colliery from which the Coals were wrought, and the Price paid for them. The original Certificate is deposited at the Cocquet Office kept by The Lord Mayor. There is a Penalty on any Vender knowingly selling one Sort of Coal for another; but no Attention is paid to this Enactment; and the Coal Merchant admits and justifies his Breach of it, by contending that a Mixture of Coals of different Qualities frequently makes a more serviceable Fuel; but of this no Proof has been adduced, nor does it appear that there is any Diminution of the Charge on that Account, the Consumer having to pay at the Rate of that Coal which is of the higher Value. The Certificate and Copy are generally forwarded by the Captain to the Factor he intends to employ to sell his Cargo, and by the latter deposited in the proper Offices.

The Act requires that the Ship shall have passed Blackwall before these Ship Papers shall be lodged with the Clerk of the Market; but this Regulation is also evaded, (at the Risk, however, of a Penalty, given, on Conviction, to an Informer,) when the Captain expects an Advantage by an early Sale of his Cargo. No satisfactory Reason has been assigned for this Regulation. On receiving these Papers, the Clerk of the Market registers them, and previous to the opening of the next Market, exhibits them on a Board at the Market Place, denoting that the Cargo is for Sale. The Business of a Coal Factor is to sell by Commission to the Coal Merchant Coal consigned to him by his Employers at the Place of Shipment. Any Person may however sell his own Coal without the Intervention of a Coal Factor. Monday, Wednesday and Friday, between the Hours of Twelve and Two, are the Times fixed by the Act for the Sale of Coal. After Two, the Books are shut; and the Coal Factor must deliver in the Contract of the Sale by Three o'Clock on the same Day to one of the Clerks of the Market, to whom a Penny is paid under the Head of Market Dues. This Penny was levied under the Act for the Establishment of a Coal Market. The Purchase Money appears to have now been paid off; and it is intended to reduce the Charge to an Halfpenny, which Halfpenny the Corporation of the City of London propose should be applied for the further Accommodation of the Coal Market. There seems to be also a Multiplication of Entries, which, being troublesome, and unproductive of Advantage, might and ought to be reduced. The Time allowed for making the Returns might be extended, and Sales allowed in the intermediate Days, provided they were regularly entered in the Books the next Market Day. The Consumer, however, would be exposed to great Imposition, and the Trade itself be much embarrassed, if the Coal Exchange, and the Publication of the Market Price of Coal, on the Exchange, were discontinued.


The Act prescribes the Form of the Contract between the Factor and the Buyer, which is to be delivered to the Clerk of the Market; and no Buyer is allowed to purchase less than Twenty-one Chaldrons. As there are generally several Buyers of the same Cargo, who are almost always Coal Merchants, the Act further directs another Paper to be made out, called the Turn Paper, by which the Buyers agree to work the Cargo according to the Turns set down by Lot in the Paper. It is also directed that the Buyer who is last on the List is to take the Residue of the Cargo, be it more or be it less. By what Means the Quantity on working the Cargo exceeds what the Fitter has certified at the Port of Shipment will appear in the Course of this Inquiry.

The Coal is heaved out of the Hold of the Ship into the Lighter under the Inspection of a Meter appointed by the Corporation of the City of London. He is entitled to have an Assistant. The Meter is paid Three Shillings a Day, and Three and Sixpence in lieu of Eating and Drinking, although generally the Captain invites him to Dinner.

These Payments are in addition to Four-pence per Chaldron Metage, paid to the Corporation of London, out of which they allow One Penny per Chaldron to the Working Meter, and provide the Vats, leaving a Clear Annual Surplus of about £16,000, which is applied to the general Purposes of the Corporation, and to One Halfpenny per Chaldron paid the Meter by Government.


The Persons employed to heave the Coal out of the Ship into the Lighter (which is usually the Property of a Coal Merchant) are called Whippers, and are (under the Act) selected by Persons called Undertakers, who must take out a Licence from the Corporation. The Undertaker is to receive One Penny from the Captain for every Chaldron of Coal delivered from the Ship. The Act prohibits Undertakers being Publicans; the Effect of this Regulation is however evaded, either by the Undertakers having an Understanding with the Publicans, or by the Captain not engaging an Undertaker, and allowing the Publicans to recommend the Coal Heavers or Whippers who are to be employed. In either Case, the Publicans do not fail to recommend those who expend the largest Share of their Wages at their respective Houses. The Coal Heavers or Whippers are, except in Vessels unusually large, Nine in Number; viz. Four in the Hold, Four to whip up, and One at the Basket; to which are to be added, the Meter and his Man; making Eleven in Number. Each receives Three Shillings for every Score of Chaldron of Coal delivered into the Lighter. The Master or Owner of the Ship is subject to a Penalty, in the Shape of Detention Money, if a Quantity of Coal less than Two Score of Chaldron be not delivered out of the Ship each Day; but Treble of that Amount may be delivered within that Time; and the Meter, his Man, and the Whippers receive a proportionable Increase of Wages. The Captain cannot employ his own Men in the Delivery of the Coals, and they remain on board unemployed, although they could clear the Ship within a much less Space of Time, as appears by their being able to do so when the same Ship has had a Cargo to unload of other Articles, or even a Cargo of Coals, when delivered at the Out-ports, and therefore not under the Coal Regulations of this Act.

The Buyer is however only bound to furnish Craft to take Twenty-one Chaldrons per Day from the Ship, and the Captain is consequently dependent wholly on the Buyer as to the daily Quantity exceeding Twenty-one Chaldrons which he shall deliver. The Effect of this Restriction is, that if a Ship be left at the Close of a Day's Work with any Portion of her Cargo undelivered, however small, it occasions a Detention until the next Day, and on Saturdays for Two Days, unless the Lighterman can be induced to clear her by a present, which is uniformly, in such Cases, expected and offered.

The Duty of the Meters is to certify the Quantity of Coal taken out of the Ship. For this Purpose a Vat is placed on the Deck: it contains Nine Bushels; and the Coal is heaved up by a Basket from the Hold, and poured into this Vat. To make the Nine Bushels the Vat ought to be filled until it makes a Cone Twelve Inches high. Nothing can be so vague as this kind of Measurement; and it is evident that the Meter must have it in his Power, by giving short Measure, to recommend himself to the Captain. Several Statements have been delivered in, by which it appears that the Excess of what is delivered to the Lighter from the Ship, above what has been certified by the Fitter at the Port of Shipment, is considerably more than Five per Cent. This Excess does not go to the Coal Owner, but to the Freighter; and the Ship Owner is so far benefited by it as he is paid according to the Freight.


This Excess however is not solely to be attributed to the short Measure delivered by the Meter to the Coal Merchant; it is also occasioned, first, by the Breakage which takes place when the Coal is conveyed by Water Carriage in Keels or by Railroads, and delivered through Spouts into the Ship at the Port of Shipment; secondly, in the Course of stowing the Coal when in the Ship; and lastly, by the Breakage of it (as it is suspected) previous to its Delivery into the Lighters. How much the Measure of Coal by Breakage can be increased appears by a Calculation of Dr. Hutton: "That One Coal, measuring exactly a Cubic Yard (nearly equal to Five Bolls), if broken into Pieces of a moderate Size, will measure Seven Bolls and a Half, and if broken very small, will measure Nine Bolls."

The Loss by the Delivery of short Measure falls upon the Buyer or Coal Merchant; but he has the Benefit of an Allowance called Ingrain; viz. by his receiving Twenty one Chaldron for every Score Chaldron of Coals which is delivered to him from the Ship. This Allowance is made by the Owner of the Cargo. The Coal Merchant makes a corresponding Allowance to the Consumer, if he purchase more than Five Chaldrons of Coal; otherwise no such Allowance is made, and the Difference goes to the Profit of the Coal Merchant.

The Duty to the Crown, Six Shillings per London Chaldron, the Market Dues, One Penny, the Metage, Four-pence, and the Orphan Dues, Ten-pence, and Factorage, Four-pence, are paid according to the Measure on Delivery.

When the Coal has arrived at the Wharf of the Merchant, it is placed by the Act under the Controul of the Land Meter, who superintends the Measurement of the Coal when it is removed from the Lighter. There are Four Land Meters under the Act; One for the City of London, One for Westminster, One in Parts of Middlesex, and One for the County of Surrey. The Coal is placed by Bushels in Sacks supposed to contain Three Bushels each; and the Duty of the Land Meter is to see that each Bushel is well filled, and that Three Bushels are duly placed in each of the Sacks. It is directed that all Coal shall be delivered to the Consumer in these Sacks. A Bushel Measure is required to be sent in each Waggon; and the Purchaser is entitled to require that any One Sack he may select should be measured. If that be found deficient, his only Redress is to send for the Land Meter, and to require the Sacks to be measured in his Presence. The Consumer is however responsible for the Delay which this must occasion, which must be very great, as the Meter is not always within Call. The Absence of the Land Meter is indeed frequently felt by the Coal Merchant in the Sale of his Coal, as nothing can be done without the Intervention of the Land Meter. These Land Meters are entitled to Sixpence per Chaldron for all Coal sold by Wharf Measure, and One Shilling for every Five Chaldron of Coal sold by Pool Measure. Here also arises an Interest in the Land Meter to give short Measure.

It will be seen in the Minutes of Evidence that a Committee of the Common Council have recommended the Abolition of Land Metage.


The Coal Merchant's Charges, from the Ship into the Cellar of the Consumer, may be thus stated:-

s. d.
Lighterage 2 0
Cartage, including the Loading 7 0
Unloading 1 6
Land Meter 0 6
Commission to Buyer 1 0
12 0

Exclusive of a Charge for Shooting, or carrying the Sacks from the Waggon to the Cellar, and for Trimming, or stowing the Coals in the Cellar, which averages about Eighteen Pence per Chaldron.

From this Account of the several Clauses in the Act for regulating the Coal Trade in the City of London it will appear that in every Stage, from the Port of Shipment to the Coal Merchant's Wharf, and from thence to the Consumer's Cellar, the Enactments are productive of Delay, an Aggravation of Expence, and an Encouragement to Fraud; and that there is a constant Temptation to the Breakage of the Coal, until the Consumer purchases it in a State in which the Buyer at the Port of Shipment would refuse to receive it. The Committee are therefore of opinion that an entire Revision of the Act of the 47 G. 3. is indispensable, whether the Duty be hereafter to be levied by Measure, as it is at present, or by Weight, which has been strongly recommended, as will appear by a Reference to the Minutes of Evidence on this Part of the Subject.

There can be no Doubt but the ascertaining the Duty by Weight at the Port of Shipment, and the selling by Weight instead of selling by Measure, would obviate many of the Temptations to Fraud which at present exist.

Some Objections have however been raised against such a Proposition, which require Consideration. Coals of different Qualities vary in their Specific Gravity. In the Sale of the Coal this might be taken into account, but it would be open to Abuse; and it is evident that a Tax on the Ton instead of the Chaldron, unless accompanied with some Modifications, might operate very unequally with reference to the Collieries which produce the heavier Coal.


On the other hand it must be observed, that if the Duty were ascertained, and the Coal sold by Weight at the Port of Shipment, it would come to the Relief, not only of the Coal Trade generally, and therefore to the Consumer, but of the Coal Owner in particular, by rendering the Practice of screening Coal (to the Extent at least to which it is now carried) unnecessary.

The Loss to which the Proprietors of Collieries are exposed with respect to small Coal is very great. There is a great Breakage of Coal in working a Colliery, and the Quantity of small Coal so produced is such that there is not sufficient Stowage for it under Ground, and it becomes necessary to bring it up. The Coal is then passed over a Screen or Riddle the Bars of which are Half and sometimes Three Quarters of an Inch apart, to separate the large Coal from the smaller Coal. The Portion which passes through on this first Screening is then screened a second Time, over a Screen or Riddle the Bars of which are not to be in any Part more than Three Eighths of an Inch asunder, and what passes through this second Screening is permitted to be carried Coastwise at the Duty of 1s. per Chaldron, and to be exported at the Duty of 2s. 3d. per Chaldron; but that Part which passed through the first Screening, but did not pass through the second, is unsaleable, except at a reduced Price, (and even then to a very limited Extent,) in the neighbouring Districts, being considered unfit for the London and Coast Market. The Coal Owners on the Tyne and Wear are obliged to adopt this Practice of passing the Coal over Screens, because the Buyers of the best Coal for the general Market will only take it when large and round, and the Coal Owners are at great Expence to render the Coal fit for the Market in that respect, while the Interest of every Person through whose Hands it is to go before it gets into the Consumer's Cellar is in the Breakage of it. If the Duty were ascertained at the Port of Shipment, and by Weight instead of Measure, none would have an Interest in breaking it, and the Coal Owner would be able to reduce the Price he is obliged now to ask for the Produce of his Colliery in consequence of the Waste occasioned by the Practice of screening, as above explained.


A considerable Reduction of Duty took place in 1825 on the small Coal which had passed through the Screen a second Time. It has been questioned whether this Reduction of Duty on small Coal sent Coastwise has been of any decided Benefit to the Coal Owner; but with respect to the small Coal exported over Sea the Diminution of Duty has been certainly beneficial. There are, however, from one Cause or another, notwithstanding this Increase of Export, immense Heaps of refuse Coal about the Pit's Mouth, which the Owners are obliged to destroy by burning, the Effects of which are so extensive as to be injurious to the adjacent Lands; and for the Damage thereby occasioned the Coal Owner is obliged to make Compensation.

The Attention of the Committee has been called to the 6 G. 4, C. 111, (the Act for granting Duties on Customs,) Sec. 19, and the Table annexed thereto, adopting and confirming the Exemption contained in Two Local Acts, the 39 G. 3, C. 100, and 42 G. 3, C. 115, by which Coals and Culm carried on the Monmouthshire Canal, or Railways connected therewith, and afterwards carried from any Place to the Eastward of the Holms, (the Two Islands in the Bristol Channel,) to any other Place in or upon the River Severn also to the Eastward of the Holms, without passing to the Westward of the said Islands, excepting in going to Bridgewater, and without the touching to the Westward of the said Islands, are Duty-free, while the Coal Vessels going from other Ports in that Part of the Coast are subject to Duty. This appears to be one of the Anomalies which pervade the whole System of Coast Duties on Coal, as may be collected from the Evidence of Mr. Dean, the Chairman of the Board of Customs, and will require Consideration, whenever a Revision of the Coast Duties shall be undertaken.

These Duties appear by the Evidence to have excluded Sea-borne Coals from many of the Coasting Markets, and are stated to have prevented the natural Increase of the Coasting Coal Trade, to the Injury both of the Coal Owner and the Ship Owner.

The Reduction of the Duty on small Coal exported to Foreign Countries has increased the Export, and has proved in some degree beneficial to the Coal and Ship Owners. A Reduction of the Duty on the larger Coal, which now amounts to Seventeen Shillings per Newcastle Chaldron, and an Alteration of the Mode of levying the Duties, have been recommended, as such Coal would in that Case find a ready Demand from the Foreign Manufactories, for whose Use it is exported. It may however be worthy of Consideration, how far it would give Encouragement to Manufactures which enter into Competition with those of this Country.


In the course of this Inquiry, more particularly in that which took place last Year, the Attention of the Committee has been drawn to an Agreement which from Time to Time has been entered into by the Coal Owners on the River Tyne and on the River Wear, regulating the Proportions in which they shall respectively supply the London and Coasting Markets during the Year. Upon this Subject the fullest Information was voluntarily tendered to the Committee by the Coal Owners on those Rivers; and it appears from their Examination, and the Facts communicated by them, that on entering into these Agreements a Quantity calculated on the Vend of the preceding Years is assumed as the Quantity that may be required by the different Markets, and is divided between the Two Rivers. The Ratio has been generally Two Fifths for the Wear, and the remaining Three Fifths for the Tyne. And this is called the general Basis of the Regulation.

This Point being settled between the Two Rivers, the Coal Owners on each River then proceed to the Distribution among themselves of what is allotted to each River according to the abovementioned Basis, and the actual Quantity to be vended on each River is fixed once a Fortnight, according to the Demand, and distributes itself amongst the respective Collieries on each River, according to their Proportions of the Basis Quantity. The Amount of Coal to be sent from each Colliery includes what is to be sent Coastwise as well as what is to be sent for the London Market; and every Coal Owner delivers in the Price at which he engages to sell his Coal during the Year.

The Coal Owners are under an Engagement not to exceed the Proportion of the Supply which shall have been so assigned to them respectively, nor to sell below the Price given in.

From the Evidence which has been adduced, it appears that during the Existence of these Regulations there has not been at any Time a Deficiency of Supply experienced in the London Market, a Number of Vessels laden with Coal being constantly in the Pool beyond the actual Vend; but it has been admitted, that in arranging the Amount of the Supply, and fixing the Price, there is no other Limitation than what will arise from the Fear of Competition from other Collieries which may be opened in the Tyne and Wear District, and from the Collieries in the County of Durham which ship their Produce at Stockton, and from Scotland, Yorkshire and Wales.


The Establishment of this Regulation has been justified on Two Grounds; first, as being one which prevents the Mischief which would (it is alleged) arise to themselves from a Competition among all the Coal Owners on the Rivers Tyne and Wear; and, secondly, to the Public, from a Limitation of Supply. It is stated, that with the same Extent of Machinery the Collieries on the Tyne are capable of working double the Quantity, and those on the Wear nearly Half as much again as what is now worked; as there is therefore no Limitation of Supply, an unregulated Competition among the Collieries would end in the entire Ruin of those which are worked at the greatest Expence. The Difference between the Expence of working the Collieries is stated to be very considerable; it is represented to range between Sixteen or Seventeen Shillings to Twenty-three Shillings. The Effect of the Regulation in question is so to raise the Price of Coal as to enable the Collieries which work at the greatest Expence to work at a remunerating Price, while they who can work their Collieries at a less Expence, and could therefore, by underselling the others, get Possession of the whole Market, exercise a politic Forbearance, by entering into an Agreement which secures to them a greater Profit on a more limited Vend. It is also stated, that if, from the above-mentioned Causes, the inferior Collieries were ruined, and expelled from the Trade, the Supply would then be entirely in the Command of a few large Capitalists, who would be able to enhance the Price, and controul the Market, to an infinitely greater Extent than can now be accomplished.

Without entering into the Merits or Demerits of this Measure, it is sufficient to observe, that it is not comprehended within the Provisions of the 9th of Anne against Combination of Coal Owners; and that, as there appears to exist a free and increasing Competition with the other Collieries above mentioned, the Public will be protected from that Enhancement of Price which they might otherwise experience.

The Committee have directed an Index to the Evidence to be prepared, and have annexed, in an Appendix, some Accounts, for the further Elucidation of the Subject referred to them.