The Corporation: Dues and tolls

Historical Account of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne Including the Borough of Gateshead. Originally published by Mackenzie and Dent, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 1827.

This free content was digitised by double rekeying. All rights reserved.


Eneas Mackenzie, 'The Corporation: Dues and tolls', Historical Account of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne Including the Borough of Gateshead, (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 1827), pp. 649-652. British History Online [accessed 15 June 2024].

Eneas Mackenzie. "The Corporation: Dues and tolls", in Historical Account of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne Including the Borough of Gateshead, (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 1827) 649-652. British History Online, accessed June 15, 2024,

Mackenzie, Eneas. "The Corporation: Dues and tolls", Historical Account of Newcastle-Upon-Tyne Including the Borough of Gateshead, (Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 1827). 649-652. British History Online. Web. 15 June 2024,


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.


  • 1. This fact is stated in a very able and luminous brief, drawn up by Messrs. Kirkley and Fenwick, solicitors for the defendant in the case, "the mayor and burgesses of Newcastle versus Anwick Smith."
  • 2. The custom to levy tolls has not been, as Blackstone expresses it, "peaceable and acquiesced in." In 1729, the town had a trial with Sir Henry Liddell about paying of tolls, wherein a verdict was given in favour of Sir Henry. "It was then customary," says Brand, "for the judges to go to Tynemouth; and in their return, Mr. Justice Page, who tried the cause, had some hot words with Mr. Reay relating to the trial, and thereupon the judge threatened to commit the mayor; and the mayor told the judge he would commit him, being then upon the water, and in his jurisdiction. This squabble was the occasion of discontinuing the custom of going to Tynemouth."—Vol. ii. page 517. The corporation had a number of grants of murage, and of pontage, for limited periods, and for things coming to be sold in the said town; but there exists no grant or charter authorising them to levy a toll thorough. The toll levied in the reign of Henry I. was paid by burgesses as well as strangers. Brand mentions, on the authority of the common council books, that, "in Oct. 10, 1757, the Great Toll of Newcastle upon Tyne was let by the corporation of the town to Mr. James Hauxley, for the following year, at £525." And in a note he states, on the same authority, that it appears to have been let, in 1654, for £230, 10s.; and in the year 1657, for 21 years, at £200 per annum. In the year 1701, it was let at £555; and he goes on to state, that it was let at various times, between that time and 1754, at different sums; but he gives no information, either as to the nature of the toll, or any thing else concerning it. In the case of the corporation against Lambton, the plaintiffs' evidence was documentary and parol. The first document was the charter granted to the corporation in the 42d of Elizabeth. The next documents produced were acts of parliament, of the last reign, respecting the bridge, each of which contains a clause that "nothing therein contained shall extend to prejudice the right of the corporation to tolls." The next were the chamberlain's books, containing various entries respecting tolls from the year 1646, and one dated 1561. A lease by way of mortgage from the corporation to Thomas Bonner, dated September 29, 1657, was put in; by which, in consideration of £2000 paid by Bonner into the town's chest, the tolls were demised to him for 60 years, with a proviso of redemption. An agreement was also produced, dated 1st March, 1760, between the corporation and Theodosia Crawley and partners, whereby the former accepted, as a compensation for all toll dues and duties, £6, 13s. 4d. from the latter. In the parol evidence, it was proved by the town's clerk, that the tolls in question are called "the Great Toll," that the corporation repair the streets, and that two-thirds of the bridge belong to them. Thomas Gee, the town's surveyor, stated, that the repairs of the streets cost the corporation £3900 per annum, upon an average of 8 years. A great number of witnesses proved that they had uniformly paid toll on goods brought in and carried out of the town; but George Robinson, the toll-keeper, admitted that many refused to pay, and that the toll was not uniform. On this evidence, it was observed that even Judge Bayley admitted that the charter of 42d of Elizabeth "was silent as to the toll in question." The books, containing the imperfect entries previous to 1600, only proved that some sort of toll was collected, called the Great Toll. From the books of a subsequent period, it was inferred that the corporation had originally usurped the power of laying on a small toll, and afterwards increased it from time to time. The large sum paid by the corporation for paving, it was contended, could not justify the collection of such tolls, because paving did not become general in England until the 17th century, and because no grant of pavage was ever made to the town of Newcastle. It was further argued, that 32 millers in Gateshead paid only a compensation for toll of 5s. a year, though even the toll out, if demanded of one individual, would exceed £4, 4s. per annum, which was a proof of inability to enforce payment. The same remark was applied to Crawley and Co.'s agreement for tolls, including duties on their goods exported and imported, which, at the time of the bargain, would not have paid the usual demand one week. Lastly, it was conceived that the variation in the amount of the toll demanded, and acquiescence in refusals to pay any, were fatal to the legality of the custom. On these grounds it was that the action of the corporation against Mr. Smith was defended. On this trial, Mr. Scarlett admitted there were no grants of tolls in perpetuity, but contended that the corporation was entitled to tolls by custom beyond legal memory. Variations in the tolls, and occasional neglect to enforce them, he considered as proofs of the consciousness of possessing a complete right. Judge Bayley, in summing up, said, "There are two questions. 1. Is any toll payable? 2. If any is payable, is it such a toll as the plaintiffs claim? There is a consideration to be presumed before any person can claim a toll of this nature; and here the plaintiffs repair the streets and bridge. First, is any toll payable? All these tolls originate by a grant from the crown, either before the time of legal memory, or since. If since, it must be made upon a sufficient consideration. I do not agree with Mr. Brougham, that it is ncessary that you should presume that there was a grant before the time of legal memory, in which the same specific tolls are directed to be taken in moneys numbered. It is sufficient that you should presume a grant that the corporation should take a reasonable toll; for such a toll might fluctuate as the value of money fluctuates. Upon the subject of reasonableness, if you find the payments have been submitted to for many years, as in this case nearly 60 years, it is one ground of inference that the toll is not unreasonable. I have no means of distinguishing the tolls now claimed by the corporation, from the Great Toll for passing through the town. The mortgage of the tolls in 1657 proved that the town had a Great Toll. Thirty-four witnesses speak to payments of the same amount. This evidence is of great weight. Why should the parties pay? The defendants argue, that as there are certain charters which give specific tolls in respect of the bridge, there could not be any existing right to toll as claimed by the plaintiffs. These charters are all for murage alone, for pontage alone, or for murage and pontage. They are all temporary; and they are all on articles brought into the town for sale: but the toll claimed by the plaintiffs is upon goods carried through the town, or into the town, and were not limited to articles for sale. The grants in aid of the repair of the bridge and the walls are silent respecting other tolls; but is not this outweighed by the affirmative evidence of the actual payment of the toll. Evidence is produced to shew a great variation in the amount of the toll; and such evidence is generally used to create the inference that there can never have been any grant of toll: but if the original grant was for a reasonable toll, the argument fails. Most of the witnesses of the defendant agree in stating that they have submitted to some tolls; and this shews that there was a general opinion that some toll was due. Is any toll payable? and is it this toll in question? If this toll is payable, your verdict will be for the plaintiffs £1, 15s. 3d."—Verdict accordingly. The town-clerk and other officers of the corporation were disfranchised, to qualify them to give evidence. The toll was estimated at £800 per annum.