|The coal post at Church Road, Potters Bar,|
at the junction with A1000
OS ref: TL 260 022
Some are at busy road junctions, others are buried away in woodland and hidden in hedgerows.
There are estimated to be 250 coal posts in the countryside surrounding London and more than 40 of those are in south Hertfordshire, although the exact number is not known.
Records vary, but a survey, carried out in 1961, and filed at Hertfordshire County Council, puts the number at 43, although there is at least one coal post, featured on this site, which isn't included in that list.
Many mark the old boundaries for the collection of duties at points, roughly 20 miles from the General Post Office in the City of London.
(The area was later reduced by the London Coal and Wine Duties Continuance Act of 1861 to include only those places lying within the Metropolitan Police District.
That explains why, when you plot the positions of the coal posts on a map, it does not form a neat circle round the capital but is more a scattering of markers.)
|Map of the extent of the London Coal Posts courtesy of Martin Nail. |
Image released under Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 2.0
Some coals posts were moved when the new Act became law, others were left where they were originally placed 10 years earlier. Most of the coal posts existing today are at the spot where a public road or path, railway, or canal entered the Metropolitan District.
|The Duty Stone at Hawkshead |
south of Brookmans Park
on the east side of the railway
line at the top of the golf course
OS ref: TL 243 028
The majority are iron pillars about four foot high. Others, particularly those by canals or railways, are either small plaques set in the wall, or large obelisks made of cast iron or granit such as the Duty Stone on the east side of the east coast main line just north of Potters Bar and south of Brookmans Park.
The Ordnance Survey map of 1898 shows 'Hawkshead Siding' to the north of the Duty Stone. There is no such thing as Hawkshead Sidings today. Could it be that it was worthwhile building railway sidings there in order to offload goods just before duty became payable?
Most posts are brightly painted, some white, some black. All have ornate designs containing historic information, although some of the writing has been worn away by the elements over time.
Until the 19th Century, the transport of coal and other goods into London had been by sea. But the growth of the canal and railway systems meant that collecting points for taxes had to be set up beyond the boundary of the City.
Originally an official was stationed by the posts, at the side of a road or on the bank of the canal, to record the tonnage and collect the duty.
But as canal trade dwindled with the arrival of the railways, it became uneconomic to employ collectors and it eventually became the responsibility of the operating company to collect and pay the taxes to the Clerk of the Coal Market.
|Coal post deep in Wormley Wood |
at the junction of two footpaths
just north of the lake
OS ref: TL 322 054
Others, like the coal post in Wormley Wood (OS ref: TL 316 057), are at points where small footpaths cross deep in woodland and far from the beaten track.
Some industrial archaeologists say the reason why a few coal posts are found in unusual locations such as by streams, footpaths and cart tracks is because there was no clear ruling in the London Coal and Wine Duties Continuance Act as to where they should be placed.
However, regarding the Wormley Wood coal post, on closer inspection of the Ordnance Survey sheet 166 Luton Hertford map, it is easy to see how those small footpaths in Wormley Wood could have provided a route for a trader, who may have wanted to avoid paying tax, to dodge the collectors.
Either side of Wormley Wood, at Wormley End and at Newgate Street, there are coal posts situated at the side of country lanes where it is much easier to imagine trade routes existing more than 100 years ago.
Could the coal post in Wormley Wood have been set up by the taxman after he got wise to people trying to avoid payment by taking a short cut through the footpaths?
Although the posts date back only 130 years, the history surrounding them goes back much further. The City of London has collected dues on coal and other goods entering London since medieval times.
|Coal post detail|
Little Heath, Potters Bar
An Act of Parliament was passed which increased the duty payable on coal entering the Port of London.
Money was needed for rebuilding and renovation work. In 1667 the First Rebuilding Act was passed, authorising an increase in the duty payable on coal entering the Port of London, partly for this purpose.
The funds collected from these taxes, together with the "Orphans Fund", were used for the rebuilding of St. Paul's Cathedral and numerous other City churches, Guildhall, the City's markets and Newgate Prison.
But the City remained in debt. In 1694, an Act "for the Relief of the Orphans and Other Creditors of the City of London" was passed.
|Picture of coal post detail |
Little Heath, Potters Bar
This is thought to be the forerunner of the Act of 1861 that led to the setting up of the Coal and Wine Tax Posts.
Once all debts had been repaid, surplus funds were used to finance the building of a number of bridges over the Thames, street paving and new roads into London.
Several further Acts for raising building funds were passed during the 17th and 18th centuries.
The money raised was used for improvement schemes including the building of the Thames Embankment and the erection of the Holborn Viaduct. It was also used for the purchase of the River Thames bridges, including Kingston upon Thames, Hampton Court and Walton on Thames, to free them from tolls.
|Coal post at Little Heath |
near the Builders Arms pub
OS ref: TL 257 025
Many of these symbols of our commercial past have been made Grade II structures, listed by the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, with their maintenance falling to the local authorities. If you see any in need of attention please contact the relevant local council.
According to locals of Brookmans Park, there was a post at the side of Warrengate Road, where it meets Hawkshead Lane (OS ref: TL 230 031), until the mid 1980s.
It had lain knocked down for many months before it was removed. Mystery surrounds where it went.
You can contact this site (a contact form is at the top right of every page) if you know of any coal post in Hertfordshire not included in the photographs on these pages or mentioned in the list of known coal posts in the south of the county. An Ordnance Survey map reference would be a great help, too,
How to find Hertfordshire's coal posts
There are four main types of coal posts found in Hertfordshire. Below are the descriptions of the different types along with Ordnance Survey map references for locating them.
- Type A: Four sided stone obelisk on square base.
- Type B: Large cast iron pyramids set on a square base
- Type C: Slightly tapered stone obelisks
- Type D: Square cast iron column with bevelled corners
The following is based on an original list from Hertfordshire County Council's Archives, prepared in 1961. Since then, some coal posts have gone missing and many details have changed. Some were missed off the list.
Updated notes from 2000 have been added after the posts have been checked and where changes to the records are needed.
To see the exact location of the posts on a map, copy the references, go to the Ordnance Survey site, enter the grid reference in the search field and you will see a map showing the exact spot where the post can be found.
All the grid references relate to the Ordnance Survey Landranger Series 1:50,000 scale map for Luton and Hertford (sheet 166).
Coal Post Type A
These are four sided stone obelisk set on a square base. They are 12' to 14' high with, on one side, the arms of the City of London and details of the Act under which it was erected.
- TL 368 052, Wormley. Alongside the railway line, lying in several pieces on the ground. The inscription not identifiable.
- TL 243 028, Hawkshead. Between Brookmans Park and Potters Bar. Appears on the two and a half inch Ordnance Survey Map 1898 as the Duty Stone.
- TL 117 967, Watford. Below railway bridge over Colne. In several pieces on the ground, inscription not identifiable.
Coal Post Type B
These posts are large cast iron pyramids set on a square base. They are about 5' to 5' 6" high with, on one side, the arms of the City of London and details of the Act under which they were erected. Many bear the inscription "ACT 24 & 25 VICT. CAP 42" on a metal plate which is fixed to each face.
The ACT 24 & 25 means the posts were set up following the Act of Parliament in the 24th and 25th year of the reign of Queen Victoria and the Cap 42 refers to chapter 42 of that Act.
- TL 159 008, Radlett. Near two cottages at the end of The Avenue, half way down an embankment, rusty and overgrown.
- TL 114 919, Oxhey. Down footpath from the school in Little Oxhey Lane. Not on or near a railway.
- TL 091 921, Northwood. (Middlesex). On railway embankment. Arms and inscription on all four sides.
Coal Post Type C
These are slightly tapered stone obelisks, about 3' square at their base and 4' in height. They have a shield depicting the arms of the City of London embossed on one face and the details of the Act under which they were erected, "14 & 15 VIC. C.146" (details of the inscriptions explained above).
- TL 372 050, Wormley. Alongside Lea Navigation. Bench Mark.
- TL 046 932, Rickmansworth. Alongside the Grand Union Canal. Bench Mark.
Coal Post Type D
|Coal post at the A1000|
junction with Church Road
OS ref: TL 262 022
Between the cap and collar there is the arms of the City of London. Below the collar many have the details of the Act under which the posts were erected. On the base of the marker are the details of the casting company - Henry Grissell, Regents Canal Ironworks, London.
These inscriptions are usually dated. The columns erected under the 1851 Act have the inscription recording the 1861 Act screwed over the original (in some cases the plates have been lost). There are other minor variations.
The body in the post, including the cap, is white. The coat of arms depicted is that of the City of London, with the shield bearing the Cross of St. George and the Sword of St. Paul, painted red on a white background.
Beneath the coat of arms is to be found the letters "24 & 25 VICT. CAP 42" (details of the inscriptions explained above).
TL 364 056, Wormley. On the east side of the A10 behind a brick pillar box.
TL 322 054, Wormley wood. Deep in the woods just north of the lake.
TL 343 058, Wormley/Cheshunt boundary. About half a mile north of Paradise Hill.
TL 304 042, Hatfield. Half a mile south east of Newgate Street at the railway bridge over the road.
TL 300 042, Hatfield. Half a mile south of Newgate Street and North of Carbone Hill.
TL 272 035, Northaw. West end of the Ridgeway.
TL 270 032, Northaw. At entrance to Queenswood School drive.
TL 260 021, Potters Bar. North Road A1000.
TL 260 021, Potters Bar. Church Street. These two markers are within a yards of each other.
TL 257 025, Potters Bar. Turn left from north end of Barnards Road, outside house called Lancresse.
TL 230 031, North Mymms. South end of Water Lane.
TL 205 058, Colney Heath. Road junction.
TL 205 059, Colney Heath. Opposite The Cock public house.
TL 205 050, Colney Heath. Near Coursers Farm. Bench mark.
TL 199 059, Colney Heath. On the heath north east of the river Colney.
TL 182 037, London Colney. Alongside bridge.
TL 176 032, London Colney. Broad Colney bridge.
TL 172 023, Shenley. Near Colneyhouse Farm.
TL 171 020, Shenley. Near Harperbury Hospital.
TL 170 011, Shenley. In hedge on Wild Farm.
TL 163 995, Radlett. High Street, alongside Messrs Wright and Mills.
TL 161 007, Radelett. On the east side of the A5, south of the bridge over the stream and half a mile north of the station.
TL 151 939, Watford, Bushey Heath. On the A4140.
TL 131 926, Oxhey. On the A4008 at Burntoak Farm, gatepost to No.1, The Hollies.
TL 120 952, Bushey. Capell Road near Bushey Station - rusty.
TL 118 955, Bushey. North-east corner of Bushey Arches - rusty.
TL 116 963, Watford. Water Lane. Rusty and deeply buried. Likely to be affected by road reconstruction. (Removed April 1966 and relocated at the College of Further Education).
TL 106 916, Oxhey. On the B468 at Potters Street Hill, near junction with Oxhey Drive.
TL 087 923, Rickmansworth. In playing fields of St Martins School, south of Batchworth Lane.
TL 078 924, Rickmansworth. Batchworth Heath, just south of the Prince of Wales public house.
TL 070 915, Rickmansworth. At the junction of White Hill and Jackets Lane.
TL 069 915, Rickmansworth. Battlewells Farm.
TL 065 917, Rickmansworth. 300 yards west of Battlewells Farm and north of the old reservoir.
TL 058 922, Rickmansworth. On the road from Woodcock Hill to Harefield.
TL 041 935, Rickmansworth. At the bridge over Colne near Drayton Ford.
In that work, Brian Powell lists, as his references, an article entitled, 'The City of London Coal Duties', by M Bawtree 1969, printed in the London Archaeologist, spring edition 1969, and 'The Industrial Archaeology of Hertfordshire', by W.B Johnson, 1970.
Thanks also to members of two Brookmans Park groups that have since disbanded, The Gobions Woodland Trust and the North Mymms Local History Society. Both were extremely helpful in researching this feature which was written in 1998 and revised in 2018.
Information was also taken from the Elmbridge Borough Council website and its tourism history pages, and by seeking information via internet archaeology newsgroups.
Other referencesFrom the records at Hertfordshire County Council Archives department.
Guildhall Library, London.
Middlesex Council Bulletin, November 1961.
Hertfordshire Countryside, Spring 1963.
W.Branch, Johnson, Bangor House, Welwyn, Herts.