Victorian London - Organisations - Government Departments - Customs

CUSTOM HOUSE (THE), in LOWER THAMES STREET, for the collection of the customs, one of the three great branches of the revenue of this country, was erected 1814-17 from the designs of David Laing, but in consequence of some defects in the piling, the original centre was taken down, and the present front, to the Thames, erected by Sir Robert Smirke. Nearly one half of the customs of the United Kingdom are collected in the Port of London, and about one half of the persons in the Civil Service of the country are employed in connection with the customs. The only articles producing, each of them, and in the order mentioned, above a million a year to the customs of Great Britain, are sugar, tea, tobacco, wine and brandy. In Ireland, the articles producing the most revenue are, tobacco and snuff, tea and sugar. Liverpool, after London, is the next great port wher the largest amount of customs is collected. ... The Quay is a pleasant walk fronting the Thames. Here, Cowper, the poet, came intending to make away with himself.

Peter Cunningham, Hand-Book of London, 1850

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Customs.—The Custom House is in Lower Thames-street, and the departments are: the Secretary's, the Surveyor-General's, the Law Officers', the Comptroller of Accounts', the Statistical, and the Long Room. The out-door department comprises surveyors, assistant- surveyors, examining officers, gaugers (with inspectors and assistant-inspectors). On arriving from the Continent by train, unregistered luggage is examined at the port of debarkation; registered luggage at the terminal station of the line in London. By boat, the examination takes place on board on the way up from Gravesend, unless the passenger lands at Gravesend, when his luggage is searched there. The only things that need be troubled about are cigars and tobacco (1 lb. allowed), and spirits, including Eau de Cologne. The search is not, as a rule, very severe, but it sometimes is so, and the very small saving is decidedly not worth the risk.

Charles Dickens (Jr.), Dickens's Dictionary of London, 1879