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LNWR Mystery Photographs
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  • Mystery Number 35 – supplied by anonymous

    Show image of mystery phot  mobile/M035B.jpg

    We know a lot about this picture, supplied by Mike Bentley, because Mike has the records of the photographer who took it, Harry Townley. Harry records it as: 'Hatch End, 12th April 1953'. On the extreme left is a rectifier sub-station.
    Approaching is an Oerlikon set working from Watford to Euston, with the first BR crest on the first vehicle, but is the train green or red? Just coming into the picture on the right is a Bakerloo line train. Perhaps most interesting of all, on the cutting side is, the Coal Tax Obelisk, which, according to R.A.S. Hennessy, was located 20 miles from the Post Office at St Martins Le Grand and 15 miles from Euston.
    But what was the ‘Coal Tax Obelisk’? And were similar obelisks erected on all the main lines into London?

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  • John Webb — 28-Mar-2005 9.16 PM
    Some 200 of these posts completely circle London and mark the point at which coal coming into London became liable to have duty paid on it. They were therefore placed besides all roads, railways and waterways where coal could be bought in. The duty was first charged after the Great Fire of London to assist rebuilding in the City and thereafter on various public works. Most existing pillars date from 1861. The duty stopped being collected after 1890.
    The most comprehensive publication I’ve seen is a leaflet by Bromley Council – this records another ‘obelisk’ type marker near Swanley Station. Other Borough Councils or libraries or Record Offices may have information regarding those near to LNWR tracks.
    Christopher Hill — 28-Mar-2005 10.00 PM
    You might care to read this entry from the BBC’s Making History Program.
    Roger W. Haworth has a comprehensive list with photographs and maps. Scroll down to the the What's Here heading for the list. Enjoy!
    Caution: These links go beyond the control of the LNWR Society.
    Mike Williams — 06-Apr-2005 9.41 PM
    Having commuted by train past this spot for years I have never seen the obelisk — not until this week when clearance of the shrubs and trees has made it very clear to see, but not easy to photograph at 50mph!
    Peter G. Scott. — 09-Apr-2005 5.50 PM
    The ‘LMS Route Book No.2’ records the following:
    “The junction of Hertfordshire and Middlesex is marked by a white pillar set up on the right-hand side between Carpenders Park and Hatch End Stations. It has on it the arms of London and the somewhat cryptic inscription ‘Act 24 & 25 Vict. Cap 42’. This refers to the London Coal and Wine Duties Act of 1861 and signified in its day that any wine, coal, or cinders – a strange category – passing this post were subject to a duty levied by the Corporation of London.”
    There is also a pen and ink sketch of the pillar.
    David Blagrove — 30-Apr-2005 5.39 PM
    Originally the London Coal Duties were levied on a radius of twenty five miles as stated. When the Grand Junction Canal was first opened to trade from the midland coalfields in 1800, the point at which the duties were levied was Lady Capels Wharf, not far from the northern entrance to Watford tunnel.
    In 1861 this was altered by means of the Act of Parliament, whose shorthand name appears on the obelisk, to the Metropolitan Police District. This was co-terminous in the Watford area with the boundary between Middlesex and Hertfordshire, hence the siting of the obelisks.
    Consequently there is a very similar obelisk beside the GJC, since 1929 known as the Grand Union Canal, about a mile south of Rickmansworth, where the county boundary crosses the canal. About a quarter of a mile north of this point is the toll house where the duties were collected (beside Stockers Lock, No 82). The house still bears the City of London crest.
    George Storrow — 03-May-2005 6.44 PM
    When I was working on the shed at Watford Junction in the late 1950's the Oerlikon coaches used on the New Line were coloured dark green. I well remember the sliding doors at each end of the coaches could be lethal, because if you were near the leading end coach door (which was often wide open) it could suddenly slam shut when the train was slowing down to stop and if your hand was in the way, bad luck. They were very heavy doors. Also same door could slide open when the train started off. The reverse for the doors at the other end of the coach.
    [Railwayman at Watford & St. Albans sheds 1955 - 65]
    Tom Kearney — 02-Jun-2005 5.37 PM
    There is another such obelisk on the London side of Romford on the former Great Eastern. It is on the north side of the track with open land all around as there are school playing fields at that point. However it is difficult to spot as bushes have grown up around it. I have not been past it since I retired 13 years ago, but I imagine it is still in situ.
    As for the Oerlikon stock in your picture. I cannot remember the colour at that time, but always remember them in red from my childhood. The manually operating sliding doors were a boon in very hot weather as they provided a source of cooling air. These trains always ran with the doors open in hot weather even when crowded. The stock was very softly sprung and felt very comfortable, although it did sway a bit. I well remember travelling on a late night staff train out of Euston and the driver really let it rip. The wind blinds (always half down because the springs had weakened) were swinging almost up to the roof.
    Tim Munslow — 26-Apr-2006 1.11 PM
    A search on Google revealed the following: Coal tax posts were set up around London in compliance with the Coal and Wine Duties (Continuation) Act of 1861 to mark the points at which duty had to be paid on coal and wine being brought into the city. The boundary was set at that of the Metropolitan Police District, and the resulting revenue was used by the Corporation of the City of London to fund public works. Two earlier acts, of 1845 and 1851, had set the bound at 20 miles from the General Post Office and the later reduction to the area accounts for some discrepancies in the location of the posts. It was the responsibility of the coal merchants who received coal inside the defined area to ensure that it was paid.

    By the look of it you already have most of this information, but I thought it worthwhile to send this just in case.

    Peter Scott — 15-Oct-2010 1.02 PM
    A full history of the Coal Duty posts can be found here. The obelisk next to the LNWR between Hatch End and Carpenders Park is no. 50 in the list.
    Peter Hepworth — 18-Feb-2013 11.50 AM

    I have scoured the cutting for this from the train, without success. The batter is overgrown and the trains are usually going too fast to get a good look. The mile markers are similarly elusive.

    Mike's Railway History - The Royal Scot Route states: "Soon after passing Harrow the train leaves Middlesex for Hertfordshire, the boundary lying between the Hatch End and the Carpenders Park stations. A white stone pillar will be seen on the left-hand side, at this spot, but even those with full leisure to examine it are generally unaware of its significance. It bears a cryptic inscription, Act 24& 25 Vict. Cap. 42, and refers to an old Act of Parliament which decreed that any wine, coal or cinders imported across the boundary were subject to a duty by the Corporation of London.

    Incidentally, in Mile By Mile on Britain's Railways, S.N. Pike gives the location as being at the 14 mile mark, that is, on the Middlesex/Hertfordshire border. According to my own line route measurements and assuming the boundary (now London Borough of Harrow) to be unchanged, this would make the road crossing visible in Harry Townley's photograph the B4542, with the obelisk located circa grid ref TQ 123 922.

    I am currently doing research for a book on the Euston to Birmingham New Street route and was passing on what I have so far unearthed about the obelisk. What I've yet to find out is whether it's still there; if so, why is it not exposed to view as an item of historical interest; if not, when was it removed, why, and is it preserved?

    Reg Instone — 05-Sep-2016 3.37 PM
    I've only just read the details submitted for this (11 years ago)! There is some fascinating detail, which should be more widely known. As a general point, can the info submitted for Mystery Photos be saved in a location where it can be easily found?
    For clarification, the term "34 & 35 Vict" is parliamentary shorthand for the Session of Parliament that took place in the 34th and 35th years of Victoria's reign. Given that she came to the throne in 1837, this equates to the Session of 1861. QED. Anyone studying Acts of Parliament for railways will need this vital decoding tool!
    By comparison, the current session is something like 63 Eliz 2. (I may be a year out).
    The "c" is for "chapter" - Latin "capita". Each act in each session is given a sequential number starting at one each time.
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