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Occupation - Excise

I hope the following information will help anyone who finds their ancestor worked in Excise.

What did the Excise Service do?

The Customs and Excise Service was formerly two separate bodies until merger in 1909. The Excise Office was responsible for collecting duty on goods manufactured or processed in the UK (whereas the Customs Office was responsible for collecting duty on imported goods).

An 1813 an Instruction was sent from the Excise Office, London (CUST 43/7) describing changes in excise duty. This gives a snapshot of what Excise work involved at the time:

  • Amending Act on British Herrings 1811
  • Salt use duty free in certain cases
  • Distillers prohibited from using corn
  • Continuing duties on malt, sugar and tobacco
  • Allowing starch hair powder to be made from wheat
  • Additional duties on tobacco, snuff and French wine
This Instruction was received in Brentford and signed by James HISCUTT, Collector for the Surrey Collection: see more details of Brentford Excise structure

Excise Officers were based around the whole of the UK and there was also a Head or Chief Office on Old Broad Street, London. There are images of the interior and exterior of the Head Office on the Internet.

Sources used to prepare this web page

This page has been prepared from
  • practical experience (poring over several hundred Excise Minute Books at The National Archives Kew during the last decade)
  • Royal Kalendars online and at TNA
  • John Marks, Excise Officer, he worked from 1777 - 1817; also Nathan Woodroofe spent his final years in Brentford as Collector
  • 'The excise officer's manual and improved gauger...' by Joseph Bateman published 1840
  • 'The excise officer's manual: being a practical introduction to the business...' by Joseph Bateman, published 1852
Much of the content of the Bateman books is relevant to earlier and later periods. See below for online sources.

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Structure of the Excise Service (1840 and 1852)

The service had a hierarchical structure, starting at the top:
  1. Collection: the UK was split into Collections, each was headed by the Collector (ie Chief Officer), assisted by 2-3 clerks and a Supernumerary Officer. Some examples of Collections in 1838: Sheffield, Stafford, Stourbridge, Suffolk, Surrey, Wales North, Wales West, Wellington.
    In 1840 there were
    • 56 Collections in England and Wales
    • 16 in Scotland
    • 21 in Ireland
    In 1852 there were
    • 61 in England and Wales
    • 13 in Scotland
    • 16 in Ireland
    Each Collection was further divided into
  2. District: each Collection comprise 3 to 7 Districts, each managed by a Supervisor Each District was further divided into Rides, Footwalks or Divisions:
  3. Rides: Rides covered rural areas, where the Excise man had to keep a horse to fulfil his duties; Footwalks or Divisions were in towns and could be covered without a horse

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Getting into the Excise Service

The Bateman books describe in detail what qualities a person needed to get an initial post and how to progress within the service.

In 1840: 'The first appointment of a person intended for the surveying department of the excise is called an Order for instructions. These orders are given on the nomination either of the Lords of the Treasury or of the commissioners of excise the patronage being divided between them.

The commissioners set apart a number of appointments for the sons of officers with very large families &c and the rest are disposed of by the individual commissioners'.

In 1840 a candidate had to be aged 19-30, and if married have no more than two children.

In 1852 a candidate had to be aged 19-25, unmarried and with 'no family' (ie no children).

In 1840 other qualities required of a candidate: ' healthy, active and free from debt, with a good knowledge of vulgar and decimal arithmetic. In 1852 he also needed 'a competent knowledge of double entry book keeping'.

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Career path and salaries in 1852

A candidate had to go through various examinations before being accepted into the service as an 'Expectant'. The following summary of the career path is taken from the 'Excise officers manual' .
  • Expectant: new starter who is learning, can cover for a regular officer who is sick; pay: 50 per annum, plus 30 if they are providing cover for a regular officer; as vacancies appear Expectants are appointed as Supernumeraries or Assistants
  • Assistant: watches a single trader, eg a soapmaker or distiller, where constant attendance required, earning 85 pa; as vacancies occur Assistants and Supernumeraries are appointed to a Ride
  • Supernumerary:attends the Collector on his round, earning 52 pa; if he officiates for a serving officer an additional 38 pa is paid
  • Ride Officer: surveys manufacturers and traders within his Ride and has to provide a horse for this purpose; 100 pa; unlikely to be allowed to remain in one place for more than 4 to 5 years; after 3 years can seek promotion
  • Division Officer: similar to Ride Officer, but in a more densely populated area; not required to keep a horse; 100 pa; can seek promotion to Examiner after 7 years service, (the last 3 must be as a Division Officer)
  • Examiner: employed at the Chief Office and examines the books of other officers; may be sent into the country to cover for an ill Supervisor; 150 pa plus 50 pa for time in the country; as vacancies occur, Examiners are appointed in rotation to be Supervisors
  • Supervisor: "A Supervisor has the charge of a District comprising a certain number of Rides and Divisions. His principal duty is to survey the traders and check the performances of the Officers in his district..."; 200 pa, if his District is wide he has to keep a horse out of his salary; after 3 years as a Supervisor he can seek a Surveying General Examiner post (on merit, not an appointment on rotation); after 5 years as a Supervisor he can seek a Collector post (again on merit)
  • Surveying General Examiner: employed either at the Chief Office in London, "or in the country investigating special matters relating to traders or officers..."; by the early 1800s 4 classes of SGE existed, 1 to 4: SGE Class 1 and 3 were based in the Chief Office, London, whereas Classes 2 and 4 were in the country; the 1852 top levels of pay for class 1: 550 pa; 2: 400; 3: 350; 4: 300; vacancies in higher classes were filled by men in lower SGE classes; any class of SGE could be appointed Collector [in 1818 SGE pay ranged from 550 to 250 pa]
  • Collector: at the head of a particular Collection or tract of country including Districts Rides and Divisions. His business is to collect and account for the duties accruing within his Collection. For this purpose he is required at stated intervals eight times in the year to visit and hold a sitting for the receipt of excise duties at every market town in his Collection earning 350 - 600 pa

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Records at TNA - Royal Kalendar

These annual volumes list people in senior public office, including the Excise Service. As they are available on the open shelves they can be quickly checked. They cover dates from the late 1700s to the current day. Most useful to those whose ancestors were in senior positions (eg Collector) or in a post in the Old Broad Street Excise Office, London.

Records at TNA - Excise Minute Books

TNA holds the Excise Minute Books (references starting CUST 47) which describe all changes in personnel in the Excise Service between 1695 and 1874 and so are invaluable to anyone with an ancestor who was an Excise officer. If minute books are searched for the whole career of an Excise man it should be possible to trace all the areas he lived in to carry out his duties and find out when he was promoted. Key points:
  • Vacant posts were always filled by the transferring in of a suitably trained and experienced officer, often from another area of the country, and each minute describes the chain of moves that might ensue
  • Each book covers a period of just a few months: for example to search minute books for the whole of 1785 requires looking at 7 minute books
  • At the start of each book is a surname index by initial letter of surname, each entry includes the forename and page no. (eg there is a page of all 'W' surnames but Woodroofe may appear before Williams and after Wyman)
  • It is possible to search the surname index in a book in a couple minutes but it takes more time to order and collect the books and note any findings

Sometimes a promotion required the Excise man to move a considerable distance and it must have taken weeks or months to arrange the move, particularly if a number of children were involved (not forgetting the horse!). Occasionally a plan to move an Excise man did not go ahead, due to a change of plan - this will appear in the minutes.

Where a Collector dies or retires, this can trigger a lot of personnel changes. Whether all the moves happened at once or whether they took place in top down sequence - I am not sure.

The Bateman books show an Examiner or Surveying General Examiner might be temporarily transferred from the Chief Office in London to provide cover at a country office and there will be a minute ordering this arrangement. Upon the return to work of the recovered officer from my experience there is generally not a minute describing the ending of the cover arrangement.

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Example of Excise Minute Book Entry

William TODHUNTER, Collector of Surrey Collection, being through Age and Infirmities rendered incapable of performing the Duty of that Station, as appears by his Letter of the 2nd of June Ordered that he relinquish; that Nathan WOODROOFE, Collector of Wales Middle Collection, succeed him at his own Request and that John SYKES, Collector of Inverness Collection, Scotland, succeed WOODROOFE at his own request. (CUST 47/568 Minute dated Thursday 5th June 1828)

Records at TNA - Other Excise Documents

The CUST 43 series includes indexed instructions received from the Excise Office London at each District. For example Brentford District letters 1713-1863 are included in CUST 43/1 to 43/16. Only useful if your ancestor was in a senior post and signed letters. Quarterly salary lists, T 44/49. These appear to list quarterly salaries due to Excise men and provides names, grades and amounts, but (apparently) just for the London-based posts. It also includes a list of 'periodical augmentation of salary to officers who have worked more than 10 years in their respective offices'. It takes 15 - 20 minutes to look through the details for one quarter. Top

Records at local archives

You may find a Sacrament Certificate for your ancestor at local archives dating from around the time he joined the Excise Service. These are witnessed certificates stating the individual had taken Holy Communion.

For example, there is a Sacrament Certificate dated 21 October 1810 at the Isle of Wight Archives for Abraham COTTON, who was 23 at the time, and who became an excise man shortly after. He married Elizabeth BONIFACE on 12 January 1811, shortly after starting in his first Excise position.

Online sources for Excise ancestors

Google Books includes full views of the Royal Kalendar for 1797, 1817 and 1866 and snippet views for 1818, 1840 and a few other years (search for 'Royal Kalendar' and a surname). (free)

Google Books contains two full view Excise Manuals by Joseph Bateman, which describes the service and career structure, details the entry requirements, training and examination processes - for 1840 and 1852. Search for ' "joseph bateman" excise '. (free)

Historical Directories (see Web links) includes trade directories from the early 1800s through to the 1910s. These can be searched by surname or 'Excise' using the keyword facility. (free)

London Gazette Archives (see Web links), searches are sophisticated, covers 1760s onwards. (free)

FindMyPast includes censuses, some of which can be searched by occupation.

Ancestry.co.uk includes trade directories and copies of The Times newspaper to 1835.

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Page published August 2010