Customs Bills of Entry - Liverpool, Bristol, Clyde, Dublin, Hull, Tyne, London



An extensive and complex set of records that are an important source of information regarding the movement of commodities through British ports and demonstrate the global economic links of Liverpool and other port cities. The series is not a complete run. Some volumes are only available on microfilm. See Customs Bills of Entry, information sheet number 6 for more details and the summaries of the collection from The Guide to the Records of Merseyside Maritime Museum and the Centre for Port and Maritime History. From The Guide to the Records of Merseyside Maritime Museum, volume II - The Bills of Entry series for the major ports of Great Britain and Ireland have long been recognised as a major source for maritime ports, economic and commercial history. The Maritime Archives & Library holds the master set for H.M. Customs & Excise Library, originally at King’s Beam House in London. They were published daily by the Customs Authorities for the convenience of the merchant community. Each bill contains what is termed “ships reports” which are of great value in the study of merchanting. They contain details of all ships arriving in port and particulars of the port registration, the tonnage, master, dock, ship’s agent and last port of clearance, together with a full account of all merchandise carried and to whom it was consigned. Summaries of imports, exports and articles entering and released from the bonded warehouses appeared in every issue, as did information regarding ships entered outwards, ships cleared outwards and ships loading. The Centre for Port and Maritime History summarised the advantages and disadvantages of the Bills as follows (taken from Information Sheet number 7, available on NML's website): The Bills are divided into a number of sections, and there are variations in the format from port to port. In general, however, incoming voyages are listed in more detail than outgoing ones. Incoming overseas and coastal traffic information includes the registry of the vessel, its last port of call, number of crew, tonnage, agent, dock used and whether it was a sailing ship or a steamer. The cargo is broken down by port of origin (important in multi-stop voyages), quantity, measure, commodity and the merchant to whom each item was consigned. The Bills usually list exports in summary form, with the totals of each commodity sent to various overseas destinations. They also record vessels loading at the various docks of the port, along with the names of the agents responsible for them. The Bills sometimes contain useful summary tables for trade in particular commodities on a weekly, monthly or annual basis. Liverpool and London also have a 'B' series of Bills, which record the customs revenue on particular goods, and the names of the merchants who paid the duties. The key strength of the Bills is their unique linkage of traders to ships and commodities: no other source offers this level of detail in tracing the involvement of merchants and agents to particular voyages and cargoes. Evidence for the involvement of individual merchants tends to diminish after the mid-19th century in many trades because increasing quantities of material are simply consigned 'to order', with no merchant named. In addition, lists of export commodities have no mention of the merchants involved. Finding a particular vessel in the Bills is only feasible if an approximate date of arrival or departure is known: there is no indexing. For more quantitative projects, even a small sample from the Bills, is very time consuming to transcribe and interpret. Researchers should make sure the information they seek cannot be found in more accessible form elsewhere: for example, the total quantity of a particular commodity handled can be found in the Annual Return of Trade and Navigation (Parliamentary Papers) much more quickly than counting each record from the Bills.