Old British Customs ensign
Old British Customs ensign

Filled with handwritten details from customs officials of the movement of all manner of goods across the border between 1937 and 1945, the 100-page register is an intriguing chronicle of goods confiscated and the lawsuits against smugglers.

Donated to the Headhunters Railway Museum in Enniskillen by Arlene Little, the register is primarily a record of goods seized at the customs post at Pettigo Station, maintained by Irish Customs and Excise officers.

The border runs through Pettigo, that side called Tullyhommon, and just as interesting as the Irish Register is the UK government’s official customs requirements manual relating to “traffic from Great Britain to the Irish Free State and Ireland of the North ”, printed in London in 1930.

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British Government Customs Requirements Manual, 1930

It says “Private and not for publication” on the cover, but this is probably no longer applicable after almost a century!

As with the seizure register, the detail is intense, the wording is meticulous, the language is precise and bureaucratic gibberish abounds!

The procedures are further complicated by the fact that the costs relate to taxable and non-taxable goods as well as transport.

There are 26 tightly printed pages in two parts – one covering traffic from Great Britain to the Irish Free State (ten pages), and the second part focusing on traffic from Great Britain to the Irish Free State. Northern Ireland (three pages).

There are also nine pages of appendices under A, B and C containing additional specifications and explanations, and four pages at the end containing an alphabetical index for traffic from Great Britain to the Irish Free State. and a separate index for traffic from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.

The manual describes in detail the customs requirements of the UK Railway Clearing House (RCH), a massive operation originally established in London in 1842 to clear or distribute the revenue from transit traffic of British Railways and numerous Irish railway companies and shipping ports. .

From the start of the manual today – more to follow – part one is about goods and livestock carried by freight or passenger services from Britain to the Irish Free State

Immediately, a very important settlement is highlighted.

With the threat of “heavy penalties” for non-compliance, it clearly states that “a detailed declaration of content, value, quantity, origin and final destination must be obtained for all traffic to the Irish Free State ”.

But this strict ruling does not apply in five specific cases.

“Declarations are not required” underlines the manual “for empty drums returned to MM. A. Guinness, Sons and Co Ltd., MM. John Jameson and Co Ltd., MM. John Power and Son Ltd., MM. Watkins, Jameson and Pim, and The Mountjoy Brewery Company.

British Customs and Excise undoubtedly knew their priorities!

The details of “principal dutiable goods in the Irish Free State” as categorized, referenced and sub-referenced in the manual, are seemingly endless, with additional precision “this list should not be taken as exhaustive and traders questioning responsibility for particular goods to be cleared are referred to the Irish Free State’s official import list.

Before looking at a random selection from the list, a note on “Country of origin or production” rings a relevant bell!

For natural products, the manual defines “Country of origin or production” as “the country where the goods were manufactured and, in the case of manufactured products, the country where they were processed in the state in which they are introduced into the Irish Free State.

“In the case of blended or blended products containing constituents from different countries, the quantity and value of these constituents must be indicated separately. “

And this particular declaration form must (in capital letters!) “Be completed in duplicate” with the full name of the sender as well as his signature, and “a rubber stamp alone is not allowed for the signature”!

Today’s page ends with some of the “Principle Duties in the Irish Free State” from the 1930s, with another reminder “this list should not be considered exhaustive” .

In alphabetical order, “A” for Ale is followed by “Blacking (and polishs) containing sugar or other sweeteners”.

Presumably, it says on the box whether the shoe polish is sweet or bitter, and staying with the letter “B” are boots (and shoes, including slippers, galoshes, clogs, and sandals) with the prerequisite important “shaped rubber soles and heels be attached.”

Bottles and (glass) jars (empty) were considered dutiable, as were, of course, bottles and (glass) jars (containing dutiable goods)!

Next comes the butter, then the candles, the cards (playing), the chocolate and the cider, with cocoa and currants (dried) all requiring full details in duplicate from the country (s) of origin… and across the ‘alphabet via “knives, forks and spoons with wooden handles” and “rosaries and their parts” to “W” for woven fabrics.

Woven fabrics are handkerchiefs, or “handkerchiefs” as I called them when I was a child, but under UK customs regulations they are given full treatment.

“Woven fabrics, made wholly or in part of wool, or of combed wool, imported in piece – (i) of a width of 12 inches or more; (ii) or the weight of seven ounces or more per square meter; (iii) with a value greater than 2s. 6d. per square meter.

In other words – don’t sneeze!

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