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Excise men of all ranks

Greathead Excise Officers and what they did

The National Archives at Kew holds the Excise Minute books, the indexes of which are on 700 microfiche under CUST 47.  The total years covered are 1695 - 1867. 

1683 .. The Country Excise was divided into 39 areas, which were called Collections. These areas were loosely based on County boundaries. Wales was divided into 4 Ridings, East, West, North and Middle. Each Collection was headed by a Collector, with a number of Districts under the control of Supervisors. The Officers - or Gaugers, as they were still called - were normally centred in the market towns, with some of the larger towns having more than one Officer. The area in a town was called a "Division", whereas the country outside was called an "Out-Ride". In London the Officers were grouped into brewery and distillery Gougers. Each Gauge was responsible for a small number of brewers or distillers in his area. This system of concentration of Staff was a feature of the reorganisation of the Excise in 1960.

1687 .. In 1687 a "Charity Fund" was established to support "old and disabled" Officers. This was the earliest example of a superannuation scheme in the Civil Service: it predates a similar Customs fund by about 60 years. A deduction of 3d. in the £1 was made, and a pension of £10 was granted to Gougers. The only conditions were that the Officer had to have served at least 7 years and not be in receipt of any income equal to the pension. These improvements in salary, pension, and training produced what Dave Nant, the Excise Commissioner, was proud to call "such a set of men as perhaps no prince had better employed in his revenue".

1688 During October 1688, while the preparations for the invasion of the country by William of Orange were in hand, Samuel Peps, Secretary to the Navy, issued a letter to all collectors at the sea ports.... (regarding "foreign invaders").

1781 - 1786 .. Like the Customs, the Excise Department was subjected to rigorous scrutiny by the Parliamentary Committees during 1781 - 1786. However, unlike the Customs, the Excise on the whole escaped relatively unscathed from the ordeal, and even received some credit for its able administration. The enquiries revealed virtually no sinecure posts, and hardly any fees. The Excise Commissioners were justifiably proud of the low cost of collection of the many and varied duties, and were constantly alive to the possibilities of even further economies. However, they were being continually petitioned by their officers for some improvements in their salaries: the salary problem had not been resolved since Paine's famous petition. (Excise salaries had not been altered since the beginning of the century. Paine published a pamphlet in 1772 entitled, The Case of the Officers of Excise).

1782 .. From as early as 1700 Customs Officers were expressly forbidden to "use any influence in Parliamentary elections". In 1711 this ban was extended to include Excise Officers. In 1782 a Bill was passed debarring all officers from voting. It was not until 1867 that they received the vote.

1788 . Early in 1788 the Excise Board saw a way to achieve some consolidation in posts and accounts, thereby obtaining a substantial saving of salaries, and at the same time to increase the salaries of the remaining Officers. 760 Officers, almost a quarter of the Staff working in Collections were made redundant, the remaining Officers' areas were enlarged at a gross saving of £46,000. It became the biggest reorganisation ever introduced into the Excise. The very meagre salary increases - on average only £5 per year - did little to assuage the Officers demands for a "respectable remuneration".

1800 In December 1800, the Treasury capitulated and agreed to some increases, which ranged from £15 for Officers to £30 for Collectors.

DUTIES OF AN EXCISE OFFICER - So what were the duties of a Ride Officer in the Excise? Firstly, the expression "Ride" is very descriptive. A Collection was a County sized area split into Divisions, which were further split into Rides. A Ride was an area that one man on horseback, (thus Ride), could cover to perform his duties of assessing and collecting Duty. Excise duty was levied on many products and the list of products changed with time. The necessities of life - meat, salt, leather, beer, clothes were all affected and the Excise Officer had wide powers of entry and search. Duty on brewing and distilling were the major part of the role. John was an Excise Officer during the era of the very unpopular candle tax, (taxed at 1d a pound). We know from the Minutes that he had to be present at two stages of the candle making process.

As far as brewers and brewing are concerned, the duties of the Excise Officer have changed very little over the centuries since John was working. He would have to visit the brewery on two occasions during the brewing of a particular brew of beer. Firstly, the process starts with the mash. This is where the water, malt and hops are all heated together in a huge vat. Measurements of quantity were taken at this stage. When the brewing and fermenting process were completed, the Excise Officer would test the beer for its alcoholic content and quantity. Duty was levied on these figures.

The Officer would have to keep a Journal and various Books detailing his assessment of duty due and amounts. These records were regularly inspected by his Supervisor. Inevitably, such close contact with breweries and beer led to occasional recordings of intoxicated Officers and subsequent punishment or dismissal from the service.

It is clear that in order to perform his duties, an Excise Officer would of necessity had to have been both able to read and write well and possess a good grasp of arithmetic for the calculations involved. This at a time when many would sign their name on documents with their mark; a simple cross.


Henry Greathead  
John Greathead  

Francis Greathead

ID 2554 father of ID 2578

Francis was appointed Assistant Excise Officer in March 1797 in Rotherham 1st Division, Sheffield. By August that year he moved to Louth 1st Division in Lincolnshire. In October 1800 he was moved to what was called the Head of the Board in Sheffield 9th Division. In July 1807 it seems he moved from Sheffield 9th Division to Barnsley and then in March 1810 he went to Towcaster in Bedford. He then seems to have become and Examiner and moved around the country filling in for other Officers who became ill. In May 1810 he filled in for William Avery in Topsham, then in August 1810 he filled in for John Collins Supervisor of Dorking District Supex Collection and then later that year in December he filled in for Thomas Fisher Supervisor of Cardiff District Wales East Collection. In February 1811 he was promoted to Senior Examiner and went to East Grinstead District Sussex where his daughter Elisa was born. In March 1814 he was transferred to Dorking where in June 1815 he was Supervisor of Dorking District Sussex Collection having on 13 April he gave account for 276 Sheep Skins being the whole of the Stock, although in fact 266 only were produced to and reweighed by him, he did not acquaint the Board of this irregularity, he was then demoted to Station of a Foot Walk Officer, and moved to Dudley 5th Division Wolverhampton Collection. In April 1819 he is reported for making several errors and is sent for reinstruction. By July 1819 he is moved to be 1st Assistant in Shrewsbury. By July 1820 he has moved to Haddon 2nd Ride Northampton Collection, but in February he is declared as awaiting a vacancy

Francis Greathead

ID 2578 son of ID 2554

Francis was Officer in Stourbridge 4th Division and at his own request was moved to Bindley 2nd Division in August 1828.  In May 1829 he moved on to Bindley 1st Division.

Francis Greathead

ID 13395 father of

ID 18908

Francis appears in the Excise Minute books as a writer in Lancaster in July 1787. In April 1788 he was moved from Hornby, near Bedale in Yorkshire to Burnley in Lancashire.  In January 1789 he went to Clitheroe, where his son Thomas was born in 1792. In July 1793 he went to Chorley, later moving in December 1795 to Preston. In 1797 he went to Staindrop where his daughter Rebecca was born in January 1802, later that year he moved to Barnard Castle in June 1807, then Bishop Auckland in 1813, then Ripley, a new ride in Bedale. His death was minuted in January 1827 as being an Officer of Helmsley Ride, Whitby Collection.

Francis Greathead

ID 18908 son of ID 13395

Francis was Officer at Richmond Division Whitby Collection and he moved in December 1841 to Yarmouth 2nd Division to replace the Officer on Norwich as he was ill.  A new Yarmouth Division was set up and in 1843 and Francis moved.  He then in 1847 he went to Norwich 7th Division.  However he became ill here and did not work for nearly a year and he was given a pension of £66 per annum.  He died on 22 November 1855

William Greathead

ID 3678

William was given instruction in May 1731 and was given his first position in September that year in Lynn.  In  September 1733 he married the daughter of a common brewer and moved to Luckham. In June 1740 he moved to Durham, Lynn.  He was declared dead in the minutes of 4 October 1744

Thomas Greathead

ID 17101 father of

ID 13395

Thomas was trained in 1754 in Ulverstone to be an Exciseman. he was then appointed supernumerary in Sheffield Collection. In 1757 he was transferred to Worksop. On 6 October 1758 he failed to minute a recurring problem and keep accurate records. He was twice repremanded and once admonished within three years. It was then ordered that he be discharged from the service 

Thomas Greathead


Thomas was Officer of Thirsk 1st Ride in 1823 when he was transferred to Helmsley Ride Whitby Collection

Featherstone Greathead

ID 5618

Featherstone seems to have joined in 1834, being instructed in Surrey.  In 1835 he was posted to Manchester and later Newport 5th Rise, Shropshire.  In 1837 he went to Hatfield Ride, Hertfordshire Collection. In 1838 he went North to Aloe 7th Division Stirling Collection. and later Glasgow 21 Division and back to Aloe.  Then in 1842 he went South to London 3rd Division and later Lambeth 3rd Division.  He incurred the displeasure of the Board in 1844 and was moved to Lynn 1st Division.  Later again he incurred displeasure in 1845 and was moved to Hull 5th Division.  After a third misdemeanour here he was dismissed on Friday 30 October 1846.  His petition the following year was rejected
William Matthew Greathead ID 11212 William was an officer of HM Customs and Excise man in Folkestone in 1911 and Assistant Immigration Officer in Edinburgh in 1920