PortCities London

The Customs Service


A view of the Custom House.
View full size imageA view of the Custom House. © NMM

The English customs system was created in the Middle Ages as a way of generating revenue for the Treasury. Customs duties were taxes imposed on goods imported and exported through the ports.

Officers and searchers at Tunnel Pier.
View full size imageOfficers and searchers at Tunnel Pier. © NMM
Unlike many taxes, customs duties were easy to collect and difficult to avoid. Though they were never popular, they did not lead to some of the disasters associated with other taxes. Customs duties were one of the most reliable sources of public revenue for many centuries.


Customs duties still generate revenue, but the modern Customs Service has far wider functions. Its roles include the prevention of international trade in drugs, illegal goods and other socially harmful products.

Find out more about the present-day work of Her Majesty's Customs and Excise:


   Back to Smuggling and its prevention