The Inland Revenue

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In Issue 4, in an article headed "The mists of time", we left the safety of Devon and crossed the river Tamar into the wild land of Cornwall for our first meeting with 17th century members of that ancient family of Stentifords who lived in and around the little port of Calstock.

This was long before the town and port of Dock was built; it was even before the tiny hamlet at the mouth of the River Plym began to think of itself as a fishing village. It was a time when the Stentifords and a handful of similar families used Calstock as a place to trade woollen goods, tin and other metals with merchants who came from as far away as the Mediterranean. 


From Calstock, the inhabitants could command the southern bank of the River Tamar all the way to its junction with the sea. Along the shore were tiny jetties backed by lime kilns where local traders could buy lime for their fields or salmon for their tables.

Lime kilns on Halton Quay on the banks 

Lime kilns on Halton Quay on the banks 

of the River Tamar


And now, let's go back yet another three hundred years to the winter of 1303/04. No need to use our imaginations for there are documents to tell us what happened to one Richard Stitifor and 20 of his companions at that time. It would appear that these naughty lads had been on a ship-wrecking and pillaging spree in the Tamar Estuary and were hauled up in court to receive their punishment - not, as you might expect, imprisonment for the wrecking and pillaging, but to receive hefty fines for the far more serious crime of avoiding paying the revenue due to the Crown on the contents of their victims' vessels - mainly luxury goods like brandy, silks and spices.

And here is a salutary lesson for all family historians: of all the documents that abound in our Churches, Registrar's Offices,  Record Centres and Libraries, none has been more closely guarded or as widely preserved as the Returns and Demands of the Crown's taxation system - known to us today as the Inland Revenue. Seven hundred years after Richard Stitifor's misdeeds have been forgotten, his "fine" - and those of his 20 companions -  is still on record. There, in the accounts of Thomas de la Hide, the Steward of Cornwall, dated 1303/04, are the details of the 26 shillings each man had to pay into the coffers of King Edward I - about 600 per man from 21 men comes to nearly 13,000 in today's money - and that was just one small item on a single page listing dozens and dozens of  similar "fines" for that area of Cornwall alone.


Halton Quay

Halton Quay on the Cornish bank of the River Tamar. The tiny Chapel marks the spot where Celtic saints St. Indract and his sister St. Dominica are said to have landed in 689 AD

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