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United Kingdom: HM Revenue and Customs

Last modified: 2016-11-03 by rob raeside
Keywords: customs vessels | revenue service | portcullis | chains | hmrc |
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[Customs] image by Graham Bartram, 7 June 2001

The current version of the Customs flag has a large badge, and the modern St. Edward's crown. Before 1999, the badge was smaller, and before 1952 the flag was charged with the imperial crown
Source:World Flag Database, by Graham Bartram, 7 June 2001

The present Customs' Blue Ensign was the result of a request, made to the Admiralty in 1948, for a new badge that was more distinctive than the Royal Crown then in use. A portcullis surmounted by a crown which had been the seal of the office since at least Tudor times (16th century) was suggested. This had been used on the pennant of the Commissioner of Customs since 1905, and also been adopted as a badge by the Waterguard Preventive Service. Red was not thought to be a good colour on a blue background and the badge in gold was approved by the Admiralty on 16th August 1948. The new flags were announced in Customs Weekly Order 32/1949. One ensign was issued to each launch and pontoon, one burgee to each station, but not to be flown until 6th August 1949. The old ensign was to continue in use on buildings as the main stock would not be available until April 1950.
[Public Record Office ADM 1/21246 and CUST 49/3120]
David Prothero
, 8 June 2001

Her Majesty's Revenue & Customs (HMRC) was formed on 18 April 2005, following the merger of Inland Revenue and Her Majesty's Customs and Excise. A summary of the functions and powers of HMRC is available on their website here http://www.hmrc.gov.uk/menus/aboutmenu.htm.
Colin Dobson, 6 June 2006


Burgee

[Customs] image by Kryštof Huk, 15 October 2016

The broad pendant version of the flag of Her Majesty's Customs. A (rectangular) flag version can be seen at H. Gresham Carr (editor): Flags of the World, NY & London 1953, opp. p. 26 on Plate V, image 12
Klaus-Michael Schneider, 8 October 2016


For more details, see:

See also:


Customs Ensign and Jack, 1694-1800

A Royal Proclamation of 1694 introduced a special jack for ships in Their Majesties' Service; a red flag with a Union canton and the Seal of the Office in the fly. The usual seal of the Customs Board was the Royal Arms, but the badge on the flag was a castellated Custom House with archway and portcullis. St George's cross continued to be the canton of ensigns until 1707. After 1731 the Seal of the Office could be in the fly of the jack, or of the ensign.

Vessels working for the Customs Board were sometimes supplied by the Navy and flew pendants. Customs vessels copied this practice. A letter of 1699 showed that the Admiralty were inclined to think that Customs vessels might not wear a pendant, and were confident that if they did, it should be different from the naval pendants. However Customs cruisers which were empowered to act as privateers, had permission from the Admiralty to wear naval colours, as long as they were still in the Customs Service.
David Prothero, 11 September 2005

[Ensigns of Customs Vessels] by Martin Grieve, 11 September 2005

The flag above is representative of the type of flag that might have been used by Customs vessels in the 18th century. The proportions of the flags, and the position and size of the badge, which could be either yellow or white, probably varied. The image is based on an illustration in Entick's "Naval History" of 1757, and is similar to an illustration in Brightly and Childs flag book of 1813.
David Prothero, 11 September 2005

Pendant

[Ensigns of Customs Vessels]
by Martin Grieve, 11 September 2005

Excise Flag 1760

[Ensigns of Customs Vessels] by Martin Grieve, 11 September 2005

Excise duties, which were levied on goods produced and consumed in Great Britain, were the responsibility of a separate Board with its own Maritime Department. The flag was described in a letter written by Thomas Paine to Oliver Goldsmith in 1760. "A red flag with Union Jack in one quarter of the upper left corner, crown supported by star containing EX in right hand half." The image here is based on this description.
David Prothero, 11 September 2005


Jack or Ensign of Irish Customs and Excise c1768

[Ensign of Irish Customs Vessels] by Martin Grieve, 12 September 2005

Ireland had a separate Board of Customs and Excise. An Order of 17 December 1768 stated that pendants were not allowed to Revenue cutters, only a "Jack or Ensign with harp and crown, the seal of office, in the body." The image here is based on this description.
David Prothero, 12 September 2005

Customs Chase Flag 1784-1800

[Customs Chase Flag 1784-1800] by Martin Grieve, 12 September 2005

Revenue Cutters were permitted to fire upon chased vessels that did not bring-to after being ordered to stop. Under section 23 of the 1784 Act for the Prevention of Smuggling (24 Geo III chap.47), Customs personnel were indemnified against prosecution for any damages or injury they might cause, providing they had previously hoisted a defaced Blue Ensign and Pendant. Section 24 made owners and/or commanders of merchant ships that hoisted the flags of HM ships or Revenue vessels liable to a fine of Five Hundred Pounds. A similar Act was passed in Ireland in 1797.
David Prothero, 12 September 2005

Pendant

[Customs Blue Pendant 1784-18??]
by Martin Grieve, 11 September 2005

Customs Blue Pendant 1784-18?? is based on the assumption that the Blue Ensign and Pendant were similar to the red versions.
David Prothero, 12 September 2005


Customs Flags after the 1801 flag change

The canton of all Revenue flags changed after the Union between Great Britain and Ireland in 1801. The proclamation of 1801 further confused the matter of the correct flags to fly when chasing a suspected smuggler.

"18th March 1807; Order of Custom House, Edinburgh.
"Geo 24 being still in force it is necessary to hoist pendant and ensign with such marks as were then used by vessels in service of Customs in a blue field. 1801 proclamation requires a red field. Must hoist Blue Ensign before firing, as well as wearing Red Ensign."

This was repeated on 18 February 1812 in the Scottish Customs Board Instructions to Commanders of Cruisers. "To hoist during chase, pendant and ensign in a blue field, as well as the pendant and ensign red field as provided under 1 January 1801."
David Prothero, 14 September 2005

Customs Red Ensign 1801-1816

[Customs Red Ensign, 1801-1816] by Martin Grieve, 14 September 2005

Customs Chase Flag 1801-18??

[Customs Chase Flag, 1801-18??] by Martin Grieve, 14 September 2005

Excise Flag 1801-1816

[Excise Flag, 1801-1816] by Martin Grieve, 14 September 2005


Excise Ensign 1816

[Excise Flag, 1816] by Martin Grieve, 15 September 2005

Customs Cruisers came under Admiralty control on 5th April 1816. A Board General Letter of 31st July 1816 circulated an Admiralty Instructions that Commanders of HM Cruisers employed in the prevention of smuggling were not to wear colours used in Royal Navy but the ensign and pendant provided for vessels by the Revenue Board. The Excise badge was changed to white on a Blue Ensign, and a similar badge with crown and letters CH in yellow on a Red Ensign was introduced for Customs. The same badges were used on Red and Blue Pendants for Customs and Excise respectively.
David Prothero, 15 September 2005

Excise Pendant 1816

[Excise Pendant, 1816]
by Martin Grieve, 15 September 2005

Revenue Cruiser Ensign 1816

[Revenue Cruiser Ensign, 1816] by Martin Grieve, 15 September 2005

Revenue Cruiser Pendant 1816

[Revenue Cruiser Pendant 1816]
by Martin Grieve, 15 September 2005


Customs Ensign 1817-1873

[Customs Ensign 1817] by Martin Grieve, 16 September 2005

In less than twelve months the stars and letters were removed from the badge, leaving just the crown.
"Prince Regent in Council, 1 February 1817, Court at Carlton House.
All vessels employed in the prevention of smuggling under the authority of the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty or Lords Commissioners of the Treasury or Commissioners of the Customs and Excise shall be allowed to wear a pendant with a red field having a regal crown described thereon at the upper part next the mast, and for an ensign a Red Jack with a Union Jack in a canton at the upper corner thereof next the staff with a regal crown described in the centre of the Red Jack, instead of the pendant and ensign appointed by the Royal Proclamation 18 December 1702 and 1 January 1801 to be worn by ships and vessels employed for HM service by the Commissioners for Customs and Excise."

A Plymouth Dockyard drawing of the Ensign and Pendant made for Revenue Vessels, shows the ensign with proportions of 8:15, and the pendant marked as 35 feet long. (10.66m).

In 1822 the United Kingdom Board of Customs and Excise, formed by merging the English Board of Customs, English Board of Excise, Scots Board of Customs, Scots Board of Excise and Irish Board of Customs and Excise, took over responsibility for the Revenue Cruisers. Under the Coast Guard Act of 1856 they were returned to the Admiralty. Canadian Customs continued to use the ensign when jurisdiction was transferred to Canada in 1850.
David Prothero, 16 September 2005

Customs Pendant 1817-18??

[Customs Ensign 1817-18??]
by Martin Grieve, 16 September 2005

Customs Ensign 1842

[Customs Ensign 1842] by Martin Grieve, 16 September 2005

A Red Ensign with a crown above CH all in yellow is not mentioned in any literature, but appears in R.H. Laurie's flag chart of 1842, reproduced in Timothy Wilson's 'Flags at Sea.'
David Prothero, 16 September 2005


Customs Ensign 1873-1949

[Customs Ensign 1873-1949] by Martin Grieve, 17 September 2005

In 1864 an Order in Council abolished Squadron Colours, and Blue replaced Red as the colour of the ensigns of "all vessels employed in the service of any public office; by vessels employed under the Transport Department, and the Civil Departments of the Navy."

In 1872 the Admiralty asked Customs if their Ensign was Red with letters CH above a crown. The Controller Outports Department wrote; "For many years letters CH have been on flags used on buildings and stationary vessels, but that Vigilant, and I believe all other Revenue Cruisers had no such letters on flags, and as the Coast Guard is no longer under the control of the Board, it is for consideration whether the letters are now necessary." Customs wrote to the Admiralty, that the flag was correct except for CH which should be omitted. It seems that when the 1864 Order was drafted the Admiralty were not aware that Customs operated any vessels, and therefore did not cancel the Order of 1817. Customs assumed that the 1864 Order did not apply to them and continued to use a defaced Red Ensign.

The Admiralty now reminded Customs of Circular No.35 of 1864; "Ships and vessels in the service of any public office shall carry the Blue Ensign and a small blue flag with the Union described therein." Customs changed over to a Blue Ensign with crown, which was also flown ashore on Custom Houses. The image here shows the ensign with the style of crown in use after 1901. Canadian Customs continued to use the Red Ensign with crown until 1911.

In 1928 the Royal Burnham Yacht Club was granted a Blue Ensign defaced with a royal crown. A similar ensign had been granted to the Royal Canadian Yacht Club, Toronto, in 1878.
David Prothero, 17 September 2005

Customs Burgee 1873-1926

[Customs Burgee 1873-1926] by Martin Grieve, 17 September 2005

The "small blue flag with the Union described therein" was normally a square jack, but Customs were authorised by Admiralty letter, NS 4379/6603 of 26 September 1873 to have their "small blue flag", in the form of a swallow-tail flown from the mast. It came to be used to indicate that a Waterguard Superintendent or higher Customs Officer was on board a vessel wearing it, while a triangular version without the swallow-tail was used on hulks and buildings as a re-call signal. This image shows the Burgee with the style of crown that might have been used in the 19th century. In 1926 all Blue Burgees/Pennants were withdrawn.
David Prothero, 17 September 2005

Commissioner's Burgee 1905-current

[Commissioner's Burgee 1905-current] by Martin Grieve, 17 September 2005

A red bordered white burgee with red crown and portcullis was authorised in 1905 to be hoisted on any Customs vessel when the Commissioner of Customs was on board. It was made in two sizes, 7 feet by 3.5, and 4 by 2. (214 x 107 and 122 x 61cms).
David Prothero, 17 September 2005

Norie and Hobbs (1848) show a blue ensign with in the middle fly (maybe slightly moved out) a crown. Below that a six-pointed yellow star, slightly fat, with a double edge, with a white circle touching the inner-points of the inner edge with in it what probably should be yellow letters "CH" (sans-serif).  They also show a red ensign, same crown with below it yellow letters "C H" (note the space), together slightly wider than the crown, though not quite as high), and an excise flag, 
also a red ensign and the letters are "EX".
Peter Hans van den Muijzenberg, 12 November 2001

At the time of Norie and Hobb's chart the Excise Department dealt with taxes on goods produced in Britain, while the Customs Department dealt with taxes on those imported from overseas. Excise then became part of the Inland Revenue Department, but in 1909 amalgamated with Customs to form the Collectors of Customs and Excise.
David Prothero, 16 November 2001

Sources: information derived from National Archives (PRO) ADM 1/8537/242, CUST 49/828, CUST 143/11, CUST 143/12, CUST 143/16, CUST 143/17, and CUST 143/18. Also "Flags for Revenue Cutters and Cruisers" by Alec A. Purves in 'Model Shipwright' March 1979.


Twentieth Century usage

The crown and portcullis badge replaced the crown badge at the request of Customs and Excise, who wanted a more distinctive badge than the crown that was also used by other public departments. The new badge was approved by the Admiralty 16th August 1948, but at the request of Customs and Excise not brought into use until 6th August 1949.

The crown badge had been introduced by an Order in Council of 1st February 1817, at first on the Red Ensign, but after 1872 on the Blue Ensign.

The first Customs flag was authorised by Royal Proclamation of 12th July 1694. The Customs ensign was plain red with a canton of St George in the upper hoist and, a white or yellow castellated gateway with portcullis, in the fly. The Customs jack had a Union canton. The St George's cross canton was replaced by the 1606 Union in 1707, which was replaced by the present Union in 1801. In 1731 the Regulations for HM Service at Sea stated that the seal of the Board of Customs could be on the jack or the ensign. In 1784 the colour of the flag was changed to Blue, however it is not clear whether all Customs ensigns were blue between 1784 and 1801, or whether the Blue Ensign was used only on special occasions. An Act for the Prevention of Smuggling [24 Geo III chap.47, sec.23], directed that Revenue cruisers, when ordering suspect vessels to heave-to, were to hoist an ensign and pendant with the seal of the Board on a blue field. In order to conceal their identity, Revenue cruisers often flew no flag, or perhaps a plain Red Ensign, and hoisted the Blue Ensign and Pendant when necessary. However I think that on Customs Houses and on preventive Customs vessels, the defaced Red Ensign or Red Jack might have continued in use. After 1801 it became more complicated. The Royal Proclamation that introduced the present Union Jack and Ensigns, instructed all vessels employed for the Public Service to wear a plain Red Ensign and a Red Jack having the seal of the office employing them in the fly. The proclamation did not cancel the act of 1784. Thus when giving chase Revenue cruisers had to fly a Red Ensign and a Blue Ensign.

18 March 1807. Order of Custom House, Edinburgh. Geo 24 being still in force it is necessary to hoist pendant and ensign with such marks as were then used by vessels in service of Customs in a blue field. 1801 proclamation requires a red field. Must hoist Blue Ensign before firing, as well as wearing Red Ensign.

This was repeated 18 February 1812. Scottish Customs Board; Instruction to Commanders of Cruisers. To hoist during chase, pendant and ensign in a blue field, as well as the pendant and ensign red field as provided under 1 January 1801. [Public Record Office CUST 143/11]
 

Between 1815 and 1817 when the Royal Navy operated the Revenue fleet, Customs vessels flew a Red Ensign with a yellow crown above an eight-pointed yellow star having a red circle with the letters CH in yellow in the fly, while the Excise vessels flew a Blue Ensign with a similar badge except that the star was white and blue and the letters EX.

Information from Public Record Office document ADM 1/21246 and "Flags for Revenue Cutters and Cruisers" by A.A.Purves, an article in the Model Shipwright of March 1979.
David Prothero, 25 September 2000, augmented 15 March 2003

Actual flag dimensions did not always correspond to the theoretical proportions. In the article on Revenue Cutter Flags, referred to above, Alex Purves gave the dimensions of some 19th century Customs flags that he had examined in the Customs and Excise Library. "The sizes vary, and the following measurements are probably the original dimensions before the material shrank or frayed out." (I have changed 'feet and inches' to just inches - 10 inches are roughly 25 centimetres.)

84 x 180 with a union canton of 42 x 90
90 x 126 union 39 x 81
36 x 57 union 18 x 27
26 x 36 union 12 x 15.5

Giving proportions of approximately,

7 : 15
3 : 4 union 1 : 2
12 : 19 union 6 : 9
5 : 7 union 4 : 5

Presumably the squarish flags were jacks and not ensigns.
David Prothero, 25 September 2000
 
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