Home Site Map Back

New Custom House.

This extensive and magnificent edifice has recently been erected, to obviate the great inconvenience arising from the inadequate size of the former building; and to concentrate various departments of this branch of the revenue which before were, for want of room, necessarily distributed in remote situations.

The astonishing and rapid increase of the commerce of London, and the country in general, had long since called for the adoption of this measure, to afford the requisite facilities to the business of the revenue, and to accommodate the immense concourse of commercial men of all nations who are congregated at this spot; also to confer a suitable dignity on so important a branch of the public service, and keep pace with the rise of national opulence.

After much deliberation on the expediency of altering and enlarging the old custom-house, the project was abandoned as impracticable, to the extent required; and the present structure, as designed by Mr. Laing the architect, was ordered to be erected on the adjacent ground towards Billingsgate dock, which was then covered with numerous streets, quays, and warehouses, chiefly belonging to the crown. It was thus proposed to have removed the business from the old building to the present one, with scarcely any interruption; but before the foundations were quite completed, the dreadful fire took place in Feb. 1814, by which this arrangement was entirely frustrated, and the absolute necessity of the present building rendered still more pressing and important.

The first stone of the new building was laid on the 25th of Oct., 18l3, (being the 53d anniversary of his majesty's accession to the throne) on which occasion Lord Liverpool officiated, attended by some of his colleagues in the administration, and the Commissioners of the Board of Customs.

In the stone was deposited a glass urn, containing the several current coins of the realm ; various medals, illustrative of the great events and personages of the present era; and one engraved with an elevation of the building, inscribed on the reverse with the names of the commissioners, secretary, and architect.—On a brass plate inserted in the stone, was also an inscription of the date, with the names of the founders, &c.

The general character of this building is that of plainness and solidity, being chiefly designed for the convenience of business, which it so extensively comprises; but from its great magnitude, and the simplicity and just proportions of its parts, the effect is grand and imposing.

The south front towards the Thames, together with those towards the east and west, are faced with Portland stone; and the north front is chiefly of brick; but there is an entire continuity of parts throughout, so that the unity of design is preserved, notwithstanding the variation of materials. The centre of the river-front, which comprises the length of the long room, has a series of nine lofty windows, over which in the attic are two continued pannels, enriched with alto-relievos, in artificial stone, the subjects characteristic of the purposes of the building. The centre is crowned with a colossal group, consisting of two allegorical figures of Industry and plenty, supporting an hour-dial of nine feet diameter. The entrance to the king's warehouse in the centre, on the ground-floor, is through a massive stone arch; over the projection of which are placed recumbent colossal figures of earth and ocean, and between them the royal arms. The facade of each of the wings is enriched with an hexastyle colonnade, standing on a projecting basement, and balustrades in the attic story.

These comprise nearly all the architectural decorations externally; and within they are still more sparingly distributed. The Long Room is the most striking object, from its great extent and grandeur of effect. Its length is 190 feet, by 66 feet wide, and about 55 feet high in the centre; being nearly the largest room in Europe, wherein the roof has no intermediate support. The ceiling is formed by three flat domes, springing from segment arches; the whole variously pannelled, and enriched with rosettes and other ornaments, in an elegant style. The board-room and the corridor leading to it, are decorated with architectural ornaments; but the finishing of nearly all the other parts is confined to a judicious neatness alone.

The basement, and story comprising the cellars for receiving goods under the king's lock, is vaulted with brick-work throughout; as is a great part of the ground-floor, and all the corridors and passages. The building is, by this, and numerous other precautions, rendered in a great measure indestructible by fire, and various incombustible rooms are distributed throughout, for the depositing of books and important documents. Iron doors are also provided, to shut out at night the communication between the centre and wings, that in case of accident, the fire may not possibly spread to any great extent.

For the convenience of the various branches into which this service is divided, and the building distributed, there are numerous entrances on all sides, with, separate staircases, and communications to prevent confusion. The two principal entrances for the public are from Thames-street, having a public hall to each; through which you approach to the grand staircase, terminating in a lobby at top, which opens immediately into the Long Room. The great transit of persons resorting to the Long Room is thus divided, and the crowd and confusion avoided, that too commonly occur, where the principal entrance is in the centre of a public building.

The extensive and complicated combinations which this edifice comprises, must obtain for the architect that unqualified approbation which he has so well merited.

The New Custom House was opened for public business on the 12th of May, 1817; and is now deservedly ranked among the most celebrated public buildings of this metropolis.

A new wharf has since been constructed in front of it, towards the river, in a most substantial manner, with large water-stairs for the public at each end; and a part of Billingsgate Dock filled up: all which are great improvements to the neighhourhood; and we understand that government have it in contemplation to take down the houses to the northwards, and widen Thames-street, which is much wanted as a completion of this great work of public convenience and utility.

Other London Buildings:

St. James's Palace

Buckingham House Palace

Carlton House

Kensington Palace

Lambeth Palace

St. James's Park

The Green Park

Hyde Park

The Regent's Park

Westminster Hall

The House of Lords

House of Commons

Courts of Justice

Tower of London

The New Mint

The Monument

Mansion House

East India House

The Bank of England

The Royal Exchange

The Auction Mart

Trinity House

Excise Office

General Post Office


Temple Bar

The Adelphi

Somerset House

Charing Cross

Horse Guards

The Treasury

Admiralty Office


King's Mews

New Court House, or Westminster Guildhall

Northumberland House

General List of other Noblemen's Residences

Source: Leigh's New Picture of London. Printed for Samuel Leigh, 18, Strand;
by W. Clowes, Northumberland Court. 1819