JOHN MARKS 1754 - 1817

If you are a family member reading this, then John Marks was at least your gt.gt.gt. Grandfather. He could be as many as your 6 times great Grandfather.

To date he is the earliest Marks that we can trace with 100% certainty. We know about his marriage and his career in great detail but proving which of several John Marks's born in 1754 he actually is, is a big problem. John was almost certainly born somewhere just south of Birmingham. All the possible candidates for a 1754 birth are in a belt across that region. Our number one candidate was born in Newport Pagnell in 1754 to John Marks & Mary Marks née Nelson who married on 15th December 1751 in Newport Pagnell.

What we can say with absolute certainty is that John was appointed an Excise Officer in 1777 aged 23 and he was still an Excise Officer when he died in 1817 aged 64. Between 1793 - 1797 he took 4 years out to earn his living elsewhere. So he was an Excise Officer for a total of 36 years spread over a 40-year period.

Today we have HM Revenue & Customs. HMRC was formed in April 2005 by merging HM Customs & Excise with the Inland Revenue. However, until 1908 the Customs and the Excise were two very separate organisations. In basic terms the difference between the two was that Customs concentrated on the ports and points of entry to the Country whilst the Excise assessed and collected duty in the towns and countryside.

A little history may give you the background into which John stepped in 1777 when he was appointed to be Officer of the Warwick 3rd Ride, Worcester Collection. The illustration opposite was drawn to accompany the publication in 1755 of the famous dictionary of Doctor Johnson. Whether this caricature bears any resemblance to John's style of dress and demeanour, we will never know. The following information was gleaned from a book Something To Declare - 1,000Years of Customs & Excise by Graham Smith the Librarian and Archivist for H.M. Customs & Excise:-

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 Gaugers. Each Gauger 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 Gaugers. 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 Davenant, 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 Pepys, 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. (See National Archive document ref: CUST 47 / 363 showing John's position in Warwick after the re-organisation) .

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.

How do we know that John was appointed an Excise Officer on 10th February 1777? Well, the Excise Board, which was responsible for running the Excise, used to meet quarterly. Every appointment, dismissal, promotion, re-appointment, retirement of an Excise Officer was discussed, approved and minuted. Today, these Minutes covering hundreds of years are beautifully bound in leather ledgers and stored at Kew in The National Archive, (formerly the Public Record Office until April 2003). These records are available for the public to study. Mercifully, each ledger has an alphabetical index giving the names of Officers mentioned therein. By checking every index for the years covering John from age 20 onwards we were able to establish which Minutes he was mentioned in and photocopy the relevant pages.

Below is a brief summary of John's Excise career as detailed in the Excise Board Minutes:-



Year        Board           	Event / Location

1777 - 10th Feb -	APPOINTED to Warwick 3rd Ride, Worcester Collection.

1789 - Reorganisation - Warwick 1st Ride, Worcester Collection.

1793 - 1st Feb -	PRAYED TO LEAVE. Warwick 1st Ride, Worcester Collection.

1797 - 7th Jul -	RESTORED to a convenient vacancy.

1797 - 23rd Oct -	Bewdley 1st Ride, Wolverhampton Collection.

1798 - 7th Sep -	Coleshill 2nd Ride, Lichfield Collection.

1804 - 24th Jan -	Birmingham 4th Ride.

1805 - 15th Mar -	Kenilworth Ride, Coventry Collection.

1809 - 13th Sep -	Tanworth Ride, Worcester Collection.  (Tanworth-in-Arden)

1811 - 16th Jul -	Burford Division, Marlborough Collection.

1813 - 8th Dec -	DISCHARGED from Burford Division, Marlborough Collection.

1814 - 6th May -	RESTORED. Ordered to be restored on a proper vacancy.

1814 - 27th May -	Stourbridge 4th Division, Wolverhampton Collection.

1814 - 6th Oct -	Stourbridge 1st Division, Wolverhampton Collection.

1817 - 8th April -	Stourbridge 5th Division, Stourbridge Collection.

1817 - 28th Oct -	DEAD. Stourbridge 5th Division, Stourbridge Collection.

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If you want to read the verbatim extracts from the Minutes with their quaint language, they are shown at the end of this article.

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.

JOHN's MARRIAGE - John married Elizabeth Truslove in St. Mary's church at Cubbington, Warwickshire in December 1781. On their wedding day, John was aged 27 and Elizabeth 21. They were married by licence as opposed to the publication of banns. The Marriage Bond & Allegations as the licence is known, is dated 20th December 1781. Today, the original document, which was held by the Bishop of Lichfield, is stored at the Staffordshire County Record Office in Lichfield. We viewed the original Marriage Bond & Allegations at Lichfield on 15th March 2000 and took this copy :

JOHN THE FAMILY MAN - John & Elizabeth married in December 1781. Their first child, William was baptised in September 1782. They had a total of 14 children. John Henry their second child died within a year of birth but as far as we can tell all the rest grew to adulthood. Elizabeth had her 14 children spread over 19 years. Today it is surely hard to imagine what her life would have been like. All of John & Elizabeth's children were born in an area bounded by Solihull to the west, Coventry to the east and Warwick to the south. Their marriage and the birth of their first two children took place in Cubbington. Children 3, 4 and 5 were born in the parish of St. Mary, Warwick. Children 6 and 7 were born in Knowle, number 8 in Warwick and number 9 in Knowle. Numbers 10 - 14 were all born in Hampton-in -Arden.

Child number 9 was Edward. Edward signed up to join the Royal Horse Artillery in Coventry on his 16th birthday and eventually earned his campaign medal fighting at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815 - but that is another story.

JOHN's DEATH - John died in 1817 at the age of 64. He was still working as an Excise Officer at the time of his death. The Excise Board Minute of Tuesday 28th October 1817 records his death thus : -

John Marks, Officer in Stourbridge 5th Division, Stourbridge Collection, being dead, as by Letter of the 10th instant from Thomas Rayner, Supervisor, Ordered that John Barnard Officer of Birmingham 13th Division, Lichfield Collection, succeed him.

Letitia, the youngest of John's children was born in 1801, so she was aged 16 when her father died in 1817.

John died on 9th October 1817, aged 64 whilst still working as an Excise Officer. He was buried in the graveyard of St. Mary's Church, Old Swinford, Worcestershire on 14th October 1817. In John's lifetime, Stourbridge, where he was based for his Excise role, was in the parish of Old Swinford. Research in October 2003 enabled us to trace John's grave and visit it. 186 years after his death the writing on his headstone is still clearly visible and reads : -

To the Memory of
JOHN MARKS who died
Oct:r 9th 1817 Aged 64
Also Elizabeth, wife of the above
John Marks, who departed this
life, April 21st 1842
Aged 82 years
Also Elizabeth Marks daughter
of the above who died Nov 9th 1864
Aged 80 years

John is the earliest known Marks that we can trace with 100% certainty and it is from him that our entire current MARKS family springs.

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The summary shown above of John's Excise career was constructed from the following verbatim Excise Board Minutes:

Public Record Office / National Archive Ref : CUST 47 / 307 - 509


Ref Date of Board Meeting


  1. Monday 10th February 1777 :

William Clark Officer of Warwick 3rd Out Ride, Worcester Collection succeed Lancashire on Mr Bowyer's motion; that the Supernumery, or a proper Officer supply the vacancy, and that John Marks be Supernumery on Mr Scott's motion.


  1. 1789 Re-organisation : -

That Worcester Collection consist of the following Divisions and Rides and that the Persons whose names are placed against the said Divisions and Rides be the Officers thereof respectively :

Warwick 1st Ride John Marks


  1. Friday 1st February 1793 :

John Marks Officer of Warwick 1st Ride Worcester Collection having prayed leave to relinquish as by his letter of the 21st ultimo Ordered that John Perking, late Officer of Newport Ride who was discharged and is restored succeed him.


  1. Friday 7th July 1797
  2. John Marks, late Officer of Warwick 1st Ride, Worcester Collection, who relinquished, having petitioned the Board praying to be restored; and John Weeks, Collector, having signified that he is healthy, free from Debt, and likely to make a good Officer, Ordered that he be restored on a convenient vacancy.


  3. 23rd October 1797

That Rowland Banks, Officer of Bewdley 1st Ride, Wolverhampton Collection, succeed Bennett on the Head of the Board; and that John Marks, late Officer of Warwick 1st Ride, who relinquished and is restored, be Officer of Bewdley 1st Ride in the room of Banks.


  1. Friday 7th September 1798

Thomas Ward, Officer of Coleshill 2nd Ride Lichfield Collection, having brought some of his Traders Duty to the Sitting; and having in some Instances received more than the Duty charged, as by the Report of James Brumhead, General Examiner, dated the 31st ultimo, Ordered that he be discharged; that John Marks, Officer of Bewdley 1st Ride, Wolverhampton Collection succeed him at his own request.

  1. 24th January 1804

That Richard Boodle, Officer of Birmingham 4th Ride, and John Marks, Officer of Coleshill 2nd Ride, Lichfield Collection, have leave to exchange Stations at their mutual Request, George Smith Collector, having by letter of the 16th instant signified he has no Objection.


  1. Friday 15th March 1805

Robert Davies, Officer of Kenilworth Ride, Coventry Collection, having desired leave to relinquish, as by his letter of the 18th ultimo, Ordered that John Marks, Officer of Birmingham 4th Ride, Lichfield Collection, succeed him as his own Request.

  1. Wednesday 13th September 1809

Ordered that John Marks, Officer of Kenilworth Ride, Coventry Collection, and John Ridd, Officer of Tanworth Ride, Worcester Collection, exchange stations.


  1. 10th April 1811### Almost certainly another John Marks ###

David Thomas, Officer of Newmarket 1st Ride, Wales North Collection, having omitted to remark a Victualler's Charge on Feb 12th, and to shew the Sizes of the Candles in operation when he found them running in on Feb 4th, having made no sudden Return on several Traders in the 5th Round; having shewn Surveys in the Books on a Maltster for January 4th & 5th and on another for the 1st 3rd & 5th six surveys on another between Feb 23rd & March 5th and five Surveys on a Chandler for January 3rd 4th & 5th without any corresponding Entries on the Specimens; having concealed himself with his Books and Journals on March 18th; being found in a State of Intoxication with the Malt Candle Specimens in his Pocket on March 20th when no Entry had been made in Journal nor any Business performed by him after March 11th the Beer Book had not been closed after March 6th nor the Malt Book after the 9th; and having delivered up his Commission to the Collector and demanded his Salary, as by an Extract of the 5th Round Diary of William Dibb, Supervisor, and the Collector's Remarks thereon, Ordered that he be discharged; that John Robinson, Officer of Holywell Ride, same Collection, succeed his at his own Request; that the Supernumerary supply the Vacancy; and that John Marks be Supernumerary on Mr Sydenham's Motion.


475 Tuesday 16th July 1811

Joseph Cobley, Officer of Burford Division, Marlborough Collection, being by Minute of the 10th ultimo appointed Officer of Leicester 1st Division, Coventry Collection, Ordered that John Marks, Officer of Tanworth Ride, Worcester Collection, succeed him on Mr Sydenham's Motion.


  1. Friday 19th June 1812 ### Almost certainly another John Marks ###

Robert Newey, Officer of Burton 4th Ride Lichfield Collection, having shewn Surveys for May 28th on the Maltster's Page 30, and at the Victuallers' Pages 92, 100, & 108, without corresponding Entries on the Minute Papers and Specimen, and without inserting any account of a Guile of Beer which was found tunned the next Day at one of the said Victuallers, and having acknowledge that those Surveys were feigned; and the said Newey having been before discharged, as by an Extract of the 7th Round Diary of John Ducker, Supervisor, and the Remarks of the Collector, Ordered that he be again discharged; that John Marks, Officer of Caernarvon 2nd Ride, Wales North Collection, succeed him at his own Request.


  1. Wednesday 8th December 1813

John Marks, Officer of Burford Division Marlborough Collection, not having entered any accounts in the Book of a Making of Candles between October 15th at o/c 3 when he shewed them 2/3 made, and the next Day when they had been removed from the Traders Premises, although he had accounted on the Specimen for weighing them at o/c 6 but without entering the Weight; not having made an Evening Visit at the Soper's Page 160 on the 15th; having entered the Dates and Minutes of Surveys for October 14th & 15th at a Brandy and four Tea & Tobacco Dealers without any Account of the Stocks; having in other Instances left his Surveys incomplete; having shewn an Increase in the Stock of the Tea Dealer Page 218 on October 14th without accounting for or seizing the same; having entered a Remark of a Victualler's brewing on October 15th without shewing the Time when the first Wort was expected to come off, and without taking regular Gages thereof; and having neglected to take account of a depending Guile when he took a Gage of the last Wort of a new Guile at the Victualler's Page 94 October 15th m/c 10, and when he confirmed the same at o/c 2, and to notice a new Brewing which was in Operation at the last Minute, as by the Report of William Henwood and William Baker, Surveying General Examiners, dated 19th October, Ordered that he be discharged.


490 Friday 6th May 1814

John Marks late Officer of Burford Division, Marlborough Collection, having petitioned the Board praying to be restored, begging Pardon for the Offence for which he was discharged, and promising Diligence in future, Ordered that he be restored on a proper vacancy.


491 Friday 27th May 1814

It appearing to the Board by the Representation of Thomas Arnott, Collector of Wolverhampton Collection, that the Manufacturer being about to recommence Business at a Flint Glass House in Stourbridge 4th Division, it is necessary for the Security of the Revenue to re-establish three additional Officers in the said Division in lieu of three who were dropped when the Work was discontinued in May last, Ordered that three additional Officers be re-established in Stourbridge 4th Division accordingly; that their Salaries be paid from the Duty on Glass; that the Business of the said Division be laid out and surveyed agreeably to the Schemes sent up by the Collector and Supervisor; that William Trestain, last Officer in Droitwich 2nd Division, Worcester Collection and John Marks, late Officer of Burford Division, Marlborough Collection who were discharged & are restored.


  1. 6th October 1814

That Joseph Harborne, Officer of Stourbridge 1st Division, Wolverhampton Collection, succeed Trent at his own Request; that John Marks, Officer in Stourbridge 4th Division, same Collection, succeed Harborne at his own request.


  1. Wednesday 22nd November 1815 ### Almost certainly another John Marks ###

....... Ordered that John Bailey, Officer in Northwich 5th Division, Northwich Collection succeed him at his own Request; that John Marks Officer of Burton 4th Ride, Lichfield Collection, succeed Bailey on the Head of the Board.


  1. 8th April 1817

That William Jackson, Officer of Stourbridge 5th Division, Stourbridge Collection, be an Examiner in the Room of Newton on the Head of the Board; and that John Marks Officer of Stourbridge 1st Division, succeed Jackson at his own request.


  1. Tuesday 28th October 1817

John Marks, Officer in Stourbridge 5th Division, Stourbridge Collection, being dead, as by Letter of the 10th instant from Thomas Rayner, Supervisor, Ordered that John Barnard Officer of Birmingham 13th Division, Lichfield Collection, succeed him.



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