The building was constructed in 1764, to the designs of local architect Richard Gillow of the Gillow furniture making family. It was in use as a Custom House from 1764-1882 when Customs regulation was transferred to Barrow in Furness. Although the building is designed in a traditional Georgian style, the front has the addition of a portico inspired by Italian architecture. This was the second of Lancaster’s Customs Houses.
The Custom House was built around the ‘Long Room’. The building of the London Custom House after the Great Fire of London in 1666 by Christopher Wren, influenced the design of many other Custom Houses, with the ‘Long Room’ placed centrally within the building. Even when a room was anything, but long it was still known as the ‘Long Room’. The Long Room was used by the clerks who transacted business with the merchants and ships’ masters at benches and desks.
“The Long Room to have a Chimney Piece of neatly Polis’d Haugh-Clough Flags, same Pattern as that in y’best Front Parlou at King’s Arms” (quote from Port Commission papers)
There were also offices on the first floor used by the officers of the Customs. These each had fireplaces. The original shutters and iron bars to the windows have survived, together with some of the glass.
On the ground floor, which was only accessible via the external stairs at the front of the building was the Weigh House. Here goods were marked, handled, weighed and checked before being taken into bonded warehouses. It is thought that the searcher and boatmen, who were on call at all times, often wet and hungry, sheltered in the room with the large fireplace.
“The front of said Building to be as per said Elevation, the Stones thereon to be of as good a Colour, and as nearly alike, as ye front of Captn Fell’s new House at Fleet Bridge in Lancaster.” (quote from Port Commission papers)
The bonded warehouse adjacent, was built around 1797 and was used for the storing of goods with high taxation values such as alcohol and tobacco, goods in other warehouses included sugar, cotton and tropical hardwoods. The warehouse is typical of the buildings along the quay. Original features include the hoist mechanisms used by the stevedores and dockers to bring goods into and out of the building. Bonded meant that import tax became payable only when the goods were ready to leave the warehouse, by which time the owner had sold the goods and raised the necessary funds. This also meant that customs men did not have to be on site when the cargo arrived.
During the 1930s part of the ground floor was converted into an electricity sub station. In 1948 the building was converted into a theatre. It took 10 months to restore the building to its original internal layout.