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Abstract This article considers deficiencies in the designation and reassessment of Legal Quays (those authorized for foreign trade), and the detrimental impact of these and other Elizabethan customs reforms from the perspective of Christchurch, a small coastal town then in Hampshire. Throttling the flow of merchandise through such places drove trade, and consequently economic growth, to those other places that enjoyed a convenient Legal Quay. In places without such quays, regulation and the farming of customs caused (and also facilitated) the suppression not only of international trade but also of domestic maritime trade. Though otherwise encouraged by Crown policy, entrepreneurial endeavour in Christchurch was stifled by customs regulation, in particular by the logistical burden introduced with remote record-keeping for coastal trade in the port books. The town seemed unable to break free of Southampton’s controlling influence in order to realize its own apparent economic potential.