The River Kongeå as a customs border
Until around 1700, the river Kongeå was called Skodborg Å (Skodsborg River). In the Middle Ages, the river came to form West Jutland's border between the Duchy of Jutland and the Kingdom of Denmark. However Ribe Town and the surrounding area belonged to the kingdom, and for centuries the kingoms had different enclaves south of the river.
In the east, the border followed most of Kolding Fjord, a stretch of Kolding Å (Kolding River) and Seest Mølleå until it reached Skodborg Å. Again, it was different kingdoms that owned the enclaves south of the water mills. The size of the enclaves changed both east and west over the ages, so much so that even at that time there could be confusion over the exact positioning of the border.
Payment of duties could be made at the frontiers, but only at the towns of Ribe and Kolding. Here duty was to be paid on the export of horses and cattle that were exported south.
In order to prevent smuggling, it was only permitted to take animals across the border in three places: Gredstedbro, Foldingbro and Kolding. In Frederick II's time, bridge men were employed at Gredstedbro and Foldingbro to count the animals that passed over the bridge and issue a pass. The actual duty still had to be paid in Ribe.
The system functioned in this way for several centuries or rather, it did not function, as extensive smuggling took place.
Mounted customs inspectors
In the first half of the 1600s, Christian IV introduced mounted customs inspectors to patrol the border. In 1760, they were replaced by 10 permanent stationed inspectors. None of these systems managed to solve the smuggling problem.
In 1790, new inspectors were employed instead at four new checkpoints, namely in Ejstrup, Dollerup, Skodborghus and Vilslev. The inspector was to keep horses and have a sworn servant in his service. Ten mounted patrol officers were additionally employed.
The newly recruited inspectors and patrol officers were led by the new customs officer in Foldingbro and his colleagues in Ribe and Kolding. This system proved to be just as unsuccessful. A survey conducted in 1817 revealed widespread corruption among almost all the customs staff.
In the first half of the 1800s, the future ideas of free trade began to gain a foothold in Denmark, and in January 1851 the customs border was lifted. However, the customs border was re-established after the defeat in the war in 1864.
Author: Peter Munch Jensen, museum curator at Sønderskov Museum