Churchill’s Shilling

Churchill fined for smoking - Page_1

Churchill fined for smoking - Page_2

Churchill fined for smoking - Page_3

The above correspondence between the offices of Sir Winston Churchill (then Prime Minister) and the First Lord of the Admiralty—Mr. A V Alexander (Albert Victor Alexander, 1st Earl Alexander of Hillsborough KG, CH, PC (1885-1965))—and Trinity House is perhaps the only known instance of an Elder Brother being fined according to a by-Law laid down in 1660.

The letter from Downing Street addressed to the First Lord of the Admiralty, dated 8 January 1941, reads:

“First Lord,

The Prime Minister has asked me to send you the enclosed sum of one shilling, with an expression of his grateful thanks. He says it represents a fine imposed upon him yesterday under an old statute forbidding smoking at Trinity House. He found himself unable to meet this unexpected demand upon his purse, & you very kindly came to his aid.


The office of the First Lord wrote to Trinity House Deputy Master Captain Arthur Morrell two days later:

“Dear Sir,

The First Lord has instructed me to send you the enclosed coin which has been received from the Prime Minister in repayment of the shilling which the First Lord provided for the settlement of the fine incurred by the Prime Minister on Tuesday. The First Lord thinks that you would probably like to have the shilling which really came from the Prime Minister’s pocket, since the imposition of a fine under a seventeenth century statute upon the Prime Minister of England must be something of an historical occasion.

Yours very truly,


Private Secretary”

The statute mentioned is a by-Law of the corporation dating from 4 February 1660, which was drawn up during a session of the Court, and reads:

“Agreed, That whosoever in Court Tyme shall take a pipe of Tobacco being of the Fraternity shall forfeit twelve pence for the use of the poore, w[hi]ch. shalbe put into the poores box. Neither shall any withdraw in tyme of the Court sitting unless upon some urgent occasion.”

The corporation has for centuries had the right to create by-Laws, the violation of which is to be punished by “pains and penalties, amercement and forfeitures, for the use and benefit of the Corporation, for the repairs of the house and other tenements and almshouses, for the relief of poor brothers and their widows, and other poor mariners and seafaring men…” (a quote from the Memoir on the Origin and Incorporation of the Trinity House of Deptford Strond writtten by Deputy Master Captain Joseph Cotton in 1818).

Sir Winston Churchill was sworn in as an Elder Brother in 1913, and remained part of the fraternity until his death in 1965. He was seen on many very notable occasions of state in the uniform of an Elder Brother.

The Rt Hon Albert Victor Alexander (afterwards Viscount Alexander of Hillsborough, later Earl Alexander of Hillsborough) was sworn in as an Elder Brother in 1941. Like Sir Winston, he remained with the fraternity until his death in 1965.

Sadly, the shilling is nowhere to be found today!

Churchill and Alexander outside Trinity House 1941

Churchill and Alexander outside Trinity House 1941

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