A date for your diary at the National Maritime Museum

Good news from our Twitter feed… The National Maritime Museum in Greenwich will be running an exhibition on the 500-year history of Trinity House and safety at sea from April 2014 until January 2016. We look forward very much to this collaboration, and we hope you’ll enjoy the results!

On This Day in Trinity House History – 28 January


A Letter to the Archbishop of Canterbury on the Usefulness of the ‘Reculvers’ Daymark

Trinity House Court Minute:

“Certificate of Trinity House to the Archbishop of Canterbury, showing the necessity of repairing the steeple of Reculver in Kent, in regard it was an ancient sea mark.”

Note on the Reculvers daymark excerpted from Captain Golding’s Trinity House From Within (1929):

The ‘Reculvers’ daymark is actually the (now ruined) church of St. Mary in the City of Canterbury district of Kent, known as ‘The Church Of The Two Sisters’.

Stands on the site of a Roman camp, which had an area of about 8 acres and was surrounded by a wall. A Monastic Foundation was established here in the year 679: the Monastery and its possessions were annexed to Christ Church, Canterbury, in 949, the Foundation being dissolved.

The Church, which is a mixture of Saxon and Norman styles, was built about the year 1100 out of the material of the Monastery, a considerable quantity of Roman bricks being incorporated in the building. The masonry towers are square and broad but not lofty, connected by a narrow balcony.

It seems to have continued a church of more than ordinary note, under the government of a dean, until the middle of the 14th century: from that time onward it appears to have gradually diminished in consequence.

The tradition of the two spires is that Frances St. Clair, Abbess of a Convent of Benedictine Nuns at Davington, about the year 1500, caused the towers, which had  fallen into decay, to be repaired, and added the spires to be called “The Sisters” in memory of her sister Isabel, who died following the wreck, at Reculver, of a vessel in which they were proceeding from Faversham to Broadstairs; and to act as a guide and warning to mariners.

That they have long served as a sea-mark is shown by the old Court Minute of January 28, 1662.

Owing to coast erosion the cliffs gradually disappeared, and in 1780 the north angle of the tower was 50 yards from the cliff. In 1802 the greater portion of the church fell down; in 1805 the towers were only 5 yards from the face of the cliff. In 1807 the local farmers commenced to take up the stonework on the seaward side and sold it to the Margate Pier Company, to form the foundation for a new pier, the result being further encroachment by the sea.

In 1810 Trinity House purchased the church to preserve it as a sea-mark; groins were erected, the cliff next the church was faced with stone, the steeples, which had been blown down, were replaced by wooden structures, and the church was fenced in.

In the gable between the two towers is a stone bearing the following inscription:-

“These towers, the remains of the venerable Church of Reculver, were purchased of the parish by the Corporation of Trinity House of Deptford Strond, in the year 1810; and groins were laid down at their expense to protect the cliff on which the church had stood. When the spires were afterwards blown down the present substitutes were erected, to render the towers sufficiently conspicuous to be useful to navigation. Captain Joseph Cotton, Deputy Master, in the year 1819.”

The materials of the fallen church were sold to various persons in 1811; a considerable portion was used in building a church at Hillborough. A considerable outlay has been incurred from time to time on repairs and the upkeep of the sea defences.

Having outlived its sphere of usefulness as a sea-mark, it was handed over in 1925 to H.M. Office of Works to be preserved as an ancient monument.

Reculvers Daymark (Church of St Mary, Kent) in 1735

Reculvers Daymark (Church of St Mary, Kent) in 1735

On This Day in Trinity House History – 27 January


Queen Elizabeth Grants Trinity House Its Coat of Arms

A grant of Arms was made by Queen Elizabeth and was issued by Gilbert Dethicke, Garter King at Arms:

“… I, the said Garter Principall King of Armes, have assigned, gyyen, and graunted unto their Corporacon aforsaid such Armes as they may lawfully bear in those necessary affaires of theirs as shall seme best: that is to say – argent, a plain cros geules, betwene four ships sable, the fore and top-sayles up, vnde underneath on a wreath of theyr colers, a demi-lion rampant, gardat, and crouned with a croune imperiall or, in his right pawe an armyng swoord argent, hylt and pomell or, langued and armed azure, mantled argent, doobled geules…”

In modern terms:

Arms: Argent, a plain cross gules, between four ships sable, the fore and topsails up.
Crest: A demi-lion rampant, guardant, and regally crowned or, in his dexter paw a sword erect argent, hilted and pomelled of the first.
The mantling is argent doubled gules, and the motto of the Corporation, Trinitas in Unitate.

Arms from 1933 Court Dinner menu

Arms from 1933 Court Dinner menu

On This Day in Trinity House History – 24 January


Samuel Pepys is Elected an Elder Brother of Trinity House

Trinity House Court Minute:

“Samuel Pepys, Esq., Clerk to the Acts of H.M. Navy, is chosen an Elder Brother.”

Samuel Pepys (1633 – 1703) was an English naval administrator and Member of Parliament; through patronage, hard work and his talent for administration, to be the Chief Secretary to the Admiralty under both King Charles II and subsequently King James II. His reforms as an Admiralty administrator were important in the early professionalisation of the Royal Navy, but he is now best remembered for the diary he kept for a decade as a relatively young man. The detailed diary Pepys kept from 1660 until 1669 provides a combination of personal revelation and eyewitness accounts of great events, such as the Great Plague of London, the Second Dutch War and the Great Fire of London.

Pepys was twice Master of Trinity House; he was elected by the annual Court in 1676, and he was made Master by King James II when the Corporation’s Royal Charter was renewed in 1685. Pepys was the architect of the rewritten and vastly improved charter, such was the strength of the new document that it is still in use by the Corporation today.


THV Argus Joins the Steam Vessel Service

THV Argus is commissioned, built at the Port Glasgow yard of Messrs. Ferguson Bros., to become the Holyhead district tender, replacing tonnage lost during the Second World War.

THV Argus (1966)

THV Argus (1966)

On This Day in Trinity House History – 23 January


Shipwreck of the Constantia S at Casquets Lighthouse

The wreck of the Constantia S, off the Casquets Lighthouse in the Channel Islands, was written up in a 1967 edition of Trinity House’s Flash magazine:

Casquets Lighthouse

Casquets Lighthouse

“At 1015 on 23rd January, 1967, the Keepers at the Casquets Lighthouse observed that m.v. CONSTANTIA S, a Tanker of 5101 net registered tonnage on a voyage from Amsterdam with a cargo of fresh water for Gibraltar, was in danger of striking the rocks, and they immediately hoisted the signal flag ‘U’ (“you are standing into danger”) and signalled with their Aldis Lamp to warn the Tanker’s Master of the danger.

About twenty minutes later the Tanker, which was seemingly out of control, first struck the rock, after almost circling the Lighthouse, near to and E.N.E. of the Casquets South Landing, then drifted off and grounded at Point Colotte where the crew, with the exception of the Master, abandoned ship in two boats. The Master scrambled on to the rocks and was later rescued by a French Helicopter.

Meanwhile the Principal Keeper had reported the situation to St. Peter Port Radio in order to alert the Guernsey Lifeboat, and with his Assistant Keepers rushed to the North Landing with the Schermuly Rocket Gear, lifebelts and ropes after signalling to the boats that this was the safest place to land.

The tide was, however, too strong for the boats to make a landing and they drifted away in the tidal race to the S.E. of the lighthouse.

The weather at the time was wind S.W. force 6 to 8, squally, sea rough, and evidence of the extremely turbulent conditions was provided when the CONSTANTIA S eventually drifted from Point Colotte to the Fourquie Rocks east of the Lighthouse where she broke in two, the bow section sinking on the spot and the after part drifting away to the N.N.E.

Once again the traditions of the Trinity House Service, not only in providing aids to navigation but also in aiding those in distress, were upheld by Principal Keeper O.N. Murphy, and Assistant Keepers A.J. Marsh and J. Malins, by their alertness in warning the wrecked vessel, by maintaining radio contact with the shore and with the lifeboat and other rescue vessels, and standing by with their life-saving apparatus ready to rescue the shipwrecked sailors should they have attempted a landing.

Whilst all this was going on at the scene of the wreck, rescue operations were being organised ashore, and these involved Trinity House m.v. BURHOU, stationed at Alderney, which is 8½ miles from the Casquets, and the Trinity House Boatman Mr. N.J. Allen, although they are not officially part of the local life-saving organisation.

The message about the Tanker being in distress was first received by the Harbour Master at Alderney at about 1130 and he contacted Mr. Allen and alerted a scratch crew for the BURHOU which sailed shortly before noon and arrived off the wrecked tanker at about 1255.

Nick Allen, who knows these waters and their hazards like the back of his hand, took the BURHOU in close and ascertained from the Master of the CONSTANTIA S that the two boats had drifted to the southward. The BURHOU proceeded in search of the boats after a helicopter was observed to be approaching the rocks, thus ensuring that the Master, 61 years old Alexandria Ulasto, would be rescued.

The drifting boats were located about 2 miles south of the Casquets Lighthouse and the British Railways Mail Steamer SARNIA, the first vessel to reach them, managed to rescue the 10 men from the first boat.

Conditions in the vicinity were particularly bad owing to the close proximity of the Casquets S.S.W. Bank, creating a very heavy swell with rough seas, The SARNIA, a vessel of some 4,000 tons was rolling heavily, so much so that the men in the second boat were fearful of going alongside her for the rescue attempt and were relieved when T.H. m.v. BURHOU arrived on the scene.

Then began a feat of superb seamanship on the part of Skipper Nick Allen and his crew which, in spite of the prevailing conditions, resulted in the rescue of the CONSTANTIA S’s Second Officer and nineteen men, entirely without injury to personnel or damage to BURHOU.

When he had made sure that the whole of the Tanker’s crew were safe, Mr. Allen took the men he had rescued into Alderney where they landed at about 1415.

“The English Seamen were terrific” said the Greek Second Officer, Mr. Din Pouloysatis, and what more can we who were not there add to that, excepting perhaps to express our admiration for the courage of Nick Allen and his men for putting to sea without hesitation, and not even strictly within their normal line of duty, to save the lives of those in peril on the sea.

By order of the Board, Mr. Allen was sent a letter of commendation for his action and the high standard of seamanship displayed, which were in accordance with the highest traditions of the Trinity House Service.”

On This Day in Trinity House History – 22 January


Trinity House assist in fleet preparations

Trinity House Court Minute:

“Council of State make proclamation, ordered all seamen to join the fleet and that they should repair to Trinity House.”

This instruction was possibly in anticipation of the First Anglo-Dutch War, or a result of the activity caused by the Navigation Acts of October 1651, which ordered that only English ships and ships from the originating country could import goods to England. This measure was particularly aimed at hampering the shipping of the highly trade-dependent Dutch. Over a hundred Dutch ships were captured by English privateers between October 1651 and July 1652; as General Monck put it: “The Dutch have too much trade, and the English are resolved to take it from them.”


New fog signal at Lizard Lighthouse

Description of the new fog signal at the Lizard Lighthouse in the Cornish Telegraph:

“Although not so loud and disturbing as was anticipated, the sound is very weird and melancholy… there it rolls, with prolonged reverberating echoes through the surrounding precipices and caves.”

Lizard Lighthouse fog signal trumpets

Lizard Lighthouse fog signal trumpets


Trinity House escorts the late Queen Victoria

Queen Victoria dies at Osborne House on the Isle of Wight. A few days later her body was carried to the Trinity House depot at East Cowes. With Edward VII and Queen Alexandra and Prince Arthur the Duke of Connaught and Strathearn (later the Master of Trinity House), the body was embarked on the Victoria and Albert, and the royal yacht procession was led by eight Destroyers and tailed by the Trinity House flagship THV Irene.


Death of Sir Winston Churchill, Elder Brother of Trinity House

The Elder Brethren mourned the loss of Sir Winston Churchill, an Elder Brother since 1913. Churchill wore his uniform to many of his most important diplomatic occasions, bringing great repute upon the Corporation in international circles.

On This Day in Trinity House History – 18 January


Trinity House Helps Man the Royal Navy

Trinity House Court Minute:

“John Bradshawe, President of the Committee of State, asking Trinity House to engage fifty masters at 30s. per month and two hundred and fifty mariners at 21s. per month to man transports to convey soldiers to Scotland.”

11 February:

“Reply by Trinity House that few men can be found to engage, owing to the small pay.”

HMS Portsmouth, 48-gun fourth-rate, built 1650, by Willem van de Velde (Royal Museums Greenwich)

HMS Portsmouth, 48-gun fourth-rate, built 1650, by Willem van de Velde (Royal Museums Greenwich)