On This Day in Trinity House History – 10 February


Elder Brethren as Nautical Assessors at the Admiralty

Trinity House Board Minute:

An Order from the Court of Admiralty for two Brothers to attend next Tuesday morning, and Captain John Smith and Captain John Frost appointed.”

One of the Brethren’s duties includes sitting, when summoned, to assist the Judge of the Admiralty Court as nautical assessors on the bench of that court when questions of seamanship, navigation and nautical knowledge arise, and when the High Court sits as a prize court. The two Brethren best acquainted with the issues raised by the case in question attend the Judge as Assessors.

The first reported case of assessors assisting the High Court of Admiralty is in 1541, and the Charter of James II prescribes that the Master, Wardens and Assistants, and their Deputies, being always at the king’s call, are exempted from all manner of land service except Admiralty Sessions, “which they and every one of them shall be tied and bound to attend, upon their Perils, being lawfully summoned.”

A further note on this service, as detailed in Deputy Master Captain Joseph Cotton’s Memoir on the Origin and Incorporation of the Trinity House of Deptford Strond (1818) (Available as a PDF at Google Books):

“The Master, Wardens, and Assistants, and their Deputies, being always at the King’s call, are therefore, with their servants and apprentices, being maritime or seafaring men, exempted from all manner of land service and contributions thereto, and from all assizes, juries, inquests, &c., except on Admiralty Sessions, which they are bound to attend (upon their peril) being lawfully summoned, which exemptions are nevertheless revocable  by an order of council, the Lord High Admiral being present. Sea causes were formerly tried by the Brethren, instead of at the Common Pleas, as were all maritime causes, referred by the Admiralty, which were to be reported to that Board, for judgment, This is asserted to have been the case by Stowe in 1598.”

“Independent of the permanent employment, as has been described, the casual duties of the Brethren are many. The charter prescribes their attendance on all maritime causes, when the Judge of the Admiralty may think it necessary to require it; hence there are constant applications, when that court sits, for two of the Brethren to attend the Judge, as Assessors; and selection is made from the Brethren of those who are best acquainted with that part of the seacoast that the litigation refers to; and this particular, the present most intelligent Judge, Sir William Scott, has expressly directed the summons to notice.”

On This Day in Trinity House History – 9 February


South Stack Lighthouse is lit for the first time

South Stack Lighthouse is lit for the first time. The lighthouse was designed by Trinity House’s surveyor Daniel Alexander and originally fitted with Argand oil lamps and reflectors.

South Stack Lighthouse was first envisaged in 1665 when a petition was presented to Charles II. The patent was not granted and it was not until 9 February 1809 that the first light appeared to mark the rock. The lighthouse, erected by Trinity House at a cost of £12,000, was designed by Daniel Alexander and originally fitted with oil lamps and reflectors.

The chasm between the mainland and the rock was at first traversed by a hempen cable 21 metres above sea level, along which a sliding basket was drawn carrying a passenger or stores. This system was replaced in 1828 by an iron suspension bridge 1.5 metres wide.

In the mid-1870s the lantern and lighting apparatus was replaced by a new lantern. In 1909 an early form of incandescent light was installed and in 1927 this was replaced by a more modern form of incandescent mantle burner. The station was electrified in 1938.

On 12 September 1984 the lighthouse was automated and the last lighthouse keepers left the station. The light and the fog signal are now remotely controlled and monitored from the Trinity House office in Harwich, Essex.

You can find more information about South Stack Lighthouse on our main website.

South Stack Lighthouse 2013

South Stack Lighthouse 2013 copyright Trinity House

On This Day in Trinity House History – 7 February


Trinity House Sends a Thank You Gift

Trinity House Court Minute:

“A Captain of a ship is desired to buy two quarter casks of good Canary for the Company, as a present to Sir George Oxenden, in respect of the great love he has shown to the poor of the Corporation, and also to send him six pots with anchovies, olives and caviare.”



Trinity House’s Ballastage Income used to reward fugitive companion of Charles II

Charles II granted to Colonel Carlos [William Careless], as a reward for services performed, the sum of £3,000 per annum from Ballastage. The Corporation resisted this grant as an infringement of their rights.

The grant to Colonel Carlos was annulled and a fresh grant was made to the Corporation on 18 July 1675; the proceeds from Ballastage to be applied to the relief of decayed seamen, their wives, widows and orphans, subject to an annual payment of 1,000 marks to Colonel Carlos for the residue term of thirty-one years.

King Charles II and Colonel William Carlos in the Royal Oak, by Isaac Fuller (died 1672) [National Portrait Gallery]

King Charles II and Colonel William Carlos in the Royal Oak, by Isaac Fuller (died 1672) [National Portrait Gallery]

On This Day in Trinity House History – 6 February


The Last Lighthouse: Bishop Rock on the BBC

BBC1 airs a documentary by Tony Parker (author of Lighthouse, a book of interviews with lighthouse keepers) on the subject of life on the Bishop Rock Lighthouse.

The episode was noted in an issue of Flash magazine:

“Most of our readers probably saw the documentary shown on BBC1 on 6th February, 1974, called ‘The Last Lighthouse’ devoted solely to the Bishop Rock Lighthouse and her Keepers. The programme was extremely well-received, and many members of the public contacted the Public Relations Department to say how much they enjoyed the programme and how they hoped that it would be repeated. We understand that the B.B.C. were impressed by the interest and reception shown by everyone who watched the programme, and judging by the amount of mail delivered to the lighthouse, the 3 Keepers are now stars in their own right. They had better watch out if it’s shown overseas!

The programme also received many complimentary reviews in the press, and we are pleased to print a selection of these:-

Daily Mail: “Unexpected delight: The Last Lighthouse (BBC 1) which as a speck on the Radio Times chart, seemed certain to make eyelids heavy and yawns frequent.

A lighthouse, I find, is not boring if seen as a Victorian working man’s cottage, 30 miles out to sea. That was how playwright Tony Parker viewed the one on the Bishop Rock, off the Scillies, mounting a strong argument for more outsiders to make documentaries.

Parker watched the thing on his holiday horizon for years on end, becoming increasingly curious over what life was like out there in the tower. The best possible motive for any programme, far more compelling than topicality.
What its servants call, with fitting reverence. ‘The Bishop’, turns out to be a magic place. For it is the last, great, non-robot lighthouse, the conservationist’s dream; an antique which works beautifully and usefully.
Inside, it’s a feast for the eye. Henry Farrar’s camera kept discovering quaint details, recording machine-tending rituals all the more satisfying for being totally beneficial. Lighting-up time involves more than throwing a switch. First meths is decanted into a shining copper pot, to heat the paraffin. Twenty minutes later – none of that instant nonsense about Victorian technology – paraffin vapour is curling out of a giant gasmantle, ready for lighting. A cosy popping noise as the match is applied, and then the beam sends a warning for 18 miles.

Add logical yet unexpected aspects of living in a granite ship forever at anchor (taps aren’t for hot and cold but for fresh and rainwater all waste is thrown out of the nearest window) and it was evident that Parker was on a winner.
Just as interesting were the men, studied at leisure, compelling admiring wonder at the monastic trade of their choice. Principal Keeper George Williams, filling out his log with an old-fashioned dip-pen and inkwell, listening to ‘pop’ in bed. Assistant Keeper Roger Simmons, a romantic, still thrilled at tending a light seen by generations of mariners, and listening to changing voices in the sea. I’m sure they will forgive the thought, being manifestly happily married men – in spite or because of spending two thirds of every year away from their families – but the lighthouse hermits struck me as charmingly oldmaidish in their ways. Obviously sharing a sealed space for months on end, with a parlour which can be crossed in three paces, calls for more sensitivity than many men can command, let alone maintain for a working lifetime. Strain, while not admitted, was implied. Men were heavily hooked on the demon cigarette, at least one showing scars of savage nail-biting.

Technically, producer Paul Bonner, his cameraman, and sound-recordist Derek Medus captured seascapes and interiors with an unobtrusiveness which belied what must have been awkward conditions. Virtue is its own reward – and ours. They gave us a memorably enjoyable piece of television. And something for the archives if, as Parker suggested at the end of his programme, The Bishop is heading for remote control…”

The Daily Telegraph: “The Last Lighthouse (BBC1) was one of those programmes which ought to make the rest of us go rather quiet for a space about our present woes and consider the other man’s lot. I am very glad not to be hauled up the face of the Bishop Rock in what looked like a howling gale or to be separated from my nearest and dearest for two months in three by the raging Atlantic. For all this, the final impression left by Tony Parker’s offbeat and vastly watchable documentary was not hardship but dedication. His lighthouse keepers had chosen their calling, had come to terms with it and even in a curious way gloried in it.

Mr. Parker, a distinguished writer of plays about prison, was attracted to lighthouses because they seemed to offer the same theme. He chose The Bishop because it is Britain’s most isolated lighthouse, perched on a range of rock west of the Scillies; one of the oldest, with its original gear nearly in tact. As a subject for the camera it proved irresistable: a huge and awesome pillar arising Titanlike from boiling sea, a monument to nature’s anger and man’s ingenuity. Inside the granite tower the scene became almost cosily domestic. The lighthousemen cooked their meals, tended their huge paraffin-fed lights, listened to Radio 2 and plied an occasional needle. They waxed philosophic. “The sea sounds like angry voices talking to me. Sometimes they say: ‘I’m going to hammer you tonight’. “But I feel secure because I know this place has stood for 100 years and the sea can never knock it down.”
The men spend two months on the rock and a month in the Scillies with their families. They seem unaffected by the life. The programme, produced by Paul Bonner, had a slightly disorganised quality, as if more trouble could have been taken in the editing. But visually it was often startingly beautiful, while its content compelled fascinated admiration…”

Daily Express: “…Rolling in from the Atlantic in my Navy days we used to slightly distort Scott’s famous lines:-
Breathes there the man with soul so dead,
Who never to himself hath said,

“The Last Lighthouse” was the theme of B.B.C.1’s programme about the Bishop Rock off Land’s End. But it was the first lighthouse to us, the first stormwashed bastion of Britain with 3,000 miles of water behind.
Tony Parker and his film crew lifted the lid off the 100 year old lighthouse, and for me it was a fascinating experience – for as the beacon guided us to safety none of us considered the men who worked it; their two month shifts, hazards and acute sense of responsibility. To this day, a single match lights this mantle which keeps the ships in clear water, and there were George Williams, Roger Simmons, and Terry Johns. The lonely men, caring for their precious big bright ball of light, seem happy in their isolated domesticity, swinging 11 tons of glass around its mercury bearings with one finger, opening tins of food. You would think the keepers would be bored stiff, perched on their rock, almost in sight of home. But they looked suited to their tight little world, in between cooking, cleaning and tending the beacon.

This peep at a small and dying world was fascinating. As Tony Parker said: “We were only just in time to capture it”.

The Birmingham Post: “Beyond the Isles of Scilly, the Bishop Rock lighthouse stands at the edge of the Atlantic, with nothing between it and America. To mere landlovers it is an awesome thought that men will happily incarcerate themselves within its walls for two months at a stretch, prepared to live in its limited perpendicular world as seen in The Last Lighthouse (BBC 1). To those of us who know no different, there is something romantic about the life of a lighthouse keeper if we have read our fiction and imagined him out there bravely facing the elements. This film showed that it is hair raising enough in the act of reaching or leaving the rock, but that for the most part it is a life of routine, discipline and essentially of understanding between the three-man crew though I could have wished for more about the stresses of living together in those confines.

The Sun: “Men who keep a lone watch – There is nothing between Bishop Rock Lighthouse and America except 3,000 miles of Atlantic ocean, and an awful lot of loneliness. And that, discovered writer Tony Parker, makes for a very special breed of man to work the light, in tonight’s documentary, The Last Lighthouse (BBC 1) he explains just how special. Parker became fascinated with lighthouses when, on a holiday in the Isles of Scilly, he went on a boat trip around the lonely Bishop Rock Lighthouse.

“Unlike other lights”, he says, “Bishop Rock is just a tower in the seas. There are not even any little rocks around its foot for the men to exercise on. The men do two months on the light and a month ashore”. In the course of writing a book on lighthouses, Parker spent three weeks on the rock. “The lighthousemen’s world is in a series of circular rooms 12 feet across, and their only job is to tend the light”, he says.”

Bishop Rock 1975 kitchen

Bishop Rock 1975 kitchen

On This Day in Trinity House History – 5 February


The Destruction of the First Bishop Rock Lighthouse

Owing to the large number of wrecks repeatedly occurring on the rocks around the Scilly Isles, probably the worst of which was the loss of Sir Clodesley Shovel’s squadron of the British Fleet in 1703 with the loss of about 2,000 men the Elder Brethren of Trinity House decided that the lighting of the Scilly Isles, which at that time consisted of only the old lighthouse at St. Agnes, was inadequate, and it was resolved to build a lighthouse on the most westerly danger, the Bishop Rock.

It was first thought that an iron pile lighthouse would be the most suitable for this exposed position and one was designed. by Mr. James Walker FRS and work was commenced on building this in 1847, the Engineer in charge being Mr. Nicholas Douglas. There is only a small piece of the actual rock exposed at high water and even at low water the rock which is exposed is only 153 feet in length and 52 feet broad. Iron piles were erected on this with small living quarters and a lantern at the top end. The structure was practically completed by the early part of 1850, and just waiting the fitting of the illumination gear. During a bad storm on the night of 5 February 1850 however, the entire structure was swept away, leaving only a few stumps protruding from the rock.

The whole scheme was therefore re-considered and it was decided to attempt a granite tower. This was again designed by Mr. James Walker and work was commenced on this erection in 1851.


Uniform Change for the Elder Brethren

“Her Majesty Queen Victoria has been pleased to command that, after the present date, the uniform of the Elder Brethren of the Trinity House, London, shall be of the Royal Navy pattern for the time being, save as respects the colour of the collar and cuffs of the full dress coat, and the description of lace, buttons, badges, and other distinguishing marks specified in the Order dated 22 March, 1866, which shall remain as at present.”


THV Patricia (2) is Commissioned

THV Patricia is commissioned, built by Smiths Dock, Middlesborough, as the Harwich district tender. She was the second Trinity House Vessel of that name; the first was at this time renamed Vestal and sent to the East Cowes district.

Keel laid: 12 February 1937
Built: 1938 by Smiths Dock Company Limited, South Bank, Middlesbrough
Length: 231′ 10″
Beam: 35′ 6″
Gross tonnage: 1073.22

THV Patricia’s highlights in her years of service until 1982 include the opening of the Naval Base at Iceland in 1940; Dunkirk, (shortly after which she was bombed and damaged before serving in Western Approaches 1941-44), the Invasion of Europe, opening channels on the German coast, opening freed ports on the Channel seaboard, and re-establishment of the Channel Islands’ lights after the German evacuation.

She stood in for the Royal Yacht on the Royal Visit by HRH Prince Philip to Norway, Sweden and the Olympic Games Helsinki in 1952. She was in attendance at the Royal Fleet Review at Spithead, the Coronation Pageant on the River Thames in 1953, the 20th anniversary review of the NATO Fleets at Spithead in 1969, and the Jubilee Review of the Fleet at Spithead in 1977.

In addition she on numerous occasions acted as Royal escort, following the longstanding tradition by which Patricia precedes the Royal Yacht Britannia on ceremonial duties in home waters.

THV Patricia (2) c1950

THV Patricia (2) c1950

On This Day in Trinity House History – 4 February


Trinity House Writes By-Law to Prevent Bad Manners

Trinity House Court Minute:

“Ordered that whosoever in Court tyme shall take a pipe of tobacco, being of the fraternity, shall forfeit 2d. for the use of the poor, which shall be put into the Poor’s box. Neither shall any withdraw in tyme of the Court sitting unless upon some urgent occasion.”

The above By-Law was written by the Elder Brethren of Trinity House as an inducement to good manners when it was discovered that the Parliament-appointed committee governing the Corporation during the Interregnum had allowed standards and manners to lapse between 1648 and 1659.

PipeDuring the upheaval caused by the English Civil War and Cromwell’s Commonwealth, the Corporation was caught up in the various political machinations and eventually accused of royalist sympathies and dissolved by Parliament. An Ordinance to regulate the Navy, the Customs, and Trinity House dated 16 January 1648 declared anyone of royalist sympathy since 1641 incapable of holding office under pain of crippling penalties. As a result, most of the Elder Brethren were either removed or had to resign, and a Parliamentary committee was appointed to sit in their place.

This committee represented no great reform, however, and carried on its daily affairs in much the same way as before, to that extent that, in July 1659, the former Brethren were asked to bring their experience to the committee’s assistance.

It was not until 1660 that the Corporation was able to restore its Court and powers with a charter of confirmation from King Charles II; the House of Commons appointed a Master and several other members, and directed them to restore the Corporation of Trinity House.

Former Brethren returned and others were appointed following the Restoration [the collapse of Oliver Cromwell’s Protectorate] in May 1660. The traditional annual election of the Master and Wardens was revived on Trinity Monday in June, with George Monck, first Duke of Albemarle appointed the new Master. Admirals Sir William Batten and Sir William Penn and Edward, first Earl of Sandwich are some of the more recognisable names on a list of eminent Lords, Admirals and Knights, alongside the requisite number of merchant captains.

On This Day in Trinity House History – 1 February


Trinity House Advises the King’s Navy

Trinity House Court Minute:

“Trinity House recommends the continuance of the cook rooms in H.M. ships in the mid-ships.”


THV Argus Workboat Disaster

During the night of 30 January a collision occurred between the steamer Dundee and an unknown barge; the latter was sunk 300 feet from the Cockle lightvessel. The crew of the barge were all drowned and her identity could not at first be established.

On 1 February the Trinity House Vessel Argus proceeded to remove the mast of the wreck, which was an obstruction to navigation, and so could be removed or destroyed by Trinity House as part of its statutory duties.

The weather being too bad for divers to go down, explosive charges were attached to a wire sweep rope and used to clear away the mast and other erections above deck.

The work was being carried out from the Argus workboat, in charge of Mr. Bound, Chief Officer, the crew consisting of five Seamen and one Seaman-Diver.

Two small charges had been successfully fired, but when the third charge was fired a terrific explosion occurred, a column of water being thrown up as high as the lantern of the lightvessel, both the Argus and lightvessel being severely shaken. The boat was thrown out of the water and capsized, all the crew with the exception of Mr. Bound, losing their lives.

When the wreckage floated to the surface, a board with the name Good Hope was picked up; this established the vessel as being the ketch Good Hope of Rye, which vessel had loaded at Faversham a cargo of explosives, said to be 40 tons of gelignite.

THV Argus workboat disaster - local newspaper 1909

THV Argus workboat disaster – local newspaper 1909