On This Day in Trinity House History – 05 May


The Deputy Master has stern words with a lighthouse keeper

Letter from Deputy Master Captain John Werry to St. Agnes Lighthouse’s keeper Amor Clark:

“Yours [i.e. your letter] to Mr Whormby has been read to all the gentlemen of the board, which does very much surprise us. I am very sorry to see what you say about the grate sent you. I am very sorry you cannot be in your senses to write as you do, for we kept the model you sent us by us, and most of us saw it before we sent it away, and I do say it is exactly like the model, not one quarter of an inch bigger nor less than the model in every respect, except the Upright Barrs, which we thought proper to make them to be taken out or put in, if any should be burnt. The former dimensions you sent us for a new grate were your mistake, as you confess, in sending us small inches instead of great inches, and now you have made the model of great inches instead of small.

For my part I must own I never knew any difference in inches, I think all inches in England are alike, but perhaps you have inches at St Agnes different from all the rest of ‘Ye World’.

It plainly appears to me you are mad, and if you continue so, we must send over another man to take care of the light. I do tell you that if the grate be not as it should be, it is your own fault in sending such a model, and now you are ordered, if any smith is to be had at St Mary’s that you bring him over to St Agnes, and let him make a grate out of that we sent you last as it ought to be, to please you if possible.

Be sure the Lighthouse is not set on fire, and that the glass be kept very clean. I perceive that you do not like the Welsh coals now, you say they will not flame. Altho’ you had no other formerly for years and no complaint then, yet you say now those coals made so strong fire, that had like to set the Lighthouse on fire, which seems to me a contradiction in itself, however, to please you if possible, although you have wrote us lately a very impertinent letter, we have agreed with a vessel to go to Sunderland to load about fifty Chaldrons of those coals for St Agnes, which you are to receive and see measured and send us how many Chaldrons she makes out.

I do advise you as a Friend to take care to the Light and keep the Glasses clean and make the grate according to your own mind (if it be possible a smith can be had) that we may have no more complaints, for I do assure you that you and your son will soon be removed if you go on as you do, and then it will be too late to repent.
It is for your Family’s sake I may say, and good Captain Rogers, that you were not turned out long since.
I desire you will take care for your Family’s sake; I fear you give yourself so much to drinking that you make yourself unfit for any business, I have not else at present,

I remain your Friend as long as you behave yourself well,

John Werry


The last Court meeting at Trinity House on Water Lane

The last meeting of the Trinity House Court in the Water Lane headquarters is held, before the new headquarters are opened at our present location at Tower Hill.

In 1660 it was decided that the Corporation’s business could be better carried on in the City, so in November the Elder Brethren moved from Ratcliffe—where they had relocated their office in 1618—to a house in Water Lane not far west of the current Tower Hill setting, described as “a stately building of brick and stone, adorned with ten bustos.”

At the same time they rebuilt their decayed hall at Deptford. When the Great Plague came in 1665, the Corporation removed itself to Deptford when the daily mortality rate reached 800. It was forced to do the same in 1666 for the Great Fire, removing a number of records and valuables before the house was consumed.

The house was rebuilt, but the Brethren would suffer another devastating and near total loss when it was destroyed by a sudden fire in 1715. The Board minute for 14 January 1715 recorded

“A terrible Fire hap’ning last night at Bear Key in Thames Street which burnt with such violence that about two this morning it took the houses in Water Lane and entirely consum’d the Trinity House belonging to this Corporation. The Deputy Master, Wardens, and Elder Brethren… mett together to consider what was proper to be immediately done on this dismal occasion, and Resolved that the business of the Ballast Office, and other affairs of the Corporation be for the present transacted at the Mitre Tavern in Fenchurch Street…”

By 1793 the house in Water Lane was in need of extensive repair. The Corporation sold the property to the Commissioners of Customs, and took over a vacant site on Tower Hill. Master carpenter-turned architect and engineer Samuel Wyatt, appointed Surveyor to Trinity House in 1792, drew up plans for a new house, which he can be seen presenting to the Elder Brethren in Gainsborough Dupont’s immense group portrait of 1794. William Pitt, Prime Minister, laid the foundation stone on 12 September 1793, and the first Court inside the acclaimed new headquarters was held on 23 May 1796.

Trinity House Water Lane

Trinity House Water Lane

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