On This Day in Trinity House History – 28 June 2014 – Centenary of First World War


The First World War begins

As nations around the world today (28 June 2014) mark the centenary of the First World War, Trinity House vessels Patricia, Galatea and Alert will be among those flying their flags and ensigns at half-mast at 1700 UTC.

The men and women of the Corporation of Trinity House all played their part in the effort, and many even gave their lives.

Although lighthouses and lightvessels at this time were ordered to maintain strict neutrality, the Trinity House Steam Vessel Service was thrust forward, busily buoying shipping lanes, Swept Channels and Naval operations, and moving and replacing lightvessels; over 200 additional lighted buoys and 361 additional unlighted buoys were deployed, and the Corporation covered points as far-flung as the White Sea and the Persian Gulf. Continue reading

On This Day in Trinity House History – 10 June


Samuel Pepys attends Trinity Monday with his Master

Samuel Pepys’ diary:

“So I back to the Wardrobe; and there found my Lord going to Trinity House, this being the solemn day of choosing Master, and my Lord is chosen.”

On this date, Edward, first Earl of Sandwich KG was elected Master by the Court of Trinity House, and Captain Sir William Ryder was elected his Deputy.

Pepys started his career as a minor member of the Montagu household and owed his appointments first to the Wardrobe and then as Clerk of the Acts to the Navy Board to Montagu’s influence.



HRH Prince Charles Sworn in as Elder Brother

At a Special Court held immediately prior to the Annual Court His Royal Highness Prince Charles, Prince of Wales, was elected an Honorary Elder Brethren of Trinity House.

The Honorary Elder Brethren attending the Court were the Master HRH The Duke of Edinburgh, Admiral of the Fleet The Earl Mountbatten of Burma, The Duke of Norfolk, The Viscount Runciman of Doxford, The Right Hon. Harold Wilson, The Right Hon. Edward Heath, together with the Active and Retired Elder Brethren and Younger Brethren.


1974 Trinity Monday procession led by HRH The Master with HRH Prince Charles behind

1974 Trinity Monday procession led by HRH The Master with HRH Prince Charles behind

Trinity House and D-Day – On This Day in Trinity House History – 6 June


Trinity House plays its part in the D-Day landings

The Corporation of Trinity House’s staff, lighthouses, lightvessels, tenders and pilots played a vital role in the success of Operation Neptune, the landing operations of the Allied invasion of Normandy (Operation Overlord) during the Second World War.

Soon after the declaration of war in September 1939 the Admiralty sought out the services of Trinity House, requiring the exhibition of navigational lights and the establishment of buoys to mark swept channels.

Trinity House established 73 lighted buoys in various depths at given positions between England and France; the buoys were laid according to schedule and in spite of the weather. After the venue for the landings had been agreed a decision had to be taken as to the number of swept lanes and buoys required.

Trinity House’s Chief Superintendent Captain A G Carrick (d.1953) summed up the detailed work encountered on Operation Overlord in 1951:

“Firstly, after the venue of the invasion had been chosen, the number of swept lanes required across the Channel and the number of buoys in each lane sufficient to meet ordinary conditions of visibility had to be decided upon. This would determine the number of buoys required, which would also give the depth of water of each buoyed position. With the foregoing information, the length of chain cable and the sinker necessary to hold these buoys in position could be determined.

“Secondly, the shape and colour of the superstructure that each buoy had to carry in order that these buoy positions could be identified was considered. In order that this identification could be carried out in hours of darkness, different characters of flashing lights were allocated. These were chosen so as to avoid confusion between neighbouring buoys.

“The work of preparing these moorings into their various lengths, preparing the buoys according to their appropriate colours, charging them with gas cylinders and assembling the lamps with their pre-selected characteristics was taken in hand.

“On completion of the above, the task of transporting them to the port of assembly was next to be considered, when it was found that the fighting services were all requiring transport to this same port, and all naturally demanding a high degree of priority for their requirements. However, the Admiralty released several LCTs [Tank Landing Craft] which were, about this period, making a passage within a few days of each other from east coast ports to the southward, and which they detailed to call at Harwich for the purpose of loading these buoys and transporting them to Cowes in the Isle of Wight.

“The next point to be considered on the arrival of these buoys and moorings at the port of assembly was the question of their storage, as they had to be kept immediately available and ready for service. With the heavy demand on every foot of quay space, deep water berths and shore lifting cranes, the answer to this problem was difficult, and as the LCTs had to be released as soon as possible for their other duties, it was decided that the Thames lighter [barge] should be used for this purpose of storage. Here again the question of priority was paramount, but 20 of these craft were allocated, together with three small tugs.

“These lighters were moored to buoys in the River Medina. The ocean buoys and moorings, according to their groups, were stored therein and then towed from there to the operating vessels as required.

“Six Trinity House Vessels—Patricia (Captain R Goodman), Warden (Captain J Le Good), Georges De Joly (Captain J R Meyrick), Alert (Captain T J White), Andre Blondel (Captain G Sherman) and Discovery II (Captain J J Woolnough)—were detailed to assemble in the Solent three weeks prior to D-Day, in order to be stored, victualled and loaded with their first consignment of buoys in readiness to mark the lanes for the assault forces and the subsequent passage of innumerable craft of every possible description necessary for an operation of this magnitude.

“After dealing with their load of buoys, these vessels would immediately return to the port of assembly and reload in readiness to sail on their second assignments. This operation was repeated until all the necessary buoys had been laid.

“These channels having been established and marked, it can well be understood that with the amount of traffic plying continually between the two coasts, collisions with, and mishaps to these light buoys would occur. Few would appreciate that the number of casualties amounted to 350 within the period of some four months, and at one time reached the alarming figure of 7.5 per day. This of course kept the Trinity House Vessels fully occupied in supplying and fitting spare parts or lamps, according to the nature of the casualty, and continually servicing the buoys in one way or another in order to maintain the lighted channels.

“The fact that the above laying and servicing was carried out without hindrance, and that later two fully-manned lightvessels were established off the coast of France, shows the complete mastery which our fighting services had obtained over the enemy, and more so when it is realised that swept channels were marked by light buoys close along the coasts of France, Belgium and Holland, up to the opening of the River Scheldt by the Allied Forces, and later along the coast and into the ports of Germany itself.”

During the three years prior to Overlord much shipping was diverted to the east coast ports; as the traffic to London was greatly reduced, over fifty London District Pilots undertook pilotage duties in the Clyde. Traffic in the Port of London increased again with preparations for the invasion and the responsibility fell on Trinity House for piloting all the commercial vessels and many of the service vessels engaged in those operations. All the Mulberry [portable temporary] Harbour Units which were constructed on the Thames were towed to their parking places under the supervision of Trinity House pilots.

In the month following D-Day nearly 3,000 ships were handled by 88 River Pilots and nearly 2,000 by 115 Sea Pilots. During that period many pilots worked day and night unceasingly without relief and pilots had to be recalled from the Clyde and the Royal Naval Reserve.

Juno (No. 72) Lightvessel was established on 18 June 1944 remaining on station until 27 January 1945 when she was towed to Le Havre for damage repairs following various collisions and heavy seas. One month later she was relaid in a new position at a station named Seine. On 3 March 1946 she was replaced by a French Light Vessel named Le Havre and towed to Harwich.

No. 68 marked the Kansas station and was laid on 16 July 1944 remaining until 11 November the same year when she was towed to Ryde then to Cowes.

On 3 September 1944 Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay, Allied Naval Commander-in-Chief sent the following message to Trinity House:

“I wish to place on record my High appreciation of the invaluable work performed by the vessels of Trinity House and their crews, as well as by those who have been responsible for the organisation and preparations ashore, during recent operations involving the landing on the Continent of Europe of the greatest seaborne expedition in History. The great success achieved was due in no small part to the contribution of Trinity House.

“2. The smooth way in which the buoy-laying has progressed has been in particular due to the work and splendid co-operation of your Superintendent at Cowes, Captain Barber. Without his willing help and advice at all times both before and during the operations the many problems which arose could not have been so easily overcome.

“3. Success is seldom achieved without loss, and it was with great regret that I learned of the loss of THV ALERT on 16th June. She had done fine work close off the enemy coast and it was most gratifying to know that none of her crew was lost.

“4. I shall be grateful if you will convey my appreciation to all of Trinity House.”

Juno Lightvessel and THV Warden D-Day 1944

Juno Lightvessel and THV Warden D-Day 1944 copyright Trinity House

On This Day in Trinity House History – 23 May


The first Court is held at the new Trinity House at Tower Hill

The first Court of the Elder Brethren is held at the newly-built corporate headquarters at Tower Hill.

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.

Trinity House 1795

Trinity House 1795


HRH Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught and Strathearn is elected Master of Trinity House

Trinity Monday: HRH Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught and Strathearn KG KT KP GMB GCSI GCMG GCIE GCVO GBE VD TD is elected Master of Trinity House.

HRH Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught and Strathearn (1 May 1850 – 16 January 1942) was the seventh child and third son of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. He was commissioned as a lieutenant in the British Army, where he served for some 40 years, seeing service in various parts of the British Empire. During this time he was also created as a royal duke, becoming the Duke of Connaught and Strathearn, as well as the Earl of Sussex. Though he retired from public life in 1928, he continued to make his presence known in the army well into the Second World War, just before his death in 1942; at the time of his death, he was Queen Victoria’s last surviving son. He sat as Master for the consecutive years until 1942.

On This Day in Trinity House History – 21 May


HRH Prince George (later George V) is elected Master of Trinity House

Trinity Monday: HRH Prince George, Duke of York KG KT (later George V) is elected Master of Trinity House. He sat as Master for 15 consecutive years until 1910, and was an Elder Brother until his death in 1936.

George V (3 June 1865 – 20 January 1936) was King of the United Kingdom and the British Dominions, and Emperor of India, from 6 May 1910 through the First World War (1914–18) until his death. George was a grandson of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. From 1877 to 1891, he served in the Royal Navy.

The second son of Edward VII, George became his father’s heir when his elder brother Edward unexpectedly died in 1892. He came to the throne in 1910 in the middle of a constitutional crisis caused by the House of Commons’ attempt to limit the powers of the Lords, and within four years was leading a country fighting for its survival during the First World War. The post-war years were equally turbulent, with war in Ireland, a general strike, world depression and the formation of a national government, all requiring steady leadership from the King. Throughout these difficult years, George maintained the dignity of the monarchy, and saw its popularity rise when he celebrated his Silver Jubilee in 1935.

HRH Prince George (later George V) Master of Trinity House (1900) copyright Trinity House

HRH Prince George (later George V) Master of Trinity House (1900) copyright Trinity House

On This Day in Trinity House History – 11 May


The former Trinity House headquarters at Water Lane gets a lick of paint

Trinity House Court Minute:

“Ordered, that the Hall of this House be new painted and whitewashed forthwith, and that the Models, Pictures, and Tables of Benefaction therein be put into proper repair and order.”



HRH The Princess Royal is elected Master

At the annual Trinitytide elections, HRH The Princess Royal KG KT GCVO is elected Master of Trinity House in place of the departing Master, HRH The Duke of Edinburgh.

The Princess Royal was sworn in as an Elder Brother of the Corporation in 2004. The Master took pride of place when Trinity House Motor Boat No.1 led the vanguard of the Diamond Jubilee procession upon the Thames in 2012.

Jubilee Procession by Lord Ambrose Greenway

Jubilee Procession by Lord Ambrose Greenway

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