60th Anniversary of the Rebuilt Trinity House on Tower Hill

21 October 2013 marks the 60th anniversary of the day that HM Queen Elizabeth II reopened the rebuilt Trinity House for business after it had been destroyed during the Blitz of the Second World War.

HM Queen Elizabeth II reopens Trinity House London 21 Oct 1953

HM Queen Elizabeth II reopens Trinity House London 21 Oct 1953

THE LOSS OF THE HOUSE

Before the Second World War was declared, the Elder Brethren of Trinity House arranged to evacuate not only the staff, but also most of the valuable contents of the house on Tower Hill. The silver plate and the most valuable paintings were safely removed to the vaults beneath the Tower of London’s Jewel Tower, with the remainder of the paintings sent to Bayham Abbey in Kent.

Knowing that the 18th century Trinity House comprised timber-built rooms connected by wooden stairs and passages, the Elder Brethren had, from the very first days of the war, organised themselves and their staff into trained fire-fighting parties who were on duty both day and night.

By late 1940 the paintings stored beneath the Tower were showing signs of damp, and so another house was found for them in Northumberland. They were temporarily brought back to Trinity House on 28 December 1940 for repairs, and were due to travel north on the 30th.

On the night of 29 December, however, Trinity House fell victim to the most severe of the air attacks on London. When incendiary bombs landed on the wooden beams of the house, fire fighters were able put out the first fire caused by the bombs, but the shortage of water prevented their efforts to extinguish subsequent fires.

On the morning of 31 December 1940 the staff found the whole of the Wyatt building and the offices at the back with their walls more or less intact, but the interiors completely gutted; apart from the separate East Wing, the only surviving portion of the building was the basement wine cellar. Many archives, rarities, fine models, hangings and paintings were destroyed, save for the paintings that had been at Bayham Abbey, and some archives and books that had gone to the countryside.

But normal business had to be resumed, and a number of interim offices were leased over the following years, as the various Departments occupied spaces at the Swedish Chamber of Commerce, Tower House, Hopetown House in Lloyds Avenue, the General Steam Navigation offices in Trinity Church Square, London House in Crutched Friars and Ocean House in Great Tower Street.

THE HOUSE IS RESTORED

Professor (later Sir) Albert Richardson initially submitted plans for building a new house, but the Brethren were determined to not only reinstate Wyatt’s building as it had been, but also to demolish the old Pilotage Service office building and build in its place a new library, grand enough to host functions and banquets, laid with carpet of the same pattern used in cabins of ships of the line at the end of the 18th century, as well as offices and sleeping quarters elsewhere in the building. In addition, an entirely new seven storey office block was built at the rear, with laboratories, a research department and recreation rooms.

Wyatt’s building restored at last, the house was reopened by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth on 21 October 1953 — Trafalgar Day.

“Following the tradition of our Family, which I hope will be long maintained, my Father was an Elder Brother of Trinity House, and, as you know, had intended to open your new building. I am therefore especially glad that I can today carry out his wishes, and join with you in celebrating your return to your historic home. This new building is a noble replica of the old House, so tragically destroyed, and is one of which the City of London can be justly proud. The Corporation of the Trinity House has a great record of public service and of charitable benefaction. For centuries, its members have been the Good Samaritans of the sea. I should like to take this opportunity of telling all those who have ever been associated with our Lighthouse and Pilotage services how deeply I appreciate their work and their devotion to duty on which depends the safety of those who sail the seas around these islands.”

HM The Queen, 1953 Trinity House re-opening ceremony

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.

[signed]”

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,

[signed]

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

Trinity House and the Blitz

See the damage done to the area around (and including!) Trinity House at Tower Hill > Bomb Sight is Live.

“The Bomb Sight project is mapping the London WW2 bomb census between 7/10/1940 and 06/06/1941. Previously available only by viewing in the Reading Room at The National Archives, Bomb Sight is making the maps available to citizen researchers, academics and students. They will be able to explore where the bombs fell and to discover memories and photographs from the period.”

Congratulations to everyone involved with this project!

Trinity House lost a great deal during the Blitz: many paintings, historical artefacts, invaluable archives, ancient books and more when an incendiary bomb came down upon the house on the night of 29 December 1940; thankfully no staff members lost their lives.

Trinity House 1940 Bomb Damage internal

Trinity House 1940 Bomb Damage internal

THE LOSS OF THE HOUSE

Before the war was declared, arrangements had been made to evacuate not only the staff, but also most of the valuable contents of the house on Tower Hill. The silver plate and the most valuable paintings were safely removed to the vaults beneath the Tower of London’s Jewel Tower, with the remainder of the paintings sent to Bayham Abbey in Kent.

Knowing that the 17th century Trinity House comprised timber-built rooms connected by wooden stairs and passages, the Elder Brethren had, from the very first days of the war, organised themselves and their staff into trained fire-fighting parties who were on duty both day and night.

By late 1940 the paintings stored beneath the Tower were showing signs of damp, and so another house was found for them in Northumberland. They were temporarily brought back to Trinity House on 28 December 1940 for repairs, and were due to travel north on the 30th.

On the night of 29 December, however, Trinity House fell victim to the most severe of the air attacks on London. When incendiary bombs landed on the wooden beams of the house, fire fighters were able put out the first fire caused by the bombs, but the shortage of water prevented their efforts to extinguish subsequent fires.

On the morning of 31 December 1940 the staff found the whole of the Wyatt building and the offices at the back with their walls more or less intact, but the interiors completely gutted; apart from the separate East Wing, the only surviving portion of the building was the basement wine cellar. Many archives, rarities, fine models, hangings and paintings were destroyed, save for the paintings that had been at Bayham Abbey, and some archives and books that had gone to the countryside.

But normal business had to be resumed, and a number of interim offices were leased over the following years, as the various Departments occupied spaces at the Swedish Chamber of Commerce, Tower House, Hopetown House in Lloyds Avenue, the General Steam Navigation offices in Trinity Church Square, London House in Crutched Friars and Ocean House in Great Tower Street.

THE RESTORATION OF THE HOUSE 

Professor (later Sir) Albert Richardson initially submitted plans for building a new house, but the Brethren were determined to not only reinstate Wyatt’s building as it had been, but also to demolish the old Pilotage Service office building and build in its place a new library, grand enough to host functions and banquets, laid with carpet of the same pattern used in cabins of ships of the line at the end of the 18th century, as well as offices and sleeping quarters elsewhere in the building. In addition, an entirely new seven-storey office block was built at the rear, with laboratories, a research department and recreation rooms.

Wyatt’s building restored at last, the house was reopened by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth on 21 October 1953 — Trafalgar Day.

Trinity House 1940 Bomb Damage external

Trinity House 1940 Bomb Damage external