On This Day in Trinity House History – 23 December

1566

The Seamarks Act is passed in the House of Lords

An Act “concerning Sea-marks and Mariners” is read for the first time and passed in the House of Lords.

This Act, passed by Elizabeth I enabled Trinity House

“at their wills and pleasures, and at their costs, [to] make, erect, and set up such, and so many beacons, marks, and signs for the sea, in such place or places of the sea-shores, and uplands near the sea-coasts, or forelands of the sea, only for sea-marks, as to them shall seem most meet, needful, and requisite, whereby the dangers may be avoided and escaped, and ships the better come into their ports without peril.”

 


1977

The Last Trinity House Oil-Burning Lighthouse

St. Mary’s Island Lighthouse is the last of the Trinity House lighthouses to be converted to electric operation.

The paraffin vapour burner (PVB), which had been in use since 1898, was replaced by a temporary portable lamp which was used at the lighthouse for two months while a permanent electrical system was installed.

SI. Mary’s Island, sometimes called Bait Island, lies north of the popular holiday resort of Whitley Bay which is a long stretch of sand with low rocks running far out from the shore. Steep banks of grass front the sea and the many acres of lawn make it a very attractive resort. A causeway links the island to the mainland, and at low tide holiday makers can cross to the lighthouse on the small island and scramble over the rocks.

The lighthouse was built for Trinity House by Messrs. J. Miller in 1898. During the excavation for the foundation of the lighthouse, the workmen unearthed several skeletons and stone coffins from what used to be the burial ground for the monks of Tynemouth Priory. The white round tower is 37 metres high and is connected by service rooms to the keepers’ dwellings.

Postcard from St Marys Lighthouse

Postcard from St Marys Lighthouse

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On This Day in Trinity House History – 11 June

1594

Trinity House Ballast Office is established by Elizabeth I

Lord High Admiral Howard of Effingham surrendered the rights of Ballastage in the River Thames to the Corporation, and these rights were confirmed by Queen Elizabeth.

Ballastage—the sale of material dredged from the river bed for weighing down unladen ships—was an important early income for the Corporation; over time, the river was dredged to the extent that the Thames became deep enough for larger trade vessels to navigate safely further upriver.

The work of the Ballastage Office required clerks, rulers, assistants, watermen and up to 40 lighters, “the crews of which there is no small difficulty in due subordination.” The office ran as a separate income department, distinct from the day-to-day business of the house, occupied with the running and maintenance of a fleet of workhorse vessels employed in the most laborious service possible. The 1834 Royal Commission stated that Trinity House had moved 400 million tons of ballast—presumably in the 240 years since 1594 when the right was granted to do so.

The Seal of the Ballast Office for Trinity House London

The Seal of the Ballast Office for Trinity House London

In 1818 a riverside wharf and a Ballast Heaver’s Hall at Ratcliffe was purchased for ballastage uses. In 1853 Trinity House set up the Heavers’ Office to ensure the welfare of the men who handled ballast, having previously been subject to extortionate cash-in-hand working practices—“a demoralising system of payment through publicans and local harpies.” These men were subsequently employed through Trinity House and paid fair wages on a regular basis.

In 1866 £13,068.14s was earned, a considerable income for the charity. By the end of the 19th century, however, the lightermen were finding it difficult to earn a living from the trade; by 1893, the Ballastage Office was wound down, ending a significant, hard-earned and very old income stream for the Corporation’s charitable work, the business being no longer profitable after the introduction of water ballast. The steam dredgers Goliath and Hercules and six lighters were sold, and the staff of 24 pensioned off.


1652

Trinity House’s assistance in arming Navy ships is sought

Trinity House Court Minute:

“Navy Office ask Trinity House to treat with Owners and Masters of ships for guns.”

 

On This Day in Trinity House History – 27 January

1573

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 – 2 January

1566

Queen Elizabeth Grants Trinity House the Power to Erect Seamarks

An Act Eighth Of Elizabeth is passed “to enable the trinity-house to erect seamarks, and give licence to mariners to row in the river of Thames.”

In return for its steady hand in aiding the maturation and expansion of London’s shipping trade, the Corporation’s powers and influence were allowed to evolve and grow steadily over the years, and so it was that, in 1566, Queen Elizabeth I granted an Act of Parliament which would increase its powers considerably.

Elizabeth I at Trinity House

Elizabeth I at Trinity House

This Act enabled Trinity House

at their wills and pleasures, and at their costs, [to] make, erect, and set up such, and so many beacons, marks, and signs for the sea, in such place or places of the sea-shores, and uplands near the sea-coasts, or forelands of the sea, only for sea-marks, as to them shall seem most meet, needful, and requisite, whereby the dangers may be avoided and escaped, and ships the better come into their ports without peril.”

Beyond the power to erect lighthouses and day marks, Elizabeth’s favour would also confer upon the Corporation the power to license pilots, exclusive ballastage rights on the Thames and, in 1573, the grant of its coat of arms, bearing Sir Thomas Spert’s sailing ship emblem and the motto Trinitas In Unitate.