On This Day in Trinity House History – 2 September


The Great Fire of London starts

The Great Fire of London starts at a bakery on Pudding Lane shortly after midnight, and spreads rapidly west across the City of London.

The Trinity House Elder Brethren had time to remove themeslves and a number of records and artefacts from the house which was at that time at Water Lane (not far from our current location at Tower Hill) to Deptford before the house was consumed. The fire burned until 5 September.

Younger Brethren Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn kept famous diaries of the event.

The LONDONERS Lamentation, a broadside ballad published in 1666 giving an account of the fire, and of the limits of its destruction. Via Wikipedia.

The LONDONERS Lamentation, a broadside ballad published in 1666 giving an account of the fire, and of the limits of its destruction. Via Wikipedia.

On This Day in Trinity House History – 4 August


THV Ariel precedes the Royal barge at the Thames Water Pageant

In order to celebrate the peace after the First World War, a Pageant of All the Sea Services was organised, in which a procession of boats, carrying representatives of all ‘those who go down to the sea in ships’, proceeded from Tower Bridge to Chelsea.

His Majesty King George V led the procession in the Royal barge, manned by Watermen, holders of Doggett’s Coat and Badge. THV Ariel was brought from Yarmouth and fitted with a lowering mast to enable her to clear the bridges. The Royal barge was preceded by the Ariel, flying the flag of the Duke of Connaught (Master), who was on board, attended by Sir Acton Blake (Deputy Master), Rear-Admiral Mansell and Captain Golding.

Royal procession at Tower Bridge

Royal procession at Tower Bridge

Enter the Trinity House 500th anniversary quiz for great prizes

Enter the Trinity House 500th anniversary quiz for great prizes

As part of its 500th anniversary celebrations, the Corporation of Trinity House is offering the chance to win a copy of the new Trinity House photography book Light Through A Lens and a Trinity House-themed print by renowned illustrator Peter Kent.

We’ll post more about the book on this blog closer to its publication on 11 September 2014. In the meantime, you can read about it on the Bloomsbury website.

To find out more, please visit the Trinity House website. Good luck!

On This Day in Trinity House History – 20 May – The Big One!


The Corporation of Trinity House of Deptford Strond is incorporated by Henry VIII

Henry VIII grants a Royal Charter to The Master, Wardens and Assistants of the Guild or Fraternity of the most glorious and undividible Trinity and St. Clement in the Parish Church of Deptford Strond*.

The Royal Charter came as a result of a petition made by a guild of mariners, troubled by the inexperience and poor conduct of unregulated pilots on the Thames. This already well-established benevolent fraternity, in ownership of a great hall and 21 almshouses for the benefit of distressed seamen and their dependants, petitioned the king for license to set up a fraternity enabled to regulate pilotage on the capital’s river:

“The practise of pilotship in rivers, by young men who are unwilling to take the labour and adventure of learning the shipman’s craft on the high seas, is likely to cause scarcity of mariners; ‘and so this your realm which heretofore hath flourished with a navy to all other lands dreadful’ shall be left destitute of cunning masters and mariners; also that Scots, Flemings and Frenchmen have been suffered to learn as loadsmen [pilots] the secrets of the King’s streams, and in time of war have come as far as Gravesende ‘and sette owte English shippes to the great rebuke of the realm.’”

This new corporation was to be governed by a Master, four Wardens and eight Assistants, who were to be elected annually, and were empowered, for the general improvement of the science of navigation, to elect and expel any of their number; by-laws could be created, and transgressors punished by forfeit or expulsion. A seal served as the legal mark, and the Corporation was authorised to hold property to conduct its charitable affairs and meetings, with a chaplain appointed to pray for the kings, queens and brethren living and deceased.

To this day, the Corporation is headed by the Master, whose extensive powers and jurisdiction are deferred to the Deputy Master. Sir Thomas Spert, Master of the Mary Rose and the Henri Grâce à Dieu, was “Sometyme Comptroller of the Navy to K. Henry VIII and both the first Founder and Master of the Worthie Society or Corporation called the Trinity House”, as inscribed on his monument.

For more of the history of Trinity House, the best place to start would be with Richard Woodman’s recently published history, Light Upon The Waters, available from our website, and more information can be found on this blog and on our main website.

*This name would be slightly altered in the charter of 1604 to The Master Wardens and Assistants of the Guild Fraternity or Brotherhood of the most glorious and undivided Trinity and of St. Clement in the Parish of Deptford Strond

Trinity House petitions Henry VIII 1513

Trinity House petitions Henry VIII 1513 copyright Trinity House



Trinity House is concerned about the sale of dirty fruit and alocohol on the Thames

Trinity House Court Minute:

“The Trinity House apply to the Company of Watermen to suppress those who sell fruit and strong waters from dirty boats not licensed to row on the River.”



A warm testimonial to 400 years of Trinity House 

On the occasion of Trinity House’s 400th Anniversary, Lloyds List wrote the following:

“As a matter of history the record of Trinity House is fascinating. In its time it has been many sided. It has served the nation in this capacity and that, and all the while it has somehow managed to make itself so indispensable that, in an age of scant reverence for ancient institutions, it stands not only unassailed, but, we might also add, unassailable.” 

Royal Museums Greenwich Item of the Month: John Smeaton’s ‘A Narrative of the building… of the Edystone [sic] lighthouse with stone’

Royal Museums Greenwich Item of the Month: John Smeaton’s ‘A Narrative of the building… of the Edystone [sic] lighthouse with stone’

A Narrative of the building… of the Edystone [sic] lighthouse with stone, PBB4061

“May 2014 marks the 500th anniversary of the incorporation of Trinity House and May’s item of the month describes a pioneering triumph of English lighthouse engineering.

After the timber and stone lighthouse built on the Eddystone rocks by John Rudyerd was destroyed by fire in 1755, the Eddystone proprietors, who held a lease from Trinity House, chose John Smeaton to build a replacement. Warmly recommended by the Royal Society, Smeaton had no direct experience of building lighthouses – nor did anyone else – but was an instrument maker who investigated the power of wind and water and had tested ships’ compasses and logs at sea. Above all, as his biographer says, ‘he was valued for the power and clarity of his intellect’ (A.W. Skempton (1981), John Smeaton FRS, p.11).”

The new National Maritime Museum exhibition Guiding Lights celebrates 500 years of Trinity House. Exhibition Curator Gillian Hutchinson takes a closer look at a rare book, A Narrative of the building and a description of the construction of the Edystone [sic] lighthouse with stone, by John Smeaton, Civil Engineer, F.R.S., 1791.

After reading the post, go see for yourself! Visit the National Maritime Museum’s new temporary exhibition, Guiding lights: 500 years of Trinity House and safety at sea. Admission is free and open until January 2016.


Smeaton's Eddystone medal

Smeaton’s Eddystone medal

On This Day in Trinity House History – 23 April


Trinity House appoints foreign consul

Trinity House Court Minute:

“Trinity House appoints Sir Philip Barnady to be Consul at Genoa.”

One of the more obscure duties of the Elder Brethren was the appointment of consuls at foreign ports. Although it is a little-documented duty, there is evidence of Trinity House appointing consuls to such far-flung locations as Leghorn, Genoa, Trapani and Livorno.



Church of All Hallows-by-the Tower and view along Great Tower Street, 1955

Church of All Hallows-by-the Tower and view along Great Tower Street, 1955

Trinity House gives aid victims of fire in Tower Street, London

Trinity House Board Minute:

“Most of the Considerable Inhabitants of this parish having contributed largely to the sufferers by the fire in Tower St on Wednesday morning (where four persons perished in the flames) and the Church Wardens applying for this Corporations Charity on the unhappy occasion five guineas ordered to be given to them.”


500 Years of Trinity House exhibition opens at the National Maritime Museum

Guiding Lights: 500 years of Trinity House and safety at sea

Trinity House exhibition banner

On 15 April the Master of Trinity House, HRH The Princess Royal, formally opened the new exhibition at the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, London, titled ‘Guiding Lights: 500 years of Trinity House and safety at sea’. The exhibition is a fantastic showcase highlighting the history and modern relevance of Trinity House as a charity, a general lighthouse authority and a deep sea pilotage authority today, and its many historical functions.

“Guiding Lights showcases centuries of invaluable work by the Corporation of Trinity House to help sailors navigate safely at sea, preventing countless shipwrecks and immense loss of life.

Marking the 500th anniversary of Trinity House, the gallery displays 70 rarely seen objects from Trinity House and the Museum’s own collection, telling stories of the heroic and the extraordinary from throughout the organisation’s history, and of human fortitude in the face of the immense power of the sea.

The history of Britain’s lighthouses is told through intricate models, dramatic film and the personal effects of lighthouse keepers. Lightvessels, buoys and yachts are illustrated through rarely-seen, beautiful watercolour sketches by accomplished marine artist William Lionel Wyllie. Tales of personal bravery include that of lighthouse keeper’s daughter and plucky heroine Grace Darling.”

This wonderful exhibition is open from 16 April 2014 until 4 January 2016, open daily 10.00-17.00, and is suitable for all ages and backgrounds.

Entry is free to all!

More information for visitors can be found at the Royal Museums Greenwich website or by telephoning 020 8312 6565.

On This Day in Trinity House History – 5 March


The Elder Brethren give Mrs. Colebert’s gift to the poor of Limehouse

Colebert’s Gift:

“By Indenture made the 5th March, 1633, between John Watts of Ware in the County of Hertford, Knight and Emanuel Finch of Ratcliffe in the County of Middlesex Merchant Taylor executors of the Will of Elizabeth Colebert deceased (bearing date 30th May, 1631) of the one part and the Master Wardens and Assistants of Trinity House of the other part.

It is witnessed that the said executors paid to the said Master Wardens, etc., the sum of £50 to the end intent and purpose that they should pay or cause to be paid to the Churchwardens and Overseers of the Poor of the Hamlet of Limehouse yearly upon the Feast Day of our Lady St. Mary the Virgin the sum of Forty-five shillings to be disbursed and laid out in loaves of bread by the Church-wardens and Overseers for the time being and then to be by them distributed and given by them to the Poor of the Hamlet of Limehouse, according to the Last Will and Testament of Mrs. Colebert wherein she gave forever to the Company of White Bakers in London the aforesaid sum of £50 to the intent and purpose therein mentioned.

Which Company refusing to accept thereof it was by the said executors given to the Corporation for the use and, distribution above mentioned.

And the Corporation accepted thereof and Covenanted with the executors for the performance of payment accordingly.”

A date for your diary at the National Maritime Museum

Good news from our Twitter feed… The National Maritime Museum in Greenwich will be running an exhibition on the 500-year history of Trinity House and safety at sea from April 2014 until January 2016. We look forward very much to this collaboration, and we hope you’ll enjoy the results!

Today in Trinity House history: 19 March 1513 – the Masters and Mariners of the Thames petition Henry VIII

Five hundred years ago today, on 19 March 1513, a guild of mariners—troubled by the inexperience and poor conduct of unregulated pilots on the Thames endangering life and cargo—petitioned the King for license to set up a fraternity enabled to regulate pilotage on the Thames. This fraternity was already in ownership of a great hall and 21 almshouses for the benefit of distressed seamen and their dependants, suggesting an already well-established body.
The petitioners put forward the following case:


To the king our sou(er)aigne lord.

In the moste lowly wise shewen unto your excellent highnes yor humble subgiects and true liegemen the maisters rulers and maryners of yor navye within your Ryver of Thamys and other places that wher moste mercifull redoubted prince that of tyme owte of man is mynde as long as due order good rule and guyding were sufficed to be had in yor said Ryver and other places by auncient Englissh maisters and lodesmen of the same the said rivers and places and the daungers of the same were then by theym thrughly serched so surely that fewe shippes or noon were perisshed in defaulte of lodemanage now it is so moste gracious sovereign lord that dyvers and many yongmen namyng theym self mariners beyng owte of all good order and rule not havyng the perfyte knowlege ne experience in shipmens crafte neither of sufficiency experience approved ne of age in the same to knowe the surance and saufconduyte of shippes by the connyng of lodemanage dailly unseytly medlen therwith to great and hurte and losse of moche of the said Navye  And also not willeng to entre into the actuell aventure and paynes of saillyng in the mayn see wherby experience and knowledge of sailleng from Realme to Realme might clerely growe and be lerned and also by the same your navye and marchaunts shulde be the more in nombre and your custumers greatly encreased whiche can not be had but by the connyng and science of shipmans crafte by greate laboure and aventure of the see sailleng from land to land taken in yowth but the said yongmen not intendyng to learne the said science and crafte ne to aventure for the obteyning of the same ne for the weale nor for the avauntage aforsaid dailly applye their myndes to easier labor to be pilotts and lodesmen in yor said Ryver of Thamys oonly whiche was somtyme the lyveng of auncient maryners whan they myght no lenger for bruseys and maymes had upon the see in the Kings warres or for pure age labor any more in the crafte and aventure aforsaid  

And so by reason of the said yongmen wull no ferther lern but pilotship oonly in yor river aforsaid whan auncient maisters and maryners of this yor realme that now ben whiche am very feble and many ben expended and goon  Then ffewer maryners of science and connyng to saille by sees shall then be·lefte behynde theym  

And so this yor Realme whiche here tofore hath florisshed with navye·to alle other lands dredfull and connyng maisters and maryners in the same yor Realme to guyde the said navy through all Cristendom is sees shall then be utterly destitute and unpurveyd of suche sure and connyng maisters and maryners at tyme of nede That God defend  

And howbeit soueraign lord that among yor said subgietts there ben many and dyvers conyng men aswell maisters as lodismen that be of great age and perfyte connyng to convey and bring into the said Ryver and owte of the same any carrak gayly or vessell of what burden however it be yete for all that for lak of good ordre and due correccion amongest us as well Scotts Flemmyngs Frenshmen as other straungers borne not beyng yor naturell subgiects take upon theym to be lodismen in yor said river and other places of this yor roialme  

And to enserche and knowe yor stremes and the daungers and secrets of the same contrary to yor olde lawes and customes  And all the good policye of this yor roialme By reason wherof thissame yor Realme myght be put in great jeoperdy as experience of olde tyme hath shewed in so muche that fewe yeres sens it hath ben seen within yor said river and other places of this yor reelme in tyme of werre Frenshmen and other then beyng enemyes By knowlege of the secrets of yor said Ryver have comen as fer as Gravesende and fette owte Englissh shippes to the great rebuk of this realme 

And if the auncient maisters and maryners therof that now been had the rule or ordryng of the premisses as their predecessours in dayes paste have had There shuld noon suche straungers have the rule of lodemanage nor take any charge upon theyme in yor said ryver as they now have and fewer shippes or noon shuld perisshe in defaulte of lodemanage as now of late have doon But many moo shippes shulde come in to yor said river and other places then of a greate season have doon to the great avauntage of yor custumers and also sufficient maisters and maryners of connyng wolde every day encrease more and more so that in tyme of nede soueraign lord it shuld not requyre to seke straungers to do yor grace service at yor high pleasure ne to serve yor marchaunts in any besynes  

And so in conclusion moste rightwis and our moste drad soueraign lord yor said subgiects must nede shortly perisshe and yor said Navye utterly mynyssh and decay to all straungers most greatly rejoysyng and to all true Englishmen moste pitiously lamentyng withoute yor moste tendir pitye and mercy to theym in this case be shewed  

WHEREFORE the recontinuaunce and reencreasing aswell of yor said maisters & maryners as of yor Roiall whiche ben greatly abated and decayed over that they were and have ben of late tyme  And in consideracion gracious leige lord that all princes and kings cristenys have speciale favor & preferment to the Marchaunts maisters &maryners of their regions contreyes & lands for the encrease and mayntenyng of their Navye for the greate perfitt and custumers that come therby to the said kings and princes and for the great honor and comonweale of their said regions contreys & lands  

IT MAY pleas therfor you most mercifull soueraign lord syns ye be the moste noble cristen king and have the moste noble region in comodities with merchaunts maisters maryners and navie of the worlde if they be maynteyned and cherisshed as other nacions ben now at this tyme for Godds sake and in wey of charite calling to yor gracious remembraunce how that it were a blissid dede to breke all the forsaid ill rules and mysguydings and to reforme and bryng to good use and ordir every thing towchyng the premysses and to helpe to set it in good wey to the pleasure of God honor and worship to you soueraign lord and of this yor Roialme  

And to the great joy and comfort of all trew English merchaunts maisters lodismen and maryners  And for the speciall encreas of yor navie and custumes to graunt to yor said subgietts yor gracious letters patents in due and ample form to be made and enseelid under the greate seale after the tenor ensuyng  And they shall every pray to God for the preservacon of your most noble and roiall estate long to endure in as moche joy and felicite as ever did Cristen prynce.

As Henry was engaged in his first war with the French at the time of petition, it was 14 months before the charter could be finally signed, incorporating that body of mariners as The Master, Wardens and Assistants of the Guild or Fraternity of the most glorious and undividable Trinity and St. Clement in the Parish Church of Deptford Strond, although this name would be slightly altered in a later charter to The Master Wardens and Assistants of the Guild Fraternity or Brotherhood of the most glorious and undivided Trinity and of St. Clement in the Parish of Deptford Strond, in the County of Kent.

So that’s how it all got started; now follow the Trinity House History blog for more on what happened next!