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.” 

On This Day in Trinity House History – 18 April


Trinity House Keep a Thames Waterman from the Press Gangs

Trinity House Board Minute:

“A certificate to the officers employed in empressing seamen, not to Impress John Goodcheape, employed as a waterman to row the Deputy Master and Wardens, was issued under the seal of the Corporation.”

Trinity House had the right to license mariners to row on the Thames as watermen. These watermen were both older and fewer in number than the apprentices and freemen of the Company of Watermen and Lightermen.

Trinity House by the Thames 1746

Trinity House by the Thames 1746