Corporation of Trinity House - Encyclopedia

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CORPORATION OF TRINITY HOUSE, an association of English mariners which originally had its headquarters at Deptford in Kent. In its first charter, received from Henry VIII. in 1514, it was described as the "guild or fraternity of the most glorious and undividable Trinity of St Clement." The first master appointed was the founder of the corporation, Sir Thomas Spert, comptroller of the navy to the king, and commander of the "Harry Grace de Dieu." Deptford having been made a royal dockyard by Henry VIII., and being the station where outgoing ships were supplied with pilots, the corporation rapidly developed its influence and usefulness. By Henry VIII. it was entrusted with the direction of the new naval dockyard. From Elizabeth, who conferred on it a grant of arms in 1573, it received authority to erect beacons and other marks for the guidance of navigators along the coasts of England. In 1604 a select class, was constituted called Elder Brethren, the other members being called Younger Brethren. By the charter of 1609 the sole management of affairs was conferred on the Elder Brethren; the Younger Brethren, however, having a vote in the election of master and wardens. The practical duties of the fraternity are discharged by the acting Elder Brethren, 13 in number, of whom 2 are elected from the royal navy and 11 from the merchant service; but as a mark of honour persons of rank and eminence are admitted as honorary Elder Brethren. In 1647 the corporation was dissolved by parliament, but it was reconstructed in 1660, and the charter was renewed by James II. in 1685. In 1687 a by-law of the Trinity House for the first time required an agreement in writing between the master and crew of a ship. A new hall and almshouses were erected at Deptford in 1765; but for some time the offices of the corporation had been transferred to London, where for a while they had a house in Water Lane, Lower Thames Street, and in 1795 their headquarters were removed to Trinity House, Tower Hill, built from the designs of Samuel Wyatt. By an act of 1836 they received powers to purchase from the Crown, as well as from private proprietors, all interests in coast lights. For the maintenance of lights, buoys, &c., they had power to raise money by tolls, the surplus being devoted to the relief of old and indigent mariners or their near relatives. In 1853 the control of the funds collected by the corporation was transferred to the board of trade, and the money over which the brethren were allowed independent control was ultimately reduced to the private income derived from funded and trust property. Their practical duties in erection and maintenance of lighthouses, buoys and beacons remain as important as ever. Similar functions are carried out by the Northern Lighthouse Board and the Irish Lighthouse Board, for Scotland and Ireland respectively. They have also the care and supervision of pilots. Other Trinity Houses established under charter or act of parliament for the appointment and control of pilots are at Hull and Newcastle. The Elder Brethren of Trinity Masters also act as nautical assessors in the high court of admiralty. The corporation has a large wharf and repair shop at the mouth of the river Lea, where most of the work in connexion with buoying the Thames is carried out.

See W. H. Mayo, Trinity House, London, Past and Present (London, 1905); C. R. B. Barrett, The Trinity House of Deptford Strond (1893).

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