Trinity House or more correctly 'The Corporation of Trinity House', was established in 1514 by Henry VIII. Its main function is the safety of shipping, and the wellbeing of seafarers.
What it does can be split into several parts:-
THV Galatea Image from Wikipedia
Monies coming into Trinity House come from 3 sources, commercial operations, charity events and fund raising, and light dues. Light dues accounts for the vast majority of its income.
Over the years Trinity House has been a forward looking organisation using new techniques and skills, and has also benefited in the large increase in the tonnage of goods shipped into and out of Britain. From what I have read it would appear that Trinity House now feel that most lighthouses are not really required, with better shipping navigational aids, and would over time like to see them all or nearly all phased out. They have wanted to close some, and local protests put enough pressure on them for them to be left running on a reduced power at least for the moment.
Their Charities are principally concerned in funding retirement homes and education.
Since 1604 the governing body of the Corporation has mostly comprised of 31 senior members known as Elder Brethren, who include the Master, Deputy Master, Wardens and Assistants of Trinity House, while all other members are known as Younger Brethren.
Today the Corporation is comprised of a fraternity of approximately 300 Brethren drawn from the Royal and Merchant Navy's and leading figures in the shipping industry.
The position now of Master is largely Ceremonial with management of Trinity House entrusted to the Deputy Master. The presence of Prime Ministers in the succession of Masters - notably William Pitt and the Duke of Wellington - underlines the historical significance of Trinity House in affairs of state, but since the mid-nineteenth century the Corporation has traditionally elected Royal Princes as Masters, reflecting the enduring patronage of the Crown, the present day Master since 1969 has been is HRH The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh.
Trinity House's operational headquarters is at Harwich in Essex, supported by a small base in Swansea and a flight operations base at St Just in Cornwall. A small number of people are based at Tower Hill, London.
The Ensign (flag) of Trinity House is a modified British Red Ensign with the shield of the coat of arms (a St George's Cross with a sailing ship in each quarter). The Master and Deputy Master each have their own flags.
Trinity House - The Building
The current building, near the Tower of London, dates from the end of the 18th Century. It was designed by architect Samuel Wyatt and built in 1796. It has a suite of five state rooms with views over Trinity Square, The Tower of London and The River Thames. Inside of note is an entrance hall , quarterdeck (stairs and balcony), court room, library and two function rooms, you can get a view of each of these rooms by starting from here and selecting from the options on the right, there are also 360 panoramas, leaflets and more. The rooms can be hired for functions, exhibitions and the like. There is a 20 page illustrated handout. (Trinity House have changed their website since this link was added)
Trinity House in 1808
The origins of Trinity House is not clear, its said it came from a charitable guild of sea submariners, established by Archbishop Stephen Langton in the 12th Century.
The first official record is the grant of a Royal Charter by Henry VIII in 1514 to a fraternity of mariners called the Guild of the Holy Trinity.
The major part of this was the authority to regulate the pilotage on the River Thames, which at the time was not only a leading gateway for trade and naval deployment but also a heavily travelled public thoroughfare.
At the time of inception in 1514, this charitable Guild owned a great hall and almshouses, close to the Naval Dockyard at Deptford on the River Thames.
In 1566, Henry’s daughter, Elizabeth I, extended the Corporation’s powers to include ‘buoyage and beaconage’ covering the length of the English coastline.
In 1604 James I conferred on Trinity House rights concerning compulsory pilotage of shipping and the exclusive rights to license pilots in the River Thames.
Trinity Houses connection with seamarks dates to the Seamarks Act of 1566 which gave them powers to set up
Unfortunately, Trinity House funds were extremely limited until, in 1594 the Lord High Admiral of England, surrendered his rights to the sale of dredged ballast to sailing vessels discharging their cargoes in the port of London. The rights to Ballast passed to Trinity House who took over responsibility for dredging shingle from the bed of the River Thames and selling it to masters requiring ballast. With the rapid growth of hipping into the port of London, ballast was a very profitable business, however business declined at the end of the nineteenth century, when steel ships capable of holding seawater ballast were introduced.
The first lighthouse built by Trinity House was at Lowestoft in 1609, which was part of a series of lights to help guide vessels through a maze of sandbanks between Happisburgh and Lowestoft. The lighthouses were paid for by a levy charged on vessels leaving the ports of Newcastle, Hull, Boston and King's Lyn, a method of payment which is similar to the current light dues system that remains in use today.
The next two hundred years saw a proliferation of lighthouses, many privately owned, with an annual fee paid either to the Crown or Trinity House. The owners of the private lights were allowed to levy light dues from passing ships when they reached port.
While there were large revenues to be made by some, many failed to collect, and at least to start payment was voluntary, some went bankrupt, while many others did not have the funds to properly provide lights.
The reliability of many of the private lights left much to be desired and so in 1836 legislation was passed for all private lights in England, Wales and the Channel Islands to be compulsory purchased and placed under the management of Trinity House. The previous owners were compensated on the basis of their receipts from light dues, a payment of nearly half a million in respect of the Skerries Lighthouse off Anglesey.
Charters have been granted since, the last I can find was by our current Queen in 1978. A collection of all the charters are available, only 37 pages in total, and are surprisingly readable.