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Trinity House

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:-

Lighthouses, radio beacons, marking immediate new hazards, and the sign posts of the sea.

It is the General Lighthouse Authority for England, Wales, the Channel Islands and Gibraltar, responsible for a range of general aids to navigation, 'signs of the sea', from lighthouses to radar beacons.

It runs a lot of lighthouses in these areas. You can identify all that are active in England and Wales, as they are listed on our Featured List of Lighthouses - England and Wales  and in the links column have 'TH'. Similarly those in the Channel Isles are in Featured List of Lighthouses - Channel Islands.   The Trinity House Lighthouse we don't have listed is the one at Gibraltar. Some of these are the most magnificent structures created, others are a light on a post. The 'TH' links go directly to the Trinity House page on the lighthouse. From our location guides there are also links, and we have a location guide on all of them.

Some of the lighthouses are open to the public, and have visitor centres, generally these visitor activities are franchised out to others to run. The lighthouses that are open to visit are shown on our listings with a yellow band, they are also shown on the listing in the links column with the code 'TH Open', and these links go directly to the Trinity House page on visiting arrangements, this is a different page to that linked to with the 'TH' link.

Some of the lighthouse keepers cottages are now available for holidays, see Staying in or by a Lighthouse.

Trinity House are very involved in new technology solutions, including AIS, eLoran, and DGPS. The DGPS, the Digital Global Positioning system became operational in 2002.

Pilotage,  expert navigation for ships in Northern Europe waters.

Ships don't have to use pilots, but some choose to, to strengthen their bridge teams, especially if unfamiliar with our waters. Trinity House are authorised by the Secretary of State for Transport to licence Deep Sea Pilots.

Historically they also provided local pilots into many ports, they were the Pilotage Authority for London and over 40 other Districts, including the major ports of Southampton and Harwich. Under the 1987 Pilotage Act, responsibility for District Pilotage was transferred to Port and Harbour Authorities.

Retirements Homes

Prior to the first Royal Charter, Trinity House had a number of  almshouses for aged mariners and their dependents, near the Naval Dockyard at Deptford in Kent. Today they have 20 purpose built retirement homes at Walmer in Kent. The homes are fitted out with the elderly in mind and have recently been refurbished to include deck level bathrooms and larger fully equipped kitchens.

Training Scholarships (cadets)

The Trinity House Merchant Navy Scholarship Scheme provides financial support for young people, between 16 and 18½ years old, seeking careers as officers in the Merchant Navy.

Candidates must be British and permanently resident in the British Isles, with a minimum of 5 GCSEs at Grade C or better, and have passed the Department of Transport medical examination.

Cadets undertake a three or four year programme split between nautical college and time at sea in a variety of British managed vessels. Cadets can train as either Deck or Engineer Officers or pursue a Marine Cadetship encompassing both disciplines.

Commercial Operations

Since revised legislation in 1997 allowed Trinity House to undertake commercial work, they provide a range of services to others, from put down and maintaining bouys to providing ships with specialist facilitates. For many organisations it is both more cost effective and reliable to use facilities that Trinity House have to offer than to obtain and maintain specialist equipment themselves.

Leaflets are available on the commercial service offered

 Amongst the assets they have available are 3 specialist ships:-

THV Galatea - New in 2007. Multi Functional Tender, 84m long with a service speed of 13 knots. She is designed with buoy handling, wreck marking, towing and multibeam and side scan hydrographic surveying capability. THV Galatea   

THV Patricia - New in 1982. A Multi Functional Tender, 86m long, has a helicopter-landing pad. 20 tonne main crane capacity and 28 tonne bollard pull and towing winch, survey capable and accommodation for an additional 12 people. THV Patricia    Photo

THV Alert - New in 2006. A Rapid Intervention Vessel, 39.3 metres long, a service speed of 15 knots and a maximum speed of 17 knots.  Designed to cover the southeast coast where she will be able to respond rapidly to any maritime incident. She can be involved in  buoy handling, wreck marking, towing and multibeam and side scan hydrographic surveying capability. THV Alert    Photo

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.

 'Light Dues' are levied on commercial vessels calling at ports in the British Isles and Republic of Ireland ports, based on the net registered tonnage of the vessel. The rate is set by the Department of Transport, and annually reviewed. Light Dues are currently charged at 41 pence per net registered ton, subject to a maximum charge of £16,400 per voyage in 2010. Vessels are charged for a maximum of nine voyages per annum. Tugs and fishing vessels are liable for annual payments based on the registered length of the vessel.

Light dues are paid in to the General Lighthouse Fund, which is under the stewardship of the Department for Transport. The fund is used to finance the lighthouse services provided by Trinity House, the Northern Lighthouse Board (responsible for Scotland and the Isle of Man) and the Commissioners of Irish Lights (responsible for the waters around both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland). A copy of the light dues order for 2010 in Euros, with full exemptions, details etc is on the Commissioners of Irish Lights website. aA copy of the English Parliament statutory instrument in UK pounds for 2010 is also available on a government site, as well as  UK explanation notes.

Major initiatives such as lighthouse and light vessel automation and the solarisation of buoys and a growing number of lighthouses have made a significant contribution to the reduction of Light Dues. The rate of Light Dues has fallen in real terms for over a decade with the rate either being frozen or cut. 2009 saw the first increase in Light Dues for 20 years, but 2010 saw a decrease.

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.

"so that they might regulate the pilotage of ships in the King's streams"

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

"So many beacons, marks and signs for the sea, whereby the dangers may be avoided and escaped and ships the better come into their ports without peril"

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.

Further Information


By: Keith Park   Section: Lighthouses section Key:
Page Ref: Trinity_House Topic: Lighthouses Last Updated: 09/2012

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