As John Whormby, Clerk to the Corporation, wrote in 1746, the general business of the Master, Wardens and Assistants was

“to improve the art and science of mariners; to examine into the qualifications, and regulate the conduct of those who take upon them the charge of conducting ships; to preserve good order, and (when desired) to compose differences in marine affairs, and, in general, to consult the conservation, good estate, wholesome government, maintenance and increase of navigation and sea-faring men; and (withal) to relieve decayed seamen and their relatives.”

The relief of decayed seafarers and shipmen and their dependants—a function performed to this day that predates even the first Royal Charter—essentially comprised the management of almshouses and the dispersal of welfare and pensions by the Brethren to seamen and their dependants in hardship, as well as the deserving poor of London.

Since it was first incorporated, the Corporation has bought, inherited, built and maintained a number of properties and lands for their benevolent purposes. There have been too many to describe properly here, but chief among the historical properties are the following:

Deptford 'Upper Ground'

This is the ground on which 38 almshouses were erected circa 1671, on three sides of a one acre quadrangle. Captain Richard Maples, who died in 1680, left to the Corporation £1,300 with which a hall and 18 additional almshouses were built, completing the quadrangle. A statue was erected to his memory, afterwards removed to the Mile End almshouses and later to Trinity House on Tower Hill where it now stands.

In 1763 the Corporation purchased adjoining lands, on which a hall and 18 additional almshouses were erected, possibly replacing the above properties. The great hall was replaced only 21 years later, but the almshouses would stand until 1866, when they gradually fell into disrepair; the residents were gradually vacated, and the site let out in 1875.

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Deptford ‘Lower Ground’

It is said that this land, on which the original almshouses at Deptford were built, was in the possession of the Guild before its incorporation by Henry VIII in 1514, and that the hall and almshouses which formerly stood on the site were built in the 15th century for “decayed Masters of Ships and their Widows.” This triangular plot of land was situated in the Stowage at Deptford, not far from the river.

The original almshouses and great hall of the Corporation were demolished and rebuilt in 1660; by 1788 they had become ruinous again and were taken down and again rebuilt on the same site. The residents were removed from these houses about 1863 and the premises were let. Many coloured glass panes from the hall with merchants’ marks survive as the only record of the early Masters and Wardens of the Corporation, and today adorn the windows in the library at Trinity House. Nothing of the Deptford estates remains today.

Mile End

In 1695 28 almshouses and a chapel were built to accommodate the growing ‘brotherhood’ of mariners. Besides the accommodation, a money allowance, coals and other comforts were given to the residents. The original 28 dwelling houses ran down each side of a quadrangle, with a chapel at one end; later, the quadrangle would be extended into a ‘T’ shape.

The interior of the chapel contained the painted glass panes which survive alongside the Deptford panes in the Trinity House library.

Counting the almshouses at Deptford and those at Mile End together, the Corporation possessed 93 in the year 1730, 111 in 1770 and 144 in 1815.

By 1893, however, the almshouses at Deptford had been pulled down and a system of pensions established in their place.

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Lincolnshire Estate

This land came to the Corporation under the will of Captain Robert Sandes in 1720, with a trust for poor seamen, their widows and orphans. The estate now totals 565 acres of farms and outlying pastures, and neighbouring village Goxhill.

Trinity Homes, Walmer

Today we maintain 18 retirement homes at Walmer in Kent, purpose-built in 1958. 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.

On 9 May 1958 HRH The Duchess of Gloucester opened the new homes, which had been built to replace those at Mile End which were damaged beyond repair in the Second World War. The provision of almshouses for retired mariners is one of the central objects of Trinity House’s charitable goals and predates even our 1514 Royal Charter; before 1514 we had 21 almshouses and a hall at Deptford, which were added to from time to time by charitable bequests of members of the Corporation and others; and in the 17th century many more were built on the estate at Mile End.

As the homes at Mile End were so seriously damaged by enemy action and that—since they were first built—the locality had been largely industrialised, the Elder Brethren decided to find a site in a position more suitable for elderly retired people than central London. The present site in St. Clare Road, near Walmer Castle and not far from the sea, was eventually considered the most suitable.

The construction of the new homes began in January 1957. A Flash article from the time reports that

The Homes consist of fourteen single floor houses erected as three sides of a square with a two floor block in the centre of the St. Clare Road frontage… Each house contains a Living Room and two Bedrooms, a Kitchen, Bathroom and usual offices. The Kitchens are fully equipped with sink units and a gas cooker, and the Bedrooms have built in wardrobes. The Homes are centrally heated and designed with every modern convenience in order to provide the maximum comfort for elderly people with the minimum of housework.

“The upper floor contains a very fine Common Room or Library with a large television set and sound radio for the use of the residents. A self-contained flat for the resident Matron is also on this floor… The main entrance to the buildings has been adorned with carved stones bearing the illuminated coats of arms of HRH The Duke of Gloucester [then Master of Trinity House] and of Trinity House itself.”

In a speech recorded for radio and television by the BBC, the Duchess—in her capacity as the wife of the Master—said they were very fine homes which would set a high standard, not only for today, but for many years to come.

Today the charity works to continually update the grounds and bungalows to improve the lives of the residents, and looks for new residents to welcome on site.


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