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.
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.
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.
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.