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Trinity House, London


There have been four Societies of Mariners in England known as Trinity Houses, at Deptford, Newcastle, Hull and Dover. Two of them have a connection with James Cook.

On 6th July 1844 the Board of Trinity House, Hull ordered "that the portrait of the late Captain James Cook the celebrated navigator which is now on sale be purchased for the purpose of being hung in this House". This portrait was one of three by John Webber1.

On 29th June 1757 at Trinity House, Deptford, Cook passed an examination, and came away with a certificate stating that he was qualified "to take charge as Master of any of His Majesty’s Ships from the Downs thr’ the Channel to the Westward and to Lisbon".

It is not known why these societies were called by the name Trinity House, nor when they were established. However, an Act of Parliament of 1565 referred in its Preamble to "the Master, Wardens and Assistants of the Trinity House of Deptford Strond, being a Company of the chiefest and most expert Masters and Governors of Ships".

The Strond or Strand was that part of the River Thames bank between Deptford Creek, where the Ravensbourne tributary flowed in, and Watergate Street to the westward. A neighbouring part is Deptford Green where stood the church of St Nicholas. Trinity House was originally a hall, rebuilt in 1664, pulled down in 1786 and rebuilt two years later. The annual Court was held in this hall up till 1852. The establishment was closed down in 1877 and the dwellings let to private people, and known as "Rose Cottages". They were subsequently demolished and the land left vacant. A nearby property in Church Street was sometimes known as Trinity Hospital. Trinity House also established at property at Stepney or Ratcliffe in 1618. There was a Trinity Lane leading to Trinity Stairs. In 1659 it was thought that both Deptford and Stepney, although near the river and fairly easily reached by barge, were too far from the centre of affairs, so in March 1660 new premises in Water Lane (near the Tower of London) were opened up.

Samuel Pepys recorded in his diary for 15th June, 1663: " By water to Deptford to the Trinity House… Thence to Church… That done by water… to the Trinity House at London" by which he meant the building in Water Lane. On 4th September 1666, following the Fire of London, Pepys walked down Tower Street (near the Tower of London) in the dark after supper and saw "it all on fire, at the Trinity House on that side and the Dolphin Taverne on this side", again referring to Water Lane. And on 24th November, 1666: "by coach to Stepney to the Trinity House, where it is kept again now since the burning of their house in London."

The premises in Water Lane were rebuilt in 1669 and Courts were held there again in 1670. The same year the house at Stepney was no longer needed and was let. In 1714 the Water Lane building was again destroyed by fire and subsequently rebuilt, but fell into such disrepair that it was decided to write it off and build a completely new headquarters on Tower Hill. The ground for the present Trinity House was acquired in 1792 and the foundation stone was laid on 12th September 1793. It was completed in 1798.

Various Charters were granted to Trinity House in which their duties and privileges were declared. The Charter of James I decreed that this general company of mariners should be governed by a Master, four Wardens, eight Assistants and eighteen Elder Brethren. Everyone else was one of the Younger Brothers. Amongst the Masters over the years was the Earl of Sandwich (for three separate periods from 1749 to 1781). Amongst the Elder Brethren was Hugh Palliser2.

John Robson queried whether Cook had sat his exams at Deptford or Water Lane3. In a subsequent letter from the Guildhall Library4 in London John was told that Cook did sit his exam at Water Lane, but Trinity House continued to refer to itself as Trinity House, Deptford. With such as complex history, and confusion over whether Trinity House refers to a building or society we can perhaps see why.

Ian Boreham


  1. Cook's Log, page 1281, vol. 19, no. 2 (1996)
  2. Cook's Log, page 634, vol. 12, no. 1 (1989)
  3. Cook's Log, page 1500, vol. 21, no. 2 (1998)
  4. Cook's Log, page 1592, vol. 22, no. 1 (1999)
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Great story I used to see the building every working day going to and fro from Tooley St (Cable & Wireless) and the "Bunch of Grapes" a rather pleasant Inn of good repute!
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By Dave Alexander on 1/24/2013 6:42:34 AM Like:0 DisLike:0

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