500 years of Trinity House celebrated with showcase of rarely seen artefacts

Master of Trinity House, HRH Princess Royal. Credit: The corporation of Trinity House
Master of Trinity House, HRH Princess Royal. Credit: The corporation of Trinity House

To mark 500 years of Trinity House, a National Maritime Museum exhibition is showcasing over 70 artefacts from the guild’s archives.

Master of Trinity House, HRH Princess Royal. Credit: The corporation of Trinity House
Master of Trinity House, HRH The Princess Royal. Credit: The corporation of Trinity House

Although it may be best known for being the General Lighthouse Authority for England, Wales and the Channel Islands, Trinity House first began as a guild looking after the interests of mariners in the busy Port of London before being granted Royal Charter by King Henry VIII in 1514. It still upholds many of its traditions, including the election of a Master (currently HRH The Princess Royal) who is supported by a pool of Elder and Younger Brethren; Sir Winston Churchill was made an Elder Brother during his time as First Lord of the Admiralty.

The Guiding Lights exhibition at the National Maritime Museum, which is open until January 2016, displays 70 rarely seen objects from Trinity House and the museum’s own collection, which helps bring to life some of the stories of the heroic and extraordinary people that have helped keep Britain’s mariners safe for centuries.

The history of Britain’s lighthouses is told through models, film and some poignant personal effects of lighthouse keepers. One story of bravery brought to life is that of lighthouse keeper’s daughter Grace Darling who became famous in the 1830s for her role in a daring rescue mission of a group of survivors after she spotted the shipwrecked Forfarshire on nearby rocks. The story is told with prints depicting the dramatic rescue and a small carved alabaster statuette of Grace, which has never been displayed before.

Aside from the exhibition, to mark its half a millennium this year Trinity House has given a grant in excess of £2m to develop a community hub for retired mariners at the Nautilus Welfare operated almshouses in Wallasey, Merseyside, which was officially opened in April by HRH The Princess Royal, Master of Trinity House. The corporation has also funded the development of a boathouse in Ramsgate for the RNLI, and is providing financial support for the employment of a family support officer to provide assistance to families of mariners in difficult times.

To read our feature on the history of Trinity House and the traditions upheld by this remarkable institution, see the September/October issue of BRITAIN magazine, on sale in the UK on 6 June and in the US on 11 July.

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