The Corporation of Trinity House

The early history of Trinity House is an integral part of the history of the Royal Navy. The navigation policy instituted by Richard II had not been uniformly maintained under the Lancastrian and Yorkist sovereigns, with the result that in the opening years of the sixteenth century shipping was fast becoming decayed and mariners were unable to find employment. 

To remedy this serious state of affairs an Act for the Maintenance of the Navy was passed in 1540, in the preamble of which was a reference to the continued complaints that the Navy was diminished and the towns on the coast decayed, and that “divers persons, not regarding the maintenance of the said navy nor yet the commodities and profits coming and going into this realm by occasion of the same, for their own singular lucre and advantage ” had not refrained from infringing the existing laws against importing goods in foreign vessels. 

At this time the neglected condition of our coasts and harbours exposed our merchant ships to many serious risks, and Henry VIII had not long ascended the throne before he directed his attention to the remedying of these defects and to improving the Navy. 

In the reign of Henry VII the pilots mariners located at Deptford Strond, in the county of Kent, had formed themselves into a Guild, dedicated to the honour of the Holy Trinity, for the purpose of watching over the interests of all concerned with shipping, and “to take knowledge of those that destroyed sea-marks.” One authority has attributed the origin of the Fraternity to Stephen Langton and another to Alfred the Great, but the oldest known document having reference to the Society is dated 1512 and is a licence to form a Guild “in honour of the Holy Trinity and Saint Clement in the Church of Deptford Strond for the reformation of the navy, lately much decayed by admission of young men without experience and of Scots, Flemings and Frenchmen as loadsmen ” (pilots), but, curiously enough, it contains no reference to sea-marks. 

But whatever may have been the date of its inception, it is certain that on the 20th of May, 1514, Henry VIII, who appears to have fully grasped the policy which ought to be adopted in regard to the ownership of sea-marks, incorporated the Guild under the style of “The Brotherhood of the Most Glorious and Undividable Trinity.”

This Charter was confirmed by Queen Elizabeth in 1558, by James I in 1604, by Charles II in 1660, and by James II in 1685. The original Charter, which was recited in full when exemplified by George II in 1730, clearly shows the Guild was already possessed of lands and tenements at Deptford Strond.

The first Master of the Trinity House was Sir Thomas Spert, Knt., who in 1513 was master of the famous ship, Henri Grace-à-Dieu, built by Henry VII. When the ship’s flags were delivered into his care this is how they were described in a very curious document which accompanied them:

“The parcels hereafter following made by me, John Brown, the King’s peyntor, for the King’s royal ship, called the Henri Grace-à -Dieu, the 10th of April the fifth year of the reign of our Lord King Henry VII. A large streamer for the main-mast 51 yards long, and the breadth according, fringed with Cadow fringe; for shaping, sewing and workmanship £3. Ten banners of tewke,’ beaten gold and silver, fringed with silk, each 5 yards long, 40s. apiece. A streamer, 30 yards long, workmanship 20s. Two flags with crosses of St. George; for shaping, sewing and fringe, price 10d. apiece. Eight flags with crosses of St. George, 10d. each.” 

The Brethren, prior to the grant of their great Charter by Henry VIII, had set up a branch establishment for pilots at Leigh, in Essex, for supplying pilots to inward -bound vessels, while outward-bound vessels obtained them from the parent house at Deptford. The church of Leigh is dedicated to St. Clement, and this dedication probably accounts for the introduction of that saint’s name into the title of the Guild. 

For the first few years after their incorporation the Brethren concerned themselves principally in supplying pilots, providing for the burial of deceased members, and in dispensing alms to the widows and orphans. 

They next turned their attention to the construction of piers at Dover and Scarborough on which they spent considerable sums. They also secured the intervention of Parliament to prevent the harbours of Devonshire and Cornwall from being injured by the operations of tin miners. 

Although Henry VII had designed to establish Admiralty and Navy Boards for “the encouragement and conduct ” of his new fleet, it was left for his son to carry his intentions into effect. This he did in 1520, when the dockyard and arsenals, together with the shipbuilding yard at Deptford, were converted into Government establishments. 

In the early days of their existence the Trinity Brethren designed and built ships for the newly established Royal Navy and surveyed the vessels hired or purchased for warlike purposes. No powder, shot, or gun was allowed to be placed on board a vessel unless the Guild’s certificate had first been obtained. 

During the reigns of Edward VI and Mary the fleet was sadly neglected, and this state of affairs gave rise to an amusing incident which is mentioned in the acts of the Privy Council. On the 20th of April, 1556, “one William Harrys, a carpenter and gunner and the Queen’s Majestie’s servant, being brought before my lordes and examined uppon certain lewde wordes that he was accused to have spoken, confessed that he spake these words upon Maundy Thursday last, sitting in an alehouse at Deptforde, viz – That the Queen hath given this day a great alms and given away that shoulde have paid us our wages ; she had undoone us and hath undoone this realme too, for she loveth another realme better than this.” This William Harrys rose eventually to be Master of the Fraternity.

Henry VIII and even the guardians of Edward VI refrained from spoiling the Guild, who nevertheless considered it advisable to change their name to “The Corporation of the Trinity House of Deptford Strond.” 

For several centuries one of the privileges of the Lord High Admiral of England had been the right to all profits arising from the sale of ballast taken from the River Thames and to the dues levied for buoyage and beaconage. These rights were generally farmed out by the Admiral ; thus we find in 1540 Lord High Admiral Russel leasing out a part of the ballastage dues to two men na ed Huse and Tregonnell, and the dues from the beaconage and buoyage of the River Wear to one Croke, who a few years later obtained those of Falmouth, Dartmouth and Plymouth also. Naturally the lessees endeavoured to make as much profit as possible out of them, and so the result could not be otherwise than unsatisfactory. But his successor, the Lord High Admiral Howard, who was an upright and patriotic man, determined to surrender all his rights over these dues into the Queen’s hands with the sole condition that she should bestow them for ever upon the Master, Wardens, and Assistants of the Trinity House of Deptford Strond. The deed of surrender was dated May 27th in the 35th year of the reign of Queen Elizabeth, and in the following year the whole rights in the dues were conferred on the Brethren, who thus became possessed of dues valuable even then but soon to provide a very large income.

When James I ascended the throne the Guild had become rich and powerful and the owners of several important royal charters. In 1604 a revised charter was granted, the Brethren were divided into two classes, the Elder and the Younger, and the number of members increased from thirteen to thirty-one. The Guild also lost its religious element, for the conditions for the maintenance of a chaplain and for the conduct of religious services were omitted.

The earliest entry in the books of Trinity House is dated January 5, 1606, and is an order to their officers at Newcastle, Yarmouth, Lynn, Hull and Boston to levy a tax of twelvepence per 100 tons on all ships using those ports and to use it for the support of the buoys and beacons between Lowestoft and Winterton; if any refused to pay, then their names were to be laid before the Corporation.

The Corporation appear to have already added to their other duties that of acting as arbitrators, especially in cases of dispute between masters of vessels and their crews. In 1614 serious complaints were made of infringements of their ballastage rights, masters of ships helping themselves to ballast and declining to pay the dues. The Lord High Admiral thereupon ordered the delinquents to be committed to goal (the usual way of spelling gaol in those days) forthwith, and without bail, until he gave further orders. 

At this period the Trinity Brethren were called upon to deal with a much more serious matter than any which had hitherto engaged their attention, viz., the suppression of pirates, who not only attacked vessels on the high seas but also in the immediate neighbourhood of English seaports. Between the years 1609 and 1616 the depredations of the Barbary corsairs had grown so serious that in 1619 an expedition was sent out against “the famous and warlike City of Algiers,” and Trinity House had to contribute £2,000 towards the expense of its equipment.

The Brethren were at this time practically the Conservators of the Thames below London Bridge, and their certificate was necessary before any wharves could be enlarged or shipyards extended. They also granted licences for vessels to purchase arms and ammunition and to require at the same time a bond from the owners not to dispose of the same. Indeed, so powerful had Trinity House become thal in 1619 we find a certificate granted by them to the Justices of Assizes of the County of Kent to the effect that “the building of a bridge between Stoke and the Isle of Grain will be beneficial.”

But the most important of the various duties entrusted to the Corporation was the care of sea-marks. With the accession of Queen Elizabeth greater activity in naval matters became apparent, and the provision of sea-marks for the guidance of mariners approaching our coasts had become a necessity. The preamble to an Act passed in 1566 states that “forasmuch as by the destroying and taking away of certain steeples, woods and other marks standing upon the main shores adjoining to the sea-coasts of this realm of England and Wales, being as beacons and marks of ancient time accustomed for seafaring men to save and keep them and the ships in their charge from sundry dangers thereto incident, divers ships with their goods and merchandises in sailing from foreign parts towards this realm of England and Wales, and especially to the port and river of Thames, have by the lack of such marks of late years been miscarried, perished and lost in the sea, to the great detriment and hurt of the common weal and the perishing of no small number of people,” &c. 

This is the earliest official reference to sea-marks, and from it we may assume that the use of warning lights on our coasts was practically unknown, the few lights there were being probably merely for guiding fishing boats into harbour rather than for the use of passing ships.

The Grant of the 36th year of Queen Elizabeth besides conveying to the Corporation the ballast dues included also “the beaconage and buoyage, and office of beaconage and buoyage, and the making, erecting, setting up, placing, and laying out, continuing, renewing, and maintaining from time to time and at all times, at their cost and charges, of all, every, and whatsoever beacon and beacons, buoy and buoys, mark and marks, sign and signs, in any and whatsoever place and places on, or about the sea, places navigable, and channels for passing into or out of havens or rivers, or seashores, coasts near the sea, uplands or forelands, or other places of our realm of England, near unto the sea or seas of the same.” 

The terms of this Grant of Elizabeth undoubtedly gave to the Corporation the absolute and sole right of erecting sea-marks and beacons upon our coasts. James I in 1604 revised the Charter and by an Order in Council dated February 14, 1616, stated that the sole right of placing sea-marks belonged to Trinity House. A few weeks later James, prompted possibly by a desire to raise money by granting to private persons patents for erecting lighthouses, pretended to have doubts as to the meaning of the Acts of the 8th and 36th Elizabeth and ordered the Attorney-General to look into the matter. On March 15th the Lord Keeper reported that lighthouses were sea-marks within the meaning of those Acts, although possibly they did not give the Corporation power to transfer their authority. A year later another Order in Council confirmed the previous Order, although the Corporation was advised not to levy any dues. 

There is no documentary evidence that will enable us to fix the date of the first modern lighthouse in England, but tradition has it that this distinction belongs to the two lighthouses erected at Caister in the year 1600. The Lowestoft light would appear to have been the next to be established, Captain Joseph Cotton giving the date as 1609, although Sir Frederick Arrow for some reason places it as late as 1676.

By a patent dated August 28, 1615, Sir Edward Howard was authorised to found a lighthouse at Dungeness, but he seems to have assigned it on June 25, 1618, the grant being confirmed by Charles I on March 4, 1627 . On February 12, 1616, the Corporation communicated with the Judge of the Admiralty as to the advisability of putting a lighthouse at Winterton, but it was not until March 5th of the following year that Mr. Norreys and Mr. Geere were ordered to go to Winterton and “make lighthouses there.” 

After considering the matter for nearly sixteen months the Attorney-General on June 4, 1617, gave it as his opinion that Trinity House had the power to erect lighthouses but not to transfer their authrity to others, although at the same time the Crown was not precluded from creating lighthouses on its own account, this reservation of course being made to provide the King with an opportunity of selling patents. Thereupon Sir William Erskine applied for a patent to enable him to build a lighthouse at Winterton. He quickly completed the building and proceeded to levy heavy dues ; but he appears to have had some difficulty in collecting them, for in June, 1618, we find Lord Zouch requesting the bailiffs of the Cinque Ports to assist Sir William in collecting the penny per ton due from ships using the light. 

Next we find that Peter Frobisher, heir of Sir Martin Frobisher, had obtained a patent for a light at Ravenspur in consideration of an annual payment of £6 13s. 4d. to the King. This patent was granted notwithstanding that the Trinity Houses of Dover, Hull and Deptford had condemned the project. The grant to Sir John Killigrew for a lighthouse at the Lizard was made on July 29, 1619.

In 1621 Trinity House succeeded in getting Parliament to pass a Bill ordering the suppression of the private lighthouses in Norfolk on the score of neglect. Six years later they petitioned the King in the matter of the proposed Foreland lighthouses, alleging that there was no necessity for them and that they would be useless as a means of avoiding the dangers of the Goodwin Sands; moreover, the tax of twopence per ton would be a great grievance to shipowners, and that all pilots declared that no ships had been cast away in their memory for want of these lights. But in the face of all opposition Sir John obtained his desire, and also, having sold his rights in the Winterton and Orfordness lights, he obtained a grant authorising him to transfer these two last-named lights to two men named Gerrard and Gore. 

Other projects for the establishment of private lights were strongly opposed by Trinity House on various grounds but without success, and so the private patentees in this great battle of the light-houses proved the victors. Bearing in mind the grant made by Queen Elizabeth to the Brethren, their opposition cannot be regarded as unnatural, although at the same time the fact must not be overlooked that while these disputes were in progress ships were being wrecked and mariners drowned by hundreds. Many, however, will be inclined to lay the blame for this on the system of patents rather than on the Corporation. At the same time it must not be forgotten that among the proprietors of “private lights”, there were some men of sagacity, energy, and self-devotion ; men who were proud of the means whereby they lived and took the same pleasure in having their light-house a credit to them that an opulent manufacturer does in bringing his mills up to the mark with all the recent improvements. But there was this difference, that while the manufacturer who failed to keep in the front rank as regards quality would soon see his goods fall in the market, the owners of private lighthouses, however inefficient their lights, could still levy tolls. 

It was private enterprise that built and rebuilt, and again rebuilt the Eddystone, and it was private courage that established that strange wooden-legged lighthouse on the “Smalls” Rock in the Bristol Channel. 

Returning to the year 1621, we find the Corporation endeavouring to compel the East India Company to pay their seamen their just wages and the widows the arrears of their pensions. Four years later they tried, but unsuccessfully, to obtain an increase of pay for the seamen in the Royal Navy. Then three of their members, assisted by three other shipmasters, were ordered to make a complete survey of the whole Navy and report on its condition. 

Several attempts were made about this time to upset the ballastage grant to the Corporation, but unsuccessfully. In 1631 Trinity House contributed £1,320 towards the expense of equipping the ship Charles, which was about to make an attempt to discover the North-West Passage. Then it is engaged in settling a dispute which had arisen in consequence of an order prohibiting fish being carried in foreign ships from English ports. Two years later the Brethren prayed the King to support them in their endeavours to prevent the exports of English herrings, the orders made by the Lords, they say, not having been obeyed. 

In this same year the Royal Navy seems to have been in need of sailors, although at the time 10,000 tons of shipping was lying idle in the river. Ten years later the King proposed to build a big ship, but the Corporation made the objection that there is no port in the kingdom able to accommodate such a ship, reminding His Majesty that the Great Harry had been a failure and the Henri Grace-à-Dieu far from a success. In 1636 the ballastage question cropped up again, and the King granted a thirty-one years’ lease which gave the lessees the sole right of selling gravel for the ballasting of ships in consideration of the payment to the Crown of an annual rent of £446 13s. 4d. for the first five years and 1,000 marks for the remainder of the term. 

Later in the same year a ship is wrecked at Tilbury, and the Corporation, after a survey, are of opinion that they can salve the ordnance and stores on board, but that nothing can be done for the ship. This appears to have been the first time that Trinity House was concerned with the salvage of wrecked vessels.

The principal event recorded in 1639 is the demand of the authorities at Greenwich made on a late Master of the Corporation for a contribution in support of the troops in Scotland. The Greenwich people professed that they were unaware that all members of the Corporation were exempt from land service. The following is a copy of the “Exemption of a Gentleman of Trinity House from serving in any other office than that of His Majesty’s Service”:

“Forasmuch as it hath pleased the King’s Most Excellent Majesty upon divers good considerations by His Highness’s Letters Patent under the Great Seal of England to discharge and exempt the Master, Wardens and Assistants of the Trinity, House of Deptford Stronde in the County of Kent and all other the Brethren, Officers, Ministers and Members of the said Corporation for the time being from finding or bearing of armour, or to be taxed or con – tributing to any manner of landservice whatsoever otherwise than as mariners and seamen in service as also from being summoned or put in Assizes, Juries, Inquests, Attaints and other Recognizances whatsoever. Therefore we, the aforesaid Master, Wardens and Assistants at the special request of this bearer, Captain Simon Bayley, of Ratcliffe, Mariner, one of the Brethren of our said Corporation, do certifie to all His Majestie’s Justices of the Peace and all others to whom’ it shall appertain that the aforesaid Captain Simon Bayley was admitted sworn and entered an Elder Brother of the said Corporation the Fourth day of September 1679 and is thereby exempted from any such service or Imposition. In Testimony whereof, we the Master, Warden and Assistants of the Trinity, House aforesaid, have hereunto set our Hands and have caused the Common Seal of our Corporation (in these and such like Cases accustomed to be hereunto affixed. Given the Thirtieth Day of October in the One and Thirtieth Year of the reign of our Sovereign Lord,

King Charles the Second of England, etc. Anno Domini 1679.” 

In 1647 an Act was passed dissolving the Charter of Trinity House and appointing a Committee of Roundheads to take charge of its affairs. This was an astute move on the part of Cromwell, for obviously. it was undesirable that a powerful body, by no means favourable to the Parliament, should be allowed to retain the absolute control over ships of war, naval stores and munitions. The granting of a fresh Charter was under consideration in 1650, and Admiral Sir Harry Vane presented a report thereon to the Council of State; but nothing came of it, and the work of the Corporation was carried on as though it were a department of the State.

In March,1659, General Monk and Mr. Prynne were elected Elder Brethren, and in the following year General Penn and Sir William Penn also. The dues were revised in this year, and it was decided that English ships which carried foreign crews should pay the enhanced taxes charged on foreign vessels.

On November 27, 1660, Charles II granted the Corporation a new Charter on similar lines to that of James I. It appointed General Monk the Master, and Lord Dare, Lord Sandwich, and Sir John Minnes Wardens. In the same year a new Hall for the use of the Corporation was built at Deptford, the old Hall having fallen into a ruinous condition. Next year the King caused the Corporation much uneasiness by granting a number of patents to permit private persons to erect light-houses in consideration of an annual rent to the Exchequer; but on the Corporation lodging a strong protest against this infringement of their rights, a re-grant was made to them, but reserving most of the revenue for the use of poor seamen, widows and orphans. 

Pepys, in his Diary, has several references to his visits to Trinity House. On June 4, 1662, he was at Trinity House, “where we treated, very dearly I believe, the Officers of the Ordnance. We had much and good music. I heard talk of the difference between the fleet now and in Queen Elizabeth’s days when in 1588 she had but 36 sail great and small in the world; and ten rounds of powder was their allowance at that time against the Spaniard” On June 15, 1663, he dines with the Brethren, and relates that both at and after dinner we had great discourses of the nature and power of spirits and whether they can animate dead bodies; and on June 6, 1664, he went “by barge to Trinity House with Sir W. Batten. Here were my Lord Sandwich, Mr. Coventry, my Lord Craven and others. A great dinner and good company Mr. Prin [W. Prynne] also, who would not drink any health, no, not the King’s, but sat down with his hat on all the while but nobody took notice of it to him at all.”

In 1670 Samuel Pepys’s brother John (who was in Holy Orders ) was elected Clerk to the Corporation. Two years later we find the Brethren in debt to the extent of £1,100, and still in need of more money for the purpose of ransoming the captives in Algiers. 

With a view to obtain smart lads to be apprenticed to a seafaring life, Charles II granted to Trinity House a patent for examining the boys of Christ’s Hospital in navigation and arithmetic. The first examination was held on August 14, 1675, when certain candidates were passed but three were rejected. 

Andrew Marvell was elected a Younger Brother in 1678, and in the following year the Trinity Brethren went in a royal ship to the Isles of Scilly to select a suitable site for a lighthouse. In this and the following years the Corporation made several unsuccessful attempts to buy up the rights of the private lighthouse patentees. 

On the accession of James II the Corporation surrendered their Charter to the new King and prayed for a re-grant. Evelyn, in his Diary, date July 20, 1685, thus refers to the delay in the issue of the new Charter: “The Trinity company met this day, which should have been on the Monday after Trinity, but was put of by reason of the Royal Charter being so large that it could not be ready before. Some immunities were added. Mr. Pepys, Secretary to the Admiralty, was a second time chosen Master. We went to church according to custom and then took barge to the Trinity House in London where we had a great dinner, above eighty at one table.” 

Pepys, who had been closely associated in naval matters with James during the previous reign, was able to use a certain amount of influence in getting additional privileges for the Brethren included in the new Charter. Among the thirty-one Elder Brethren appointed by the new Charter granted for “the Government and Increase of the navigation of England and the relief of the poor mariners, their widows and orphans,” were Samuel Pepys, Esq., Master, the Duke of Grafton, the Earl of Berkeley, Lord Dartmouth, and Sir Thomas Allen, Assistants.

The management of the buoys and lights of the Thames does not call for the employment of many men, but the operations of Trinity House in respect to ballast have many points of interest. Charles II, on his accession, had bestowed a grant of the ballastage of the Thames on Colonel William Careless, as a reward for supporting the King in the Boscobel Oak whilst the latter slept and procuring food for his sovereign at the risk of his own life. The Corporation successfully opposed this grant, and it was surrendered to the King, the Corporation agreeing to pay Careless 1,000 marks a year. Later on the Corporation discovered that frauds had been committed by the lightermen employed in ballasting, more ballast being charged for than was delivered. Two inspectors were then appointed to travel up and down the river to prevent the illegal taking of gravel and the perpetration of further frauds on shipmasters. 

By an Act passed in the 45 George IlI the regula tions affecting ballastage were consolidated. The exertions of Trinity House, from the time of receiving its first ballastage grant, had been directed to rendering the river more accessible and adequate to the accommodation of increasing trade. In the first fifty years after it had been granted this important trust, over 300,000 tons of ballast had been raised from the bed of the river annually, and the continuation of this principle has rendered the Port of London what it now is. 

When the ballastage was in the hands of private persons, their only objective was to use it for their own personal benefit. In the evidence before the House of Commons in 1732 and 1805, it was proved that the depth of the River Thames had been immensely improved under the management of Trinity House.

The management of the ballastage is a most important branch of public duty, for any injudicious removal of the banks of the river might easily render its channels less fit for navigation. 

In the middle of the last century, a large and hard-working section of the labouring men who assisted in developing the commerce of the Port of London were the ballast labourers. These men provided the means of making an unladen vessel heavy enough to pursue her return voyage; and the routine of such duties gave rise to their classification into ballast-getters, ballast lightermen, and ballast-bearers. 

All ships which sailed “in ballast” were exempt from many of the regulations which applied to laden ships ; but still the sailing in ballast or with cargoes depended, of course, wholly. on the exigencies of commerce. Every vessel which came into the Thames in ballast had to unload the ballast into a lighter; none must be thrown into the river, under a heavy penalty. Colliers required an immense amount of ballast to weight them sufficiently for their return voyage northward. The ballast took the form of gravel or sand dredged up from the bed of the Thames near Woolwich, and it was conveyed to the colliers in lighters belonging to Trinity House, the master paying so much per ton for it. At the time when all coal for London was conveyed in sailing vessels, something like 10,000 tons of ballast had to be raised every week for sale to the colliers. If the master preferred, he could ballast with chalk from any point below Purfleet, but above that point he was dependent on Trinity House.

As the eighteenth century progressed, the duties of the Corporation in connection with the regulation of ordnance and ammunition for the Royal Navy gradually passed out of their hands, although occasionally, in times of especial danger – as when in 1797 the mutiny occurred in the fleet at the Nore, and six years later a French invasion appeared imminent – the Brethren rose to the occasion and spared neither their time nor money on behalf of their country. 

In the first half of the eighteenth century, several searching inquiries into the management of the affairs and charities of the Corporation were made, chiefly at the instigation of certain members of that class of the public who cannot be induced to believe that any corporate body having the control of large sums of money can be trusted to dispose of them for charitable purposes in a conscientious manner; but it is satisfactory to note that the Corporation emerged from each inquiry with untarnished reputation.

In the fifteenth century the Corporation’s almshouses at Deptford numbered twenty-one, and were probably the property of the Guild before it received its Charter from Henry VIII. In 1664 we find the then Master, Sir William Batten, engaged in building new almshouses there. John Evelyn, in his Diary, under date May. 25, 1671, writes “I dined at a feast made for me and my wife by the Trinity Company for our passing a fine of the land which Sir R. Browne, my wife’s father, freely gave to found and build their college or Almshouses at Deptford. It was a good and charitable work and gift, but would have been better bestowed on the poor of the parish than on the seamen’s widows, the Trinity Company being very rich and the rest of the poor of the parish exceedingly indigent.” 

In 1695 twenty-eight almshouses and a chapel were erected at Mile End on an estate left to the Corporation by Captain Henry Mudd, an Elder Brother who died in 1691. Further increases in the number of almshouses were made from time to time, until in 1816 they numbered 144 – 82 being at Deptford and 62 at Mile End. These were used as residences for old and decayed masters of merchant ships and their wives, and for widows and for old and decayed pilots. The pensioners numbered 7,012 – an increase of 3,330 in the preceding fifteen years. At this time (1816) the annual cost of maintaining the almshouses, including the allowances and pensions to the alms people resident, amounted to £8,000 a year. The almshouses at Deptford have since been demolished and a system of pensions established in lieu of them. The almshouses at Mile End, although not possessed of much architectural beauty, are nevertheless of considerable interest from an antiquarian point of view. 

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