Master Mariners

(Company of Freemen Trinity House)


Newcastle Upon Tyne

Master Mariners (Company of Freemen Trinity House)

In 2007 the historical Company name of ‘Masters & Mariners’ was changed by the company members to ‘The Company of Freemen of the Master, Pilots and Seaman of the Corporation of the Trinity House, Newcastle upon Tyne’, to avoid ambiguity with the ‘Master, Pilots and Seaman of the Corporation of the Trinity House, Newcastle upon Tyne’, the name of ‘Freemen of Trinity House’ is used within the Freelage of Newcastle upon Tyne.

The Guild name ‘Masters & Mariners’ is unchanged as reflected on their Oath paper.

It is very difficult to trace the origin of those marine establishments called Trinity Houses, though they are not very ancient. They probably arose from the mutual formation of Masters and Mariners into a society, for the promotion of their interests, and the relief of their indigent and distressed brethren and widows, at a time when all charitable institutions assumed a religious character. They afterwards, by royal grants, or the powers conferred by the Lord High Admiral of England, rose into consequence, and have tended to promote and protect the navigation and commerce of the kingdom.

“The Guild or Fraternity of the Blessed Trinity of Newcastle upon Tyne” first occurs as a corporate body, purchasing by their feoffees the site of their present house, on January 4, 1492, of Ralph Hebborn, Esq. of Hebborn, for which a red rose, if demanded, was to be paid yearly at Midsummer for ever. It was then called “Dalton Place;” and by a resolution of the house in writing, still preserved, and dated January 4, 1505, a hall, chapel, and lodgings for their brethren, were ordered to be erected.

Robert Hebborn, Esq. son of their former benefactor, by a deed dated September 9, 1525, conveyed to this fraternity some additional buildings on the north side of Dalton Place, for which they were to pay yearly, on the vigil of St. Peter and Paul, if demanded, a pottle of wine. At this time, it appears, they had an altar or chantry called Trinity Altar in All Saints’ church, which they had probably founded long before. About 1530, they had either confirmed or granted to them the duty of primage and pilotage.

King Henry VIII. on October 5, 1536, granted a new charter of incorporation to this guild, consisting of men and women, to have a common seal, implead and be impleaded, with licence to build and imbattle two towers, the one at the entrance of the haven of Tyne, and the other on the hill adjoining, in each of which a light was to be maintained every night, for the support of which they were empowered to receive 4d. for every foreign ship, and 2d. for every English vessel entering the port of Tyne. This charter was confirmed by Edward VI. in 1548, and by Queen Mary in 1553.

Queen Elizabeth, in 1584, by charter, refounded this society by the name of the Master, Pilots, and Seamen of the Trinity House of Newcastle upon Tyne. Another charter was granted by King James I. dated January 18, 1606, constituting this society, under the above name, a body politic, and appointing a master, twelve elder brethren, two elder wardens with their two assistants, and two younger wardens with the like number of assistants. They were to have a common seal. Their jurisdiction was extended to Blyth, Sunderland, Hartlepool, Whitby, and Staithes – power is given them to impose fines on their offending brethren, and to appoint pilots for the river Tyne, with its creeks and members, who are to have for conducting every laden vessel 12d, for every foot it shall draw, and for every foot a light ship shall draw 8d.

The duty of primage was confirmed to them from vessels from beyond the seas coming into the river, or its creeks and members: 2d. per ton of wine, oil, and other things sold by the ton (fish killed and brought in by Englishmen excepted), and 3d. per last of flax, hemp, pitch, tar, or other things sold by the last. Aliens are to pay this duty before they leave the port, and free merchants and inhabitants of Newcastle within ten days after their landing: all this to go to the support of twelve poor brethren, or their wives, or shipwrecked mariners.

Lightage was also confirmed to them: of every owner’s ship, English born, 4d. each time; and of every owner’s ship that is an alien, 12d.

The buoying, canning, marking, and beaconing of the river Tyne was also confirmed to them; for which they are to receive of each ship, whose owner is English, and burthen above 20 chaldron of coals, 4d.; of the same when under 20 chaldron, 2d.: and of every alien, 6d. They were also impowered to hold lands and tenements under £30 per annum clear value.

In 1607, the officers of the port of Newcastle were empowered by the Privy Council to enforce the duties of buoyage and lightage; and in 1617, the council ordered that the merchants of Newcastle should pay only 1 ½ d. primage for every last of corn brought into that port. In 1618, the Trinity House ordered a gallery to be built in All Saints’ church.

1633: King Charles I escorted to Tynemouth

In June, 1633 King Charles I. was escorted to Tynemouth by this society. In the following year, they completed the purchase of a parcel of waste ground at PowPans, near North Shields, of George Ward, Esq. and which formerly belonged to Tynemouth monastry. About the same time, the present chapel of the Trinity House was fitted up and beautified; and in 1636, the bishop granted a warrant permitting the vicars of Newcastle to preach in this chapel for ever.

In June, 1633, the Scots, under General Lesley, had possession of this house in 1640. In 1642, the society paid £100 to Sir John Marley, for the maintenance of the garrison of Newcastle; and, in the same year, £66, 13s. 4d. in plate and money, for the same purpose. When the town was taken in 1644, this house was plundered by the Scots.

In 1645, the solemn league and covenant was administered in the chapel of this house; and in 1655, the brethren suggested to the council of trade the necessity of erecting two light-houses on the Fern Islands, with the owner of which they had been treating concerning such erection. This appears to have been approved of, as the agreement was signed the following year. In 1661, this house made a voluntary gift of £100 to the king; and, on October 21, 1664, his majesty, by a new charter, confirmed the privileges formerly granted to the house, with an exemption to the brethren thereof from serving in the trained bands, juries, and all other land-services, and as the members of the Trinity House at Deptford Strand are exempted; laying also an additional duty of 2d. upon every ship, towards the maintenance of the lighthouses, and the like sum in addition to what was formerly paid for buoys; as also an addition of 6d. and 4d. to the former duty of pilotage, to be paid by strangers only.

When Clifford’s Fort, at the entrance of the Tyne, was built in 1672, the government enclosed about 509 yards of ground, including the light-house, belonging to the Trinity House, with a high wall towards the land, and a breast-work towards the sea, leaving a little door for the keeper of the light-house to go out at to mark the time of the tide; but even this door was afterwards built up, against which assumption of power the house remonstrated in the year 1725.

In 1675, this society induced Mr. Angel, of London, merchant, to erect the Spurnlights, though opposed by the Trinity Houses of Deptford Strand and Hull. Mr. Angel agreed to pay them £40 per annum for 1000 years. A halfpenny per ton was laid on English, and one penny per ton on all foreign vessels, for the support of these lights. This house, in 1680, opposed an attempt made by Sir E. Villars to obtain an additional toll for the support of Tynemouth light-house. In 1687, King James II. granted a new charter to this fraternity, with an addition of pilotage.

On February 24, 1728, this house gave public notice that Tynemouth bar, which had of late been much altered, was become so very good again, that ships might pass it with as much, or rather more water than ever; and that the light-houses, being rebuilt, would be lighted on the 25th of March following. In 1765, this fraternity petitioned parliament that all ballast should be laid upon the land; and in 1769, they petitioned the Lords of the Admiralty against the projected canal from Coventry to Oxford. In 1770, they offered a reward to such seamen as should, within four weeks, volunteer into the royal navy. In the following year, they transmitted an address of thanks to the Lord Mayor of London and Alderman Oliver, “for the supporting, with a patriotic, manly firmness and dignity, the freedom and privileges of their fellow citizens of London, and the natural rights of their fellow subjects in general.”

In 1800, the master and brethren of the Trinity House of Newcastle, assisted by a committee of 15 ship-owners, applied to parliament for an act for the increase of their dues, the confirmation of their rights, and such new regulations as would promote the public good. They represented that the pilotage fixed by the charter of James II. had become an insufficient compensation for the labour, peril, and industry of the pilots. The toll was also proposed to be levied upon vessels sailing northwards, for the maintenance of beacons and buoys at Holy Island. In the session of 1801, a bill passed, authorising the house to augment their lightage, buoyage, and pilotage, and to make several necessary regulations.

The framers of this act had neglected to introduce a clause to compel the sale of scites; and when the house endeavoured, in 1805, to procure a proper place for building the Low Light-house, they were involved in great difficulties. They then petitioned the Board of Ordnance and the Duke of Northumberland for a lease or grant of part of the shore or sand-bank south of Clifford’s Fort. After much altercation, a scite was procured at the Low Light Quay from Lord Collingwood and Co. containing 194 yards at five guineas a yard. Having, in digging the foundation, gone a foot or two beyond the quay, the duke’s agent ordered the workmen to desist; but at last a compromise took place, and 20 guineas were paid for the encroachment upon the shore. The light-house was finished and lighted in May, 1810.

The premises belonging to this corporation, at the head of Trinity Chare, are, considering the situation, remarkably light, airy, and clean. The south yard contains, on the east, an alms-house, built in 1782, and, on the south, another, built in 1820. The school-house forms the north side of the yard. The alms-houses in the low and high yard are also very neat and convenient. The Trinity Hall is spacious, and ornamented with the portraits of King William and Queen Mary; the Bombardment of Algiers, painted by Carmichael, in a rich frame; and several other naval subjects. The Board-room is very neat, and adjoins a convenient office for the secretary. The vestibule of the chapel is very handsome, and adorned by several curiosities. Several marine monsters are suspended from the roof. A glass-case contains a complete model of the Ville de Paris, taken from the French. In another is a neat model of the Victory, made of bone, a model of the life-boat, & c. This entrance is separated from the chapel by a beautiful wainscot screen. The chapel, which is 37 feet by 25, contains 23 pews, capable of accommodating 100 persons, and are ornamented with carved work, probably as finished in 1636. The aisle between the pews is 7 feet 3 inches wide. There is a pulpit and a reading-desk, a stove in the centre, and, on the north side, an elevated seat for the master.

1633: King Charles I escorted to Tynemouth

Further Information:

The Company of Freemen of Trinity House

Broad Chare

Newcastle Upon Tyne


The Senior Steward of the Company of Freemen of Trinity house has a direct e-mail link: