The College as a record of the Stuart period

Survey of London Monograph 1, Trinity Hospital, Mile End. Originally published by Guild & School of Handicraft, London, 1896.

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'The College as a record of the Stuart period', in Survey of London Monograph 1, Trinity Hospital, Mile End, (London, 1896) pp. 13-17. British History Online [accessed 12 April 2024]


The Differentiation of Naval and Civic Functions

We owe our navy in great measure to the Stuarts, and the Trinity Corporation is the agency through which the work of construction is accomplished. It is in the reign of James II., just before the time when the Mile End Hospital is built, that the Deptford Guild receives its final, and, perhaps, its most important re-incorporation. (fn. 1) In the day of Elizabeth the Guild was the navy, in the Stuart time the functions begin to differentiate, and the strictly naval as apart from the marine factor forms outside, but is still inseparably connected with the Guild. On July 20th, 1685, Evelyn recorded in his diary, "The Trinity Company met this day, which should have been on ye Monday after Trinity, but was put off by reason of the Royal Charter being so large that it could not be ready before. Some immunities were superadded. Mr. Pepys, Secretary to ye Admiralty, was a second time chosen Master. There were present the Duke of Grafton, Lord Dartmouth, Master of ye Ordnance, the Commissioners of ye Navy, and brethren of ye Corporation. We went to church according to costome, and then took barge to the Trinity House, in London, where we had a great dinner, above 80 at one table." It is not till the time of Admiral Blake and of the later Stuarts that the modern navy takes definite shape as apart from the Trinity House, but the connection still remains, and inseparably bound up with these half-naval, half-civic duties are the names of Samuel Pepys, Sir Richard Browne, John Evelyn, Charles II., and James II. With all of them the Trinity House and its Hospital are directly connected.

The Growth of The Official Class.

As is to be expected, a notable change comes over the mediæval Guild in the 17th century. It becomes official, and partakes more of its modern form; we note a growing division into two distinct classes. The allusions to it in the diaries of Evelyn and Pepys give us the key to this; there is the Secretary to the Navy, Mr. Samuel Pepys, for whom a special clause is inserted in the Charter of Charles II., and there are the poorer brethren and the charities; but so essential to the proper development of naval affairs is the Trinity Corporation, that the leading naval officials act in its councils, and the Crown assumes rights in the appointment of its master. Instead of the simple guild life of the earlier time we come now into a different existence. The atmosphere is more courtly, less breezy, in lieu of the guildsman's tunic and hood, we have the periwig and the curls.

Writing in very evident satisfaction at the good fare he had received at the Trinity House, Evelyn enters in his diary, June 19th, 1671, "To a splendid dinner at the greate roome in Deptford Trinity House, Sr. Tho. Allen chosen Master, and succeeding the Earl of Craven," and again on March 26th, 1673,—for a good diarist is usually a good dinner eater—"I was sworn a younger brother of the Trinity House, with my most worthy and long acquainted noble friend Lord Ossorie (eldest son to the Duke of Ormond), Sir Richd. Browne my Father-in-law being now Master of that Society; after which there was a greate Collation." We are reminded of the great collations of the City Companies of the present day and of the membership of those august bodies, where it not unfrequently happens that any connection with the craft or mystery of the Guild in its original intention is the exception rather than the rule.

How far the notable "quality" that Evelyn and Pepys delight to honour in their postprandial reflections had any working connection with Pilotage and Ballastage and Buoyage, or even with the defence of the Thames, it is now difficult to trace, but it is evident that the official class enter in and take possession, as it were, of the ancient Mariners' Guild of Deptford. Possibly the right of patrimony may, though to a lesser degree, have warped the Mariners' Guild as it did the other Guilds of England, but the political importance of the command of the Port of London necessarily caused a gravitation of the political official to the Board of the Trinity House.

John Evelyn.

Evelyn himself was a man of independent means, a gentleman, a courtier and a scholar, who was trained for the law and had no direct connection with naval matters. He dabbled in science, architecture, education and horticulture, and it was not till later on in life that he was made Lord Privy Seal by James II. and Treasurer of the Greenwich Hospital for Seamen. That he should have been appointed a Brother of the Trinity had reason enough, for his studies in navigation, and in timber for shipbuilding exercised a considerable influence on his contemporaries. His famous Sylva, or "Discourse concerning Forest Trees," was the outcome of the appeal of the Navy Office to the Royal Society,— of which he was one of the original members,—on the question of timber for shipbuilding; and the significant words of Isaac Disraeli are enough to prove the importance attaching to this when he says "Inquire at the Admiralty how the fleets of Nelson have been constructed, and they can tell you that it was with the oaks which the genius of Evelyn planted."

Sir Richard Browne.

But Evelyn had yet another link with the Trinity House, which bears upon the actual Hospital about which this Monograph treats. His father-in-law, Sir Richard Browne, was an Elder Brother and a great benefactor to the guild, indeed to one of his benefactions the Mile End Hospital may in part be traced, and the remnants of the Deptford endowment are at present in Mile End. "I dined," writes the diarist on May 25th, 1671, "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 Colledge or Almeshouses on at Deptford, it being my wife's after her father's decease. It was a good and charitable work and gift, but would have been better bestow'd on the poor of that parish, than on the seamen's widows, the Trinity Compy. being very rich and the rest of the poore of the parish exceedingly indigent."

On the wall opposite the North Side of the Chapel at Mile End may still be seen the coat of arms of Sir Richard Browne (see page 17). I am inclined to think with Mr. Barrett that this coat was originally at Sayes Court, and was subsequently put up at the Deptford Hospital, from whence it was removed here. The engraving which remains to us of the destroyed Hospital at Deptford, (fn. 2) though it only shows one side of the block, tends to prove that the Deptford foundation was the prototype of the existing one in Mile End, the latter therefore fitly commemorates the name of Sir Richard Browne, who was in a sense its author.

Capn. Mudd, of Ratcliff

The actual founder of the Mile End College was Captain Henry Mudd, of Ratcliff, as the inscription (fn. 3) on the building states (see pl. 4, p. 8), and this worthy is recorded in conjunction with Samuel Pepys, as one of those whose names appear in the James II. Charter. (fn. 4) As the extracts which relate to Pepys and Mudd are significant as proving the social change that had come over the Guild in the Stuart time, and the distinction between the wealthier official class and the poorer or pensioned class, to which I have before referred, I give them at some length.

The Class Distinction.

"And for the better execution and accomplishment of this our Will and Grant in that behalf, We have assigned, nominated, constituted, and made, and by these Presents, for Us, our Heirs, and Successors, do assign, nominate, constitute, and make our trusty and well beloved Samuel Pepys, esquire, Secretary of our Admiralty of England, to be the first and present Master of the said Guild, Fraternity, or Brotherhood, to continue in the said Office or Place by himself, or his sufficient Deputy . . . . . from henceforth until the Morrow after Trinity Sunday, commonly called Trinity Monday, now next coming . . . .

"And also we have assigned, nominated, constituted, and made, and by these Presents, for Us, our Heirs, and Successors, do assign, nominate, constitute, and make Captain John Nichols, Captain Henry Mudd, Captain Nicholas Kerrington, and Captain William Green to be the four first and present Wardens of the said Guild . . . . .

"And that all and singular sum and sums of money, whatsoever, due or hereafter to be due, and received by the said Decrees, Orders, Agreements, Fines, Forfeitures, or otherwise, shall be to the use, Commodity, and Profit of the said Guild, Fraternity, or Brotherhood, unto and for the repairing of a certain House or Tenement, commonly called or known by the name of Trinity House; and of other Tenements or Almshouses, situate and being in Deptford-Strond, aforesaid, and Upper Deptford, in the said County of Kent, belonging to the said Guild, Fraternity, or Brotherhood; and for the finding of certain poor Persons, Brethren, and the Wives of Brethren, of the said Guild, Fraternity, or Brotherhood, which are fallen into Decay, Misery, Poverty and Need, or hereafter shall fortune to fall into Decay, Misery, Poverty and Need; and also for Relief of other poor Mariners and Seafaring-Men, such as by them, and their successors, shall be thought meet and necessary therewith to be relieved; and for other public uses of the said society."

The Guild Element in Stuart and Modern Times.

The old guild system remains, but class division tends to separate the functions. The hard and fast division between rich and poor, between Elder Brother and Pensioner, is, however, one that does not appear till the present day, and the final expression of it is in the plan already adopted in the case of the Deptford Hospital and which is now under consideration for Mile End, of sweeping the whole institution away and substituting a money dole in place of the old corporate life of the College with its ancient seamen, their wives and widows. Such a course would not only destroy the constructive record of the Stuart time, it would also wipe out what is left of the spirit and fellowship of the Middle Ages, which, as I endeavoured to show in the previous chapter, the Mile End College still retains.

In the Stuart time then we find the centre of gravity of the Guild's government shifting to an important official class in close touch with the Crown; but they, too, are affected with the Guild spirit, and the government of the Trinity House at its headquarters is conducted in a very comfortable and cheery manner.

Pepys' Record.

As Evelyn recorded the dinners, so Pepys entered into the minutiæ of the luncheons. One almost gets the impression from reading his allusions to the Trinity House in the immortal Diary, that it is a place where eating is always going on. You merely drop in and, as a rule, you find the right thing; sometimes you are "cloyed with pasties," and sometimes "My Lady Batten," the wife of one of the Masters—and she is Pepys' bêle noire—comes bothering at the Trinity House with her "crew of friends;" when the diarist records it very clearly and solemnly that he cannot abide her. But my Lady Batten's intrusions are merely a survival of the "brethren and sisteren" spirit of community. The point in short that is to be noted is that these post-prandial and social allusions only prove the distinctively mediæval character of the Guild's constitution. Institutions that dine never die.

Stuart Memorials.

Here, then, we have a picture of what the Trinity Guild, or as it would now be more correct to call it, the Corporation of the Trinity House, was in the time of the later Stuarts, at the time, in fact, when the present buildings in Mile End were erected. Just as we see how the little Hospital preserves for us the traditions of the Maritime Guild of the middle ages— the King's Majesties Nayve Royall—so it preserves for us, in a still more living and concrete form, the record of the birth of the great British Navy, the beginnings of the Admiralty Board, and the groups of statesmen and sailors, to whom we owe the first large outlines of our national seamanship. The whole architectural design and treatment of the detail is calculated to impress this; the first thing that strikes the visitor is the little stone ships (p1. 4, p. 8) at the ends of the gables, then he looks in through the gates and sees the two rows of cabin-like houses, the flagstaff in the garden and the statue of the sea captain in the centre; closer examination of the carved detail in the pediments will show him all the maritime forms and conceits of which it is composed, and if he finds his way into the Chapel he will note all the glass panes dedicated to the different Elder Brethren, their coats, canting heraldry and merchants' marks, and if then he passes into the inner court there is the statue of Capt. Maples for him in the full costume and stupendous periwig of the period of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn.



  • 1. The Royal Charter, 1763 (above quoted).
  • 2. Crace Collection, British Museum.
  • 3. "This Almeshovse wherein 28 decayed Masters & Comanders of Ships or ye widows of such are maintain'd was built by ye Corpo. of Trinty Hovse An. 1695. The Ground was given by Capn. Heny. Mudd of Ratcliff an Elder Brother whose widow did also contribute."
  • 4. The Royal Charter 1763 (above quoted).