The World Lighthouse Hub

Pharology - History of Lighthouses in the British Isles - Cromwell and Pepys

BR11: Oliver Cromwell and Samuel Pepys

On the 17th March 1649, Oliver Cromwell abolished the monarchy and turned England into a Commonwealth. Later in that year, he suspended the Trinity House Charter with disastrous results. Along with the Navy and Customs officials, Trinity House was investigated and all Royalist sympathizers were either sacked or forced to resign. The Master, Richard Crandley (1648-9), and the majority of Elders were amongst those removed. In their places Oliver Cromwell set up an ill-informed and totally useless committee [Barrett, 1895]

Following the restoration of the monarchy, on the 8th May 1660, Charles II reformed Trinity House to its previous status. General Monk became the new Master and later the King conferred the title of Duke of Albermarle upon him for his services to the Crown.

Thanks to the diaries of Samuel Pepys (1633-1703) there are well documented records of this period. His involvement with the Navy office and Trinity House, soon put him in the position of Younger Brother in 1662. He later became Master (1685-86) and drew up a new Charter which clearly laid out the duties of Trinity House. Formally issued by James II, it was received by the Elders on 8th July 1685.

Whilst in the position of Secretary to the Navy Commission (1683), Pepys had openly condemned the practice whereby senior Naval officers promoted their footmen and allowed them to become 'Gentlemen-Captains'. This term referred to anyone who had volunteered for a commission but was not a 'bred' or experienced seaman. Although these practices were also condemned by Admiral Sir William Booth, Admiral Sir John Berry, and Sir Henry Shere, the Admiralty Board, who had no senior Naval Commander on the Board, simply ignored the complaints [Pepys,,Tangiers].

Not only did Berry, Booth and Shere condemn the practice of appointing Gentlemen-Captains, but so did the close friend of King, Lord Dartmouth and Admiral Sir Christopher Myngs. All believed that only those well versed in matters of the sea should be considered suitable to be Commanders of the King's fleet. This would only happen when 'true tarpaulins' (fully experienced mariners brought up with a life on the seas) became the only ones recognised for the positions of ships masters. Full authority for Trinity House to examine Masters for the Navy was given on the 25th September 1688, following an Act of Parliament which brought into operation the new rules which governed the selection of ships commanders and other ranks [Bryant, 1933]

Trinity House Elders were appointed Examiners for the Mathematical Scholars of Christ's Hospital. This powerful body of Master Mariners also had the power to appoint British Consuls in many overseas ports.

One of the Elders' less publicised activities, was their authority to act as auxiliary press-gang officers. On a few occasions, Trinity House overstepped the mark and pressed the wrong people into service. On the 21st November 1685, it was ordered to provide labour for the PHOENIX which was due to sail on the next high tide. A member of the Younger Brethren obtained the services of the Master of the GLOBE and, along with Captain Gifford (the commander of the PHOENIX), illegally pressed two customs officials and a butcher into service. It was stated at the time, that Captain Gifford was 'somewhat warmed with wine' [Bryant, 1933].