The Corporation of Trinity House is the official General Lighthouse Authority for England, Wales and other British territorial waters (with the exception of Scotland, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland). It is responsible for the provision and maintenance of navigational aids such as lighthouses, lightvessels, buoys and maritime radio/satellite communication systems. Trinity House is also the official Deep Sea Pilotage Authority providing expert navigators for ships trading in Northern European waters. It is a Non-Departmental Public Body.
Trinity House is ruled by a court of thirty-one Elder Brethren, presided over by a Master, at present HRH the Duke of Edinburgh. These are appointed from 300 Younger Brethren who act as advisors and perform other duties as needed. The Younger Brethren are themselves appointed from lay people with maritime experience, mainly naval officers and ships' masters but also harbourmasters, pilots, yachtsmen and anyone with useful experience.
The Corporation came into being in 1514 by Royal Charter granted by Henry VIII. The first Master was Thomas Spert, captain of Henry’s flagship Mary Rose. The name of the guild derives from the church of Holy Trinity and St Clement, which adjoined the king's new dockyard at Deptford. For many years, Trinity House depots were maintained in Harwich, Great Yarmouth, Penzance, Swansea, East Cowes and on the Thames (at Trinity Buoy Wharf, closed in 1988).
In December 2002 it was announced that the Great Yarmouth, Penzance and East Cowes depots would close, leaving only Harwich and Swansea remaining, plus the two large tenders Patricia and Mermaid.
The Corporation also inspects buoys provided by local harbour authorities, and provides a Deep Sea Pilot Service. It no longer provides local pilots for entering ports. Contrary to popular belief Trinity House is not (and never has been) part of HM Coastguard although it does work closely with the Maritime and Coastguard Agency.
Trinity House is financed from “Light Dues” levied on commercial shipping calling at ports in the United Kingdom.
All lighthouses have been automated since November 1998, when the UK's last manned lighthouse, North Foreland in Kent, was converted to automatic operation. Lighthouse automation began as far back as 1910 thanks to an ingenious invention of Gustaf Dalen. His sun-valve was fitted in a number of lighthouses powered by acetylene gas. The vital component was a black metal rod, which was suspended vertically and connected to the gas supply. As it absorbed the sun's heat, the rod expanded downwards, cutting off the gas during the day.
Automation in the modern context began in the early 1980s, made possible firstly by the construction of lantern top helipads at remote rock lighthouses, to enable the rapid transfer of technicians to a lighthouse in the event of a breakdown - and secondly, by the development of remote control technology which enables all lighthouses and lightvessels to be monitored and controlled from the Trinity House Operations and Planning Centre, in Harwich, Essex.
The other General Lighthouse Authorities in other parts of the British Isles:
The Ensign of Trinity House is a British Red Ensign defaced with the shield of the coat of arms (a St George's Cross with a sailing ship in each quarter). The Master and Deputy Master each have their own flags.