Trinity House is one of Newcastle’s hidden treasures. Found on Broad Chare on the quayside it is a historic building with a modern purpose.
Newcastle Upon Tyne has a long history dating back over 2000 years. During that time it has been in the control of the Romans, Saxons and the Danes. Many reminders of it’s past history are still within the city. Newcastle Castle still stands overlooking the river, guarding the city from attack. Remains of Hadrian’s wall stand alongside some of the major roads into the city. The Roman fort of Segedunum at Wallsend is another reminder of the past.
Newcastle Upon Tyne has a prime location next to the river Tyne. The quayside has always been a pivotal part of city life. Today the area has become an exciting place to visit with plenty of restaurants and night life. The quayside market on a Sunday is a great place to explore. The walk over the Millennium Bridge to visit the Baltic is another pleasant way to spend some time.
Trinity House, Newcastle
Hidden on Broad Chare, a short walk from the Swing Bridge you will find Trinity House. The Corporation of Newcastle Upon Tyne Trinity House has been on the quayside since 1505. Few people know about it. The building has stood though the great fire of Newcastle and Gateshead in 1854. This fire destroyed most of the quayside. Inside Trinity House you will find a unique collection of art, models, charts books and curios. These are the result of centuries of collecting. The public rarely get the chance to look around Trinity House. One of the few times the doors are open are for the Heritage Open Days which take place in September. We took the opportunity to visit and have a look around.
Purpose of Trinity House
Trinity House is a private corporation and working maritime organisation. Some of its duties are deep sea piloting, marine safety and education. The corporation is also responsible for maintaining the buildings of Trinity House.
.The river Tyne was always hard to navigate. Boats would run around on the sand shoals. High tides and currants could cause problems for mariners. Trinity House looks after lighthouses, buoys and pilots on the river. Today it is one of only three bodies in England where deep sea pilots can gain their licenses.A board of Brethren, senior and retired mariners from the merchant navy, run the Corporation. They help look after the history and artwork in the house.
Many of the navigation aids on the river Tyne today were built by Trinity House. There are two towers along the Tyne that act as leading lights to the oncoming ships. The original low and high lights no longer exist but you can still find the replacement lights along the river. The Old Low Light in North Shields is now a museum and heritage centre.
The Buildings of Trinity House
Trinity House is off the Broad Chare on Newcastle’s quayside. There are many chares or alleys along the quayside. These have characteristic steep steps and narrow sides. Many merchants were found along these streets making a bustling industrial community. Many of the chares were lost in the great fire. The two chares surrounding Trinity House are still here today. Broad Chare is wider than most other chares making it perfect for wagons.
Access to Trinity House is via an archway. Going though the archway you enter a courtyard. The buildings of Trinity House surround it. To get into Trinity House you go up a broad stone staircase leading into the entrance hall. On either side of Trinity House is the school house and alms houses. The alms houses were for distressed seamen and their dependants and the school was a free school. The original mediaeval town house is one of the buildings. It is the oldest surviving stone house in the city. When the land came into possession of Trinity House it was in exchange for a peppercorn rent. This was a red rose paid yearly on the feast of John the Baptist or Midsummer Day.
Inside Trinity House
Photography inside Trinity House is forbidden so I do not have any photographs of the interior. This is probably because of the many historic treasure found inside. Walking around Trinity House is like walking around a museum. Each room is full of surprises.
After going up the stairs you enter the entrance hall. Hanging from the ceiling is a collection of creatures from the deep. This preserved collection includes a cayman, saw fish and a mermaid caught of Marsden rock in South Shields. If you look closely you can see the stitching! The entrance hall also has many model ships on display, including a model of Admiral Lord Collingwoods last flagship the Ville de Paris.
The first room on the tour is the banqueting hall. This is an impressive room with mahogany panels on the walls and a large mural on the ceiling. The mural shows a large compass rose indicating north with a sailing ship in the centre. No matter where you stand in the room the ships sails appear to be full. Large paintings which commemorate sea battles of 1759 adorn the walls. Underneath the carpet is the original Victorian lino. It can be seen in small cutaway corner in the edge of the room.
The board room is an impressive room which a large table dominates. Board meetings are held here and also exams for those people who want a pilot license. Above the fireplace is a large painting of the Four Continents by Peter Paul Rubens. The original is in Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna and this is a studio copy, although much larger and in better condition.
Also of note is the bone model of a wooden warship in a case at the end of the room. These models were made by french prisoners of war during the Napoleonic wars. Carving these ships from beef and mutton bones was a way to help secure their freedom. This vessel is one of the largest examples of it’s kind. Sadly on transit back to Trinity House from an exhibition in London it was damaged. The repairs have been done in the same fashion as if it had been jury rigged at sea.
The chart room or secretary’s room houses a unique selection of antique navigational charts. The charts show how navigation techniques have changed over the centuries as well as showing changes in the area around the river Tyne. Conservation of these charts must be a huge task. The room is also full of ships models and fine art.
This may be my favourite room inside Trinity House with its wood panel walls and bookcases full of old books. On the walls hang plaques from ships visiting the Tyne along side photos of royal visitors to the house. These include HRH the Duke of Edinburgh and King Olav V of Norway.
Most fascinating for me is the bookcase. It is full of ancient books with of maritime history, travel accounts, biographies and periodicals. I would love to read the voyages of exploration to the poles, south pacifiv, north west passage and ore, If you look closely you will spot familiar names like Cook, Ross and Wallace. If you look more closely you will spot the hidden door and secret passage into the chapel.
The chapel is the oldest part of Trinity House and very impressive. Again is is full of wood with panels on the walls and carved wooden benches. The oak beams on the ceiling make the room resemble the inside of a wooden sailing ship which seems apt. Beautiful stained glass windows are a feature in the chapel as is the old fashioned organ that still works. The chapel dates from 1634 and is still in use today.
Have you been inside Trinity House? Did you know it was there? Let me know below.