Trinity House Assessed Prime Minister One Shilling
When Churchill and his First Lord of the Admiralty A.V. Alexander together visited Trinity House on 7 January 1941, the Prime Minister could not resist lighting up one of his ubiquitous cigars. Result: Churchill, who was sworn an Elder Brother of Trinity House when he himself was First Lord in 1913, was fined twelve pence for violating a by-law laid down in 1660. However, being short of ready cash, Churchill turned to Alexander to supply him the necessary shilling.
Churchill, however, moved quickly to settle the debt. The following day the PM’s private secretary sent this letter to Alexander:
“First Lord, The Prime Minister has asked me to send you the enclosed sum of one shilling, with an expression of his grateful thanks. He says it represents a fine imposed upon him yesterday under an old statute forbidding smoking at Trinity House. He found himself unable to meet this unexpected demand upon his purse, & you very kindly came to his aid.”
The office of the First Lord duly wrote to Trinity House Deputy Master Captain Arthur Morrell two days later:
“The First Lord has instructed me to send you the enclosed coin which has been received from the Prime Minister in repayment of the shilling which the First Lord provided for the settlement of the fine incurred by the Prime Minister on Tuesday. The First Lord thinks that you would probably like to have the shilling which really came from the Prime Minister’s pocket, since the imposition of a fine under a seventeenth century statute upon the Prime Minister of England must be something of an historical occasion.”
The Corporation of Trinity House was granted a royal charter by King Henry VIII in 1514 and is thus celebrating its 500th anniversary this year. Trinity is the General Lighthouse Authority for England, Wales, the Channel Islands and Gibraltar with a remit to provide Aids to Navigation in order to assist the safe passage of a huge variety of vessels through some of the busiest sea-lanes in the world. It now deploys an array of over 600 aids to navigation, ranging from lighthouses to a satellite navigation service.
During the war Churchill enjoyed wearing the uniform of an Elder Brother of Trinity House on many notable occasions. According to the Trinity House website, the statute that the Prime Minister violated “is a by-Law of the corporation dating from 4 February 1660, which was drawn up during a session of the Court, and reads:
‘Agreed, That whosoever in Court Tyme shall take a pipe of Tobacco being of the Fraternity shall forfeit twelve pence for the use of the poore, w[hi]ch. shalbe put into the poores box. Neither shall any withdraw in tyme of the Court sitting unless upon some urgent occasion.'”
“The corporation has for centuries had the right to create by-Laws, the violation of which is to be punished by ‘pains and penalties, amercement and forfeitures, for the use and benefit of the Corporation, for the repairs of the house and other tenements and almshouses, for the relief of poor brothers and their widows, and other poor mariners and seafaring men…'”
Sadly, the shilling is nowhere to be found today!
To learn more about Winston Churchill, please visit www.winstonchurchill.org.