The Trinity House began life in about 1369 as a religious guild of 55 men and women who paid an annual subscription for the provision of candles and masses at Holy Trinity church. Elections were held in the church and members attended one another's funerals and supported one another in sickness. By the end of the fourteenth century the guild had over 250 members and they included shipmen, priests and other skilled tradesmen such as goldsmiths (Pevsner & Neave, York and the East Riding, p. 529; Allison, Victoria county history of Yorkshire, pp. 398-9; Brooks, The first order book, p. iii).
In the 1450s the guild changed shape when 24 shipmasters decided to fund a perpetual chantry in Holy Trinity church, deploying their `lowage and stowage' (cargo-handling) fees for the purpose (by the late sixteenth century this was called primage). They then went one step further, agreeing to found an almshouse for mariners brought to poverty by `infortune of the seas' and this was accompanied by the decision to build a chapel. By this means the religious guild turned into a craft guild with a location separate from its original church and accounts have continuously been kept since 1461. By 1472 a timber-framed and tiled guildhall, almshouses and chapel were built on land leased from the Carmelites between Whitefriargate and Posterngate in Hull and by the late sixteenth century all guild members were shipmen (Pevsner & Neave, York and the East Riding, p. 529; Allison, Victoria county history of Yorkshire, p. 398; Brooks, The first order book, p. iv).
The guild was not one of seamen, but of master mariners who could navigate a ship. In 1541 Henry VIII confirmed the guild by charter, with a named twelve elder brethren, all other members being younger brethren. The guild also officially maintained a quasi-religious function with some catholic ceremonial. This was swept away by an Elizabethan charter of 1581, which formalised the protestantism of the brethren and Hull Trinity House's jurisdiction over the coast from the Tees in the north to Winterton Ness in the south. Separately-incorporated Trinity House guilds in London, Bristol and Newcastle made this imperative (Allison, Victoria County History of Yorkshire, pp. 398-8; Brooks, The first order book, pp. v, x).
The 1581 charter remained the basis of the organisation until the nineteenth century and led to an increase of the records of the house, kept by two wardens and six assistants. During the seventeenth century the house increased its control over Humber shipping, with a house officer being harbour master and with the laying and maintenance of buoys and lights becoming a regular area of house activity. A yacht was acquired in 1783 to facilitate such maintenance. It exerted control over seaman's wages and disputes between ship owners and masters (sometimes in conflict with the admiralty courts and the council of the north). In the early nineteenth century the house played a part in setting up the lifeboat at Spurn Point and had considerable control over the docking of boats at Hull (Allison, Victoria County History of Yorkshire, pp. 400-2; Brooks, The first order book, pp. vi, x).
The jurisdiction and privileges of Trinity House over navigation and pilotage loosened in the nineteenth century in the face of local criticism and parliamentary repeal of navigation acts. The Humber Conservancy Act of 1852 removed its control over Humber Shipping. However, the guild had started as a religious guild with charitable activities attached and it has maintained a place for itself as a charitable organisation with religious overtones. It is still a major landowner and maintains almshouses and a school set up in 1785. The latter originally catered to 36 boys, who wore distinctive blue dress coats with brass buttons, and who went on to be apprenticed to a shipmaster. An adult school in the evening taught navigation. The almshouses originally catered to guild members and their widows, and hospitals tended to their medical needs. However, in 1742 the Merchant Seaman's Act authorised a levy of sixpence on all seamen's wages to establish a fund to support widows and dependant children and Trinity House was given the responsibility of keeping the muster rolls and administering the accommodation, medical welfare and pensions. The archive held at the Brynmor Jones Library throws most light on this charitable activity (Allison, Victoria County History of Yorkshire, pp. 400 ff; Brooks, The first order book, pp. xx ff).