A blog by Maritime Volunteer Julie Corbett.
I was delighted to be invited to interview Captain John Tindall (John), the current Master Warden of The Guild of Masters and Pilots, Seamen of the Trinity House of Kingston Upon Hull. Here, in Hull we would more usually refer to the guild as Trinity House.
The charity’s origins can be traced back to the 12th century when 27 parishioners of Holy Trinity, formally agreed arrangements of mutual aid.
The guild proper was founded on 4th June 1369 during the reign of Edward III with its First Subscription Deed. By 1457 it had become a Shipmasters Guild with the purpose of looking after the needy mariner community, a charitable function it is proud to continue to this day. Fuller details can be found on www.trinityhousehull.org.uk
The title and position of Master Warden has roots in the earliest Deeds and charters of the guild and John was pleased to explain that Hull’s guild pre-dates London’s own Trinity House.
The title of this piece is ‘Master Warden: Boulevard to Trinity ‘and from the first sentence the Trinity connection appears clear but is it that straight forward? All history is local and for a time in Hull two schools educated pupils in sea-readiness. The guild itself set up the first marine school in 1787, educating 36 boys in seamanship and navigation. This school continues in Hull as Trinity House Academy keeping strong links to the guild.
John grew up on Bilton Grange Estate in Hull and was not schooled to ‘sea-readiness’ at Trinity House but attended the other nautical school in the city. After showing an interest in going to sea, John attended the Hull High School for Nautical Training situated on The Boulevard.
This school is more associated with Hull’s deep-sea trawling industry rather than progression through the Merchant Navy. You can read about another pupil from the Boulevard school, Len Featherstone, here. John is proud of his time at the school and how it fitted him for a life at sea. He suggested he sometimes teases his fellow brethren with this part of his life story.
Career at Sea
On Saturdays he would attend the school’s rowing classes in Victoria Dock. He became head boy at the school and after successfully passing examinations including seamanship, navigation and engineering he started his career in the Merchant Navy as a Deck Apprentice with British Petroleum (BP) Tankers, joining his first ship as a 1st Trip Cadet, aged 17.
In this photograph of John in uniform you may know that his arm insignia is of the Royal Navy. This is a tribute to the officers and men who served in the Merchant Navy on BP Tankers, during World War II, recognising their contributions and sacrifices.
John continued with his training initially at Nautical College at South Shields then at Hull. I was fascinated about how technology and conditions have changed aspects of life at sea. One of the most notable is illustrated by this photograph of receiving goods onboard a tanker.
John said one of the things he was careful of was that he and the family numbered the envelopes. Ship to shore communications by anything other than physical mail was both expensive and difficult. Writing was the main way of staying connected. And as trips were up to six months long keeping letters in sequence meant you could read news in the intended day-to-day fashion.
When he became a qualified Deck Officer one of his jobs was to take the ship’s position. There was no world-wide global positioning (GPS) available for commercial shipping then. It seems almost archaic that he was taking this (as taught at the Boulevard) with chronometer, almanac and sextant.
To those readers well versed in Hull seagoing tradition and superstition it may come as a surprise that John’s wife went with him on some trips. More surprisingly as shore leave was rare as tankers loaded and unloaded at jetties. John and his wife did get an extended stay in Cape Town once when a tanker was in dry dock.
After nine years with BP Tankers John joined Seaforth Marine Limited working in another part of the oil industry. He was now working offshore supplying and moving oil rigs. He worked primarily in the North Sea. Immediately upon gaining his Class I Master Mariner’s certificate, he was promoted to Captain (at the age of 29). His wife bought him a briefcase to use on his first trip as ‘Master’.
He enjoyed the challenge and complexity of both sea conditions and the job. He especially liked moving, positioning, and anchoring the large oil rigs. However, it’s out on the North Sea and one gale force 11 storm, 200 miles north of Shetland nudged him to apply for ‘calmer’ waters.
John has a record of all his trips whilst in the Merchant Navy in his Seaman’s Record and Discharge Certificate Books.
Working for ABP Dredgers (later becoming UK Dredging) involved constant ship handling, a 24-hour grasp of piloting, positioning, and telemetry. He worked initially in the Humber, a shipping lane renowned for its shallow waters, fluid seafloor and busy shipping areas.
John thoroughly enjoyed this as it used so many aspects of seamanship, from understanding how ships interact whilst sailing close together to detailed chart work. He actively trained junior Deck Officers in ship handling & dredging techniques. He eventually held 21 Pilotage Exemption Certificates for the numerous ports he dredged around the UK coast. He semi-retired in 2010 and finally finished his career in the Merchant Navy in 2015 2019 when his last Master’s Certificate of Competency expired.
Master Warden of Trinity House
As a seagoing Captain, having more than three years experience, John was eligible to apply to be a Brother of Hull’s Trinity House Guild. This involves passing a very formal oral examination. You must learn 82 highly technical lessons related to sea going and three sailing routes from Hull for this.
John began as one of the Younger Brethren, a title related to the role and not age. In time you may become an Elder Brother and then Master Warden. A post you hold for a year (and can hold again).
The Guild celebrates in actions its long history of traditions and charitable works. Those works include supplying pensions for around 400 ex-mariners and managing 62 rest homes in the city.
The guild is a registered charity with the civic and ceremonial activity kept separate, via its corporate branch. Originally its money was raised by charging (with royal consent) lowage and stowage fees from the vessels entering the river Hull. These days the monies come from an extensive property portfolio managed independently.
One link which is still strong is to the marine school, now the Trinity House Academy. The students from the lower school parade and attend chapel on the first Wednesday in the month during term time.
Captain Tindall’s wish is to help keep and strengthen the unique position of The Guild of Masters, and Pilots, Seamen of the Trinity House of Kingston Upon Hull and support the development of Hull as Yorkshire’s Maritime City as a white badge accredited Maritime Tour guide. Details here.
In addition to all John’s Master Warden responsibilities, he is also one of the tour guides at Trinity House. The tour is fascinating. Inside the building are many gems and there are many stories to be told. You can find details here.