CHAPTER IV. THE TRINITY COLLEGE AS IT IS.
I pass now to a brief description of the existing buildings, and shall
hope to still further show how they remain for us an object lesson in
national history. There is a peculiar, and, in many cases, a personal
interest in the variety of objects that at present form this little living
museum on the Waste. For we have here the Wren work of the Hospital
itself, the records of two later dates, the remains of the previous Deptford
Hospital, the remains of the old Hall, the records from Sayes Court and
the statues of two founders, besides other trophies. In short, associations
with the names of Sir Christopher Wren, John Evelyn, Sir Richard
Browne, Samuel Pepys, Captain Sandes, Captain Mudd, Captain
Maples, with a number of earlier and later worthies of the Trinity House
recorded in one way or another either in glass or inscription. Let me take
the architecture first.
Mr. Barrett speaks rather as an antiquary than as an architect
when he says that "the Trinity Almshouses at Mile End are, from an
antiquarian point of view, of considerable interest, though architecturally
they cannot boast of any remarkable beauty." Allowing for all possible
latitude in matters of taste, the statement is an unfortunate one and
conveys an opinion that is not held by any practical architect and certainly
not by those eminent artists who recently gave their judgment as to the
æsthetic importance of the building. It is to be hoped that the verdict of
the historian may not have biassed the Corporation towards the destruction
of their Ancient Trust.
The plan (pl. 1, p. 34) may be consulted for the disposition of the buildings.
The whole plan is of a T shape, but of this only the stem of the T is of
the 17th century or Wren period, the back court being structurally later.
There is something singularly bold in the general arrangement of the
earlier and older portion. Whether or not the exigencies of site demanded
it, the plan is so conceived as to give the greatest amount of vista to the
Chapel, the two wings of the buildings being thus set askew, while in order
to obviate any sense of a want of symmetry intruding itself on the beholder
from the south, the designer has screened off the Mile End front by a
wall of singular grace and beauty. As Mr. Thackeray Turner pointed out
in his evidence before the Charity Commissioners' enquiry, this wall could
only have been the work of a great master.
Alterations.; Gribelin's Print.
With the exception of the two houses subsequently removed, but
once standing east and west of the Chapel, before the second court was
constructed at the back, the plan is the same as originally laid out, but a
reference to Gribelin's print of the early 18th century (fn. 1) which should be
compared with Mr. Garbutt's bird's-eye view (pl. 2, pp. 4, 5) of the grounds
as they appear at the present day, will show certain dissimilarities between
the 18th and 19th century drawings. Of these the most important is the
existence of nineteen dormers in the roofs in Gribelin's print; the
"Palisadoes" round the grass mentioned in R. Seymour's Chronicle of
London are removed, as are also the two houses above referred to as
adjoining the Chapel; the brickwork at the side of the steps is shown in
the print as without cement, and the two little statues of youths holding
nautical instruments and standing within the two niches towards Mile
End Road are absent; there is also a very high vane.
An early 18th century print, even of classic architecture, must, however, be
taken with reservation; historical accuracy was not a quality that the
engraver felt himself called upon to exercise. If the dormers looked nicer
on paper, they were put in; and if the niches looked bare without
statues, their insertion in the drawing could not but redound to the credit
of the Brethren, so they were put in also. I have not been able to find
any structural evidence of a previously gabled roof, and I am inclined to
think that the roofs are as they were originally designed.
It is possible that the Chapel may have been originally in brick in the
same manner as the houses, but that, too, is doubtful. The floor level of
the Chapel was lowered in recent years owing to an accident that happened
to one of the old pensioners who it is stated fell down the steps on the
ice. Though the steps remain, the actual entrance to the Chapel is now
underneath them on the ground floor.
Section and Rooms.; The Library.
The section by Mr. E. Godman (Plate 6) which shows the Chapel,
shows also the interior treatment of the rooms, which are painted
throughout and look much like ships' cabins; for old folk, and especially old
sea men, few methods could be better devised. The end house at the
south-western side is given over to the Governor of the Hospital, and
that on the south-eastern is occupied in part as a library. It is a cheerful
little room within, well stocked with books and papers, and the old men
sit here, with the quiet garden for a look out on the one hand, and with
the great moving panorama of the Waste seen through the windows to
the south. Preferably within sight of the Thames says one of the bequests
for the founding and maintenance of the Trinity Almshouses, and when
the buildings were originally erected, the masts and traffic of the river
must have been easily seen across the fields of Stepney from this
coign of vantage. Mr. M. Balfour's two drawings (pls. 11, 12, pp. 18, 28)
give a very charming picture of what may be seen inside there any day
by those anxious to have some illustration of what is meant by the
collegiate life, and what it has been recently proposed to do away with.
Architectural descriptions are unsatisfactory, and I cannot do
better than refer to Mr. Allen's three sets of drawings in elevation
(pls. 3, 4, 5, pp. 6, 8, 30) with the larger drawn detail for those to understand who can read in the language of the architect. The drawings, as
they are presented, are just such as might have been prepared originally
for the builders to work from. The elevation of the S.E. gable, however,
shows the windows of the library from the Mile End Waste, to the interior
of which I just called attention.
The Gardens and Statues.; Capt. Maples.
Passing to the two little gardens within the enclosure, those precious
open spaces of which we have so few left in East London, I would like
particularly to call attention to the formal planning, the arrangement of
the grass plats, the true naval flagstaff, and the position of the two
statues. The statue to Capt. Sandes, or Sanders, as he appears in Pepys
and Evelyn, stands in the front court (pl. 10, p. 20), that of Capt. Maples
(pl. 9, p. 26) in the back, the inscriptions respectively record the reasons why.
Æsthetically the two statues are of vital importance because of their
costume. (fn. 2) In the day when everybody with the least pretension to
"taste" insisted in masquerading, if immortalized by statuary, in the
classic toga, as Roman consul or Attic orator, these two honest seamen
had the common sense to see that their own clothes suited them best.
Contemporary statues that are not in the pedantic costume of Greece or
Rome, but in the periwig and tails of Mr. Vanslipperken, might be
numbered on the fingers of one hand; in London, I believe, these two statues
are unique. They are of interest, moreover, for the little biographical
touches that they call forth. Both these old mariners were men of note
as well as benefactors, and in a comprehensive history of British
seamanship would find an honourable place. Capt. Maples was one of
the pioneers of English enterprise in India, in those early days just after
Bombay had come to us by the dowry of Catherine of Braganza. He
appears as Capt. Maples of Madrasspatam, and when his will was
proved on August 28th, 1680, it was found he had been faithful to the
old Trinity spirit of fellowship. There is a glimmer of romance and
generosity about the record that he had left diamonds to the value of
1,500 pagodas to be sent over for the use of the Guild.
Capt. Sandes has an equally interesting record. Like most of the
Trinity Brethren he was a staunch royalist, and he seemed to have been
trusted with important letters by both the Duke of York (afterwards
James II.) and the King. When poor Pepys was sent to the Tower in
1679, on a charge of popery, Capt. Sandes, with whom he was intimate,
did him a good turn, and was committed with an open letter from the
duke, at Brussels, to the King. We have the record of these various
journeys of Capt. Sandes and his ship. (fn. 3) His principal work subsequently
was that of naval organization, he appears with Pepys in the Guild's
Charter of re-incorporation, and was associated with Evelyn and Sir
Christopher Wren in 1695, in the Greenwich survey. It was the reversion
of his estate in Lincolnshire, that went to the maintenance of the Mile
A museum of 17th century art.
Just as the Hospital is the historical record book of so many worthy
and famous English citizens, so is it the repository of some of the most
interesting specimens of 17th century art remaining in London; interesting,
primarily because of their setting, but, in addition to the actual buildings
and the statues, the specimens of stone carving, of lead work and of glass,
have all of them a charm and an individuality of their own. Of the
carved work I give illustration in pls. 3, 4, 6, pp. 6, 8, 14. The stone
ships on the ends of the gables, and the arms of Sir Richard Browne have
been already referred to; and the beautiful little mediæval coat of the
Trinity House, which is observable in various parts of the building, is
worth examination. So are the lead cisterns in between the houses,
which are exceedingly good of their kind.
Mr. Barrett has made a special study of the glass, which represents
a series of memorials to various Elder Brothers and Masters, but he
hazards the rather rash conclusion that it ought to be removed from the
chapel and carried off to the Trinity House on Tower Hill. Apart from
the risk and impracticability of removing valuable glass, the obviously right
thing to do with it is to leave it where it is. It is well placed, it is much
more applicable with its little lattice panes to the 17th century character
of the old College, than it could ever be to the rather frigid Adams' work
of the great house on Tower Hill, and the records of these simple seamen
of the 16th and 17th centuries, whom it commemorates, are more aptly
preserved in the Mile End College than in the Trinity House itself. The
former, as we have seen, preserves for us the true mediæval spirit of the
old Guild, the latter rather suggests admirable organization and able
officials, with an exalted board of royal and distinguished Elder Brethren
who are too busy with the great things of the world to trouble themselves with the records and the intentions of the old mariners' Guild,
or what becomes of them.
As I have not thought it necessary to go over the same ground as
Mr. Barrett, I have contented myself with making good the only defect in
his admirable investigation of the glass in the Chapel, and have given a
complete hand-coloured representation of the various lights in the two
windows (pls. 7 & 8, pp. 22 & 24); from which the names and merchants'
marks of the different Brethren may be more carefully studied.
To those whom a slight description does not satisfy, I recommend a visit
of inspection. With the few historical data which this monograph may
supply, they will be able more fully to judge for themselves how far we
are justified in calling the Trinity College in Mile End an object lesson
in National History.