This page is part of © FOTW Flags Of The World website

United Kingdom: lighthouse authorities

Last modified: 2004-10-09 by rob raeside
Keywords: lighthouse authorities | northern lights | commissioner | trinity house |
Links: FOTW homepage | search | disclaimer and copyright | write us | mirrors

See also:

Trinity House Ensign

[Trinity House Ensign] by André Coutanche, 31 August 2001

Trinity House Jack

[Trinity House Jack] by André Coutanche, 31 August 2001

Strictly speaking I believe this is a house flag, to be hoisted at the bow of the vessel, like the jack on a naval vessel, but it's not a jack as it is not a national flag.
Jose C. Alegria, 1 September 2001

Neubecker, in Flaggenbuch (1939-41), also called it a jack (Gösch).
Ivan Sache, 2 September 2001

According to various editions of Flags of the World the Trinity House Jack is strictly speaking the 'flag of Trinity House' and is normally flown at the masthead to indicate that an Elder Brother is on board on official duty. It should be called 'Jack' only when flown as a diminutive at the jackstaff.
David Prothero, 3 September 2001

Both the master and deputy-master of Trinity House do have their own flags separate from the jack. The master's flag in proportions of 1:2 consists of a Cross of St George on a white field with an 'antique' ship in each canton and a full achievement of arms in the centre. The deputy master's flag is in proportions of 2:3 and instead of the full achievement or arms has a roundel with lion. The jack is in proportions of 4:5 without either arms or roundel. There is also a Red Ensign defaced what is in essence the jack, and a burgee (or cornet).
Christopher Southworth, 28 March 2003

It was noted that Trinity House jack was flying from the Royal Yacht Britannia, when the Prince of Wales was aboard (or nearby) during the handover of Hong Kong in 1997.  The question was raised why such a flag should be flying from the Royal Yacht on this occasion or at any other time? In any case, both the Master (in the person of HRH The Duke of Edinburgh) and the deputy master both have their own flags.
Christopher Southworth, 8 April 2003

According to the Deputy Master of Trinity House, the Prince of Wales was entitled to fly the Trinity House Jack when on duty. It had been flown when the ship conveying him on his tour of Canada and Australia, entered and left harbour.
    Admiral Sir Lionel Halsey, who was Comptroller to the Prince of Wales, wrote to the Admiralty on 11 October 1921 asking if this procedure was correct. The reply dated 24 October stated that, "It is the view of Their Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty that the Trinity House jack or burgee should be flown only in the waters of the United Kingdom where Trinity House has jurisdiction. It is not a flag authorised to be flown on His Majesty's Ships." [National Archives (PRO) ADM 1/8614/191]
    Presumably an exception was made in the case of HMY Britannia.
David Prothero, 9 April 2003

I came across the reason why HRH The Prince of Wales felt justified (as an Elder Brother of Trinity House) to fly their jack from the masthead of Britannia:
From "The Trinity House from Within" (1929) by Captain Thomas Goulding:
"Board Order [the Board of Trinity House, not of the Admiralty] 26 June 1928 - An Elder Brother of Trinity House is entitled when afloat to fly the Trinity House Jack at the Masthead of the Vessel he is aboard, when he is on official duty in the service of the State or of the Corporation of Trinity House".
Christopher Southworth, 21 April 2003

Master of Trinity House

[Master of Trinity House] by Miles Li

This is an honorary rank, currently held by HRH the Duke of Edinburgh.
Source: Barraclough and Crampton (1978); the emblems were taken from the official Trinity House website, with minimal touch-ups.
Miles Li, 30 June 2004

Deputy Master of Trinity House

[Deputy Master of Trinity House] by Miles Li

This is the Chief Executive Officer of Trinity House. This flag was created on June 10, 1952.
Source: Barraclough and Crampton (1978); the emblems were taken from the official Trinity House website, with minimal touch-ups.
Miles Li, 30 June 2004

Commissioners of Northern Lighthouses - Ensign

[Commissioners of Northern Lighthouses - Ensign] located by Jarig Bakker, 28 August 2001
Source: Carr (1961)

Commissioners of Northern Lighthouses - Commissioner's flag

[Commissioners of Northern Lighthouses - Commissioner's flag] located by Jarig Bakker, 28 August 2001
Source: Carr (1961)

"Flags of the General Lighthouse Authority for Scotland and the Isle of Man, namely, the Commissioners of Northern Lighthouses:
The Board is constituted in accordance with an Act of Parliament passed in 1786. Their flag has a white field, two by one, with the Union Flag (1606 pattern) in the first quarter, and a representation of a lighthouse, in blue, in the fly. There appears to be no record of the date of origin; however, in the absence of the St. Patrick's Cross in the Union, it seems probable that it was adopted before 1801. It is flown at the main masthead when the Commissioners are embarked; in addition, they fly their "Pennant" at the for masthead. The title of the last mentioned is rather misleading in that this flag functions much in the same way as a house-flag or yacht burgee. It is blue and bears a white cross, charched with a very narrow red cross; in the first quarter, the lighthouse in white. The Ensign is the Blue Ensign defaced with the lighthouse in white; this is worn in tenders and flown on lighthouses and depots on shore. It was adopted in 1855."
from: Carr (1961)
Jarig Bakker, 28 August 2001

Am I right in thinking that the Commissioners of Northern Lights flag is the only flag using the "Old Union Jack" (with no red saltire) as a canton?
James Dignan, 18 December 1995

From memory, and possibly this is no longer true, but I think the answer is yes. The Commissioners of Northern Lights is the lighthouse authority of Scotland. According to my trusty Whitaker's the Commissioners of Northern Lights was founded in 1786, which might explain its anachronistic usage.
Roy Stilling, 18 December 1995

The ensign of the Commissioners of Northern Lights is a plain white ensign (no over-all St. George's Cross) with a blue lighthouse in the fly and a pre-1801 Union Flag in the canton. This is used only when a Commissioner is on board one of their vessels. The ensign in regular use is a normal Blue Ensign with a white lighthouse. Northern Lights is the General Lighthouse Authority in Scotland and the Isle of Man. Trinity House is the General Lighthouse Authority for England, Wales, Channel Islands and Gibraltar, and responsible for pilotage throughout the UK. Amongst other flags, it has a defaced Red Ensign, which 'ought to be' blue. Until 1864 vessels in the service of certain UK public offices defaced the Red Ensign with the badge of their office. In that year they were directed to transfer the badge to a Blue Ensign. For some reason Trinity House didn't do it and still have their badge of four Elizabethan ships quartered on a rectangular panel, applied to a Red Ensign.
David Prothero, 17 April 1997

United Kingdom governmental offices put their badges on red ensigns until 1864, when they were directed to move them to blue ensigns, and Trinity House for some reason didn't. I read (years ago, in a library book) that Trinity House isn't actually a governmental office, it's a corporation (H.R.H. the Duke of Edinburgh, Master) unlike the Commissioners of Northern Lights, who are a governmental office. If this is so, it might explain the discrepancy. Is it so?
John Ayer, 15 November 2000

Trinity House is one of those strange parts of the British state which are to all intents part of the state machinery, but not part of the government. It is responsible for Lighthouses and lights in England and Wales. Theoretically it was given overall control of lights in the UK in the 19th century, but that position has always been bitterly opposed by the Commissioners of the Northern Lights (Scotland) and the Commissioners of the Irish Lights (Ireland). They do have a full set of flags, including the mentioned red ensign, a jack, a master's flag and a deputy master's flag. Their ships also use the white ensign when escorting the monarch at sea, by special warrant.
Graham Bartram, 15 November 2000

I have checked today with the Northern Lighthouse Board. NLB vessels fly the blue ensign defaced by a white lighthouse. If a Commissioner is aboard, the similar flag with a white ground and blue lighthouse is flown from the masthead [this is not a "white ensign" as now normally understood as it lacks the red St George's Cross]. In both cases the design incorporates the current Union Flag in the canton - not, as some sources claim, the pre-1801 version without the red saltire of Ireland - though that version must have existed at that time. When the Patron of NLB, The Princess Royal, is aboard her Royal Standard is also flown.
David Prothero, 18 November 2000

I recently saw in Edinburgh a flag of the Commissioners of Northern Lighthouses; the Commissioner's flag. I was very interested in the fact that it shows the old pre-1801 Union flag. I took a photograph.
Christopher Fear, 30 October 2003

Interestingly, the canton in the photograph shows not just the design of the pre-1801 flag, but also it looks like it shows it in the pre-1801 proportions! That canton
is surely 2:3 or similar, and is far less than half of the flag's length.
James Dignan 31 October 2003

The illustration on this page is probably based on that in BR20, Change No.5 (prepared by Graham Bartram), which also shows the canton with proportions of 1:2. This as far as I know, is the nearest we have in the UK to an official image. It would also appear that the fimbriation to the St George is too narrow on the flag in question, as it has apparently been approximately one-third of flag width from the beginning? The earliest official image of the 1606 pattern Union Flag is dated 1707, and this has that width of fimbriation so it sounds as if a little imagination has been at work? Neither is there any real justification for the canton proportions of 2:3. This, indeed, would have been roughly the ratio of jacks c1700, but the official illustration of 1707 shows proportions of 3:4, while about 4:7 (or slightly longer) would have been customary by the middle of the 18th Century and 1:2 by its end.
Christopher Southworth, 31 October 2003

Scottish Lighthouse Board

[Scottish Lighthouse Board] located by Jarig Bakker, 28 August 2001
Source: Norris and Hobbs (1848)

Commissioners of Irish Lights - Ensign

[Commissioners of Irish Lights - Ensign] located by Jarig Bakker, 28 August 2001
Source: Carr (1961)

Commissioners of Irish Lights - Commissioner's flag

[Commissioners of Irish Lights - Commissioner's flag] located by Jarig Bakker, 28 August 2001
Source: Carr (1961)

In 1863 the Port of Dublin Corporation, which was not only the General Lighthouse Authority in Ireland, but also the Corporation for preserving and improving the Port of Dublin, was granted permission to use the Blue Ensign defaced with a badge in the fly. This consisted of a lighthouse on a circular blue background surrounded by a scroll bearing the words "Irish Lights Department". The General Lighthouse Authority became a separate body in accordance with the Dublin Port Act of 1867, and was designated the Commissioners of Irish Lights. At the same time, the design of the badge on the Blue Ensign was changed as shown to that shown above.

The flag of the Commissioners is white, three by two, charged with the red cross of St. George; each quarter comprises a seascape - first and fourth showing a lighthouse on a rock, second and third a lightship, all proper. There seems to be no record of the date of the adoption of this flag. Similar charges, only placed within a circle, are displayed on the blue triangular field bearing the St. George's Cross, of the "Pennant". This is flown at the main masthead, but is replaced with the Commissioners' flag whenever they are embarked. The Commissioners' flag is also flown at all lighthouse stations in the Republic of Ireland; however, those in Northern Ireland fly the Blue Ensign defaced, as described above."
Source: Carr (1961)
Jarig Bakker, 28 August 2001

See also:

Overseas Lighthouses

Overseas lighthouses were the responsibility of the Imperial Lighthouse Service of the Board of Trade. The Bahamas office looked after not only the lighthouses on the Bahamas but also that on Sombrero, a small island that was part of the St Christopher-Nevis group of the Leeward Islands. The tender based at Nassau flew a Blue Ensign with a badge that consisted of a lighthouse within an oval belt on which BOARD OF TRADE was written in white on red. The belt was surmounted by a crown, with a red scroll above, bearing the word BAHAMA in white. This was an official flag warranted 20 July 1898, but it is possible that the Colombo office had a similar, but unofficial badge with CEYLON on the scroll. It was more usual for colonial lighthouse tenders to fly the Board of Trade Blue Ensign with the sailing ship badge.

The Bahama/Sombrero badge was flown by the tender Ana Patricia until about 1971 when it was replaced by the Board of Trade Blue Ensign [Bahamian Symbols by Whitney Smith in The Flag Bulletin XIV:2-3], but the lighthouse at Sombrero, on special occasions, flew the Wheel and Anchor Blue Ensign of the Ministry of Transport, which had taken over the Board of Trade's transport responsibilities in, I think, the early 1950's [Public Record Office document MT 45/580].
David Prothero, 18 November 2000