"Naval Administration" by Sir Vesey Hamilton
"Naval Administration" by Sir Vesey Hamilton

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"Naval Administration" by Sir Vesey Hamilton, G.C.B. (1896)



The Admiralty Office in the days of the Lords High Admiral was merely the personal office used by the holder of the appointment, and thus was liable to change of locality. The Duke of Buckingham convened his new "Council of the Sea" at Wallingford House, near Whitehall, in 1626, and, after his assassination, the Admiralty Commissioners then appointed continued to meet there until the execution of Charles I. Afterwards the Earl of Northumberland dated his official correspondence from his house in Queen Street, Covent Garden, and the Earl of Warwick from Warwick House, Holborn. In 1660 the Admiralty business was conducted in the old Palace of Whitehall, and, after being transacted at Derby House, Canon Row, Westminster - which Pepys bought from the Duke of Ormond - it was brought back to the Palace of Whitehall in 1684. When Pepys resumed office as Secretary of the Admiralty in 1688, he carried on the business of the Navy in York Buildings, the site of which is marked by the water gate at the foot of Buckingham Street, and, after being transferred in the following year to a house at the south end of Duke Street, Westminster, which had been built for the notorious Judge Jeffreys, the. Admiralty was finally restored to its old quarters at Wallingford House in 1695.

Buckingham's building had, however, been pulled down before September, 1694, for in that month and year an agreement was entered into between the Principal Officers of the Navy and John Evans, stipulating that the latter should erect a new house on the site, which was done, and, in 1719, certain sheds which stood before the building being removed, the courtyard was enlarged, and rails and gates were erected. But this new Admiralty building appears to have been erected in haste, for, in 1722, it had so far fallen into decay, that the now existing building was put in hand, the business of the office being meanwhile conducted at a house in St. James's Square. Thomas Ridley, at whom Pope jeers bitterly in the "Dunciad" (iii. 1, 327), was the architect of the new structure, and the cost appears to have been more than £22,000. The building was commodious at the time of its erection, and included official residences for the Lords of the Admiralty and the Secretary, who were accustomed to live in close communication among themselves; but the business of the Admiralty has now long outgrown it. The edifice has two deep wings, and is entered through a lofty - far too lofty - portico, supported by elongated Ionic columns. The Mermaid sloop of war brought 600 planks of mahogany from Jamaica in 1724 for the doors and woodwork of the building, and the Board Room was adorned by the chisel of Grinling Gibbons. The Lords Commissioners moved into the new building in September, 1725. The existing screen, which incloses the courtyard of the Admiralty on the street side, was erected, mainly to conceal the unprepossessing character of the building, in 1760, the architect being Robert Adams, one of the two brothers who designed the Adelphi.

Unworthy and inadequate as the building in many ways is, it is filled with historic interest, for it was the central office of our naval administration through the long struggle with France, and beneath its portico all the greatest seamen of England have passed. There, with the words, "Sir, we have gained a great victory, but we have lost Lord Nelson," Collingwood's Trafalgar despatch was brought to Mr. Marsden, the Secretary, at about one o'clock on the morning of November 6th, 1805. The chamber still exists in which Lord Burham, the venerable First Lord, was sleeping when he was aroused to receive the tidings of the great victory, and they show still the "Captain's Room" - the first on the left of the passage, as you enter from the hall to the principal staircase - in which Nelson's body rested on the night preceding the state funeral at St. Paul's, The art treasures of the building include two sea-pieces by Van der Velde, and sundry pictures by Francesco Guardi, W. Hodges. R.A., J. Webber, R.A., W. Westall, A.R.A., and others, besides portraits of Nelson, by Guizzardi, and of William IV, by Sir William Beechey. But the utter inadequacy of the Admiralty building at Whitehall has rendered extension necessary, and the Office of Her Majesty's Works has added a new wing on the side of St. James's Park - part of a larger structure - to which some of the Admiralty offices have lately been transferred. A view of the Admiralty before the erection of Adam's screen, was engraved for Strype's edition of Stow's "London," 1754, and another exists from the graver of D. Cunego, 1760, reproduced on p. 17 of the present volume. An architectural plan and elevation of the screen were published in the same year, when it was erected, and since that time many views of the Admiralty have been issued. A plate of the interior of the Board Room, by Pugin, with figures by Rowlandson, is very interesting (see p. 110).

The work of the civil departments of the Navy, and especially of victualling, was conducted by the Navy Board in Queen Elizabeth's reign at an office on the east side of the Tower, known as the "Queen's Consultation Room," where a large storehouse and ovens were built. The Victualling Office was long situated here, while the Navy Office itself was located on the west side of Mark Lane, surrounding three sides of a courtyard, and entered through a passage. This building is represented as the "Old Navy Office " in the map accompanying Strype's edition of Stow's "London" (1720), when the office itself had been removed to the angle formed by Seething Lane and Crutched Friars, with an entrance from both. The house in Seething Lane, where Pepys was besieged by bailiffs, and whence he escaped only by the window, was a structure consisting of a central block, with a portico, surmounted by a pediment, and having two wings, and plain buildings surrounding a court at the rear. A view of it was engraved in 1714 by Thomas Taylor, inscribed, "The Navy Office, London," and dedicated to "The Right Honourable the Principal Officers and Commissioners of Her Majesty's Navy." There is an engraving also by B. Cole, 1750, which appears to be copied from Taylor's view, and is described erroneously as of the "Navy Office in Broad Street" (see p. 65). Actually it was the Navy Pay Office that was located there, standing on the west side of Old Broad Street, near London Wall. A pencil drawing of it, by G, Shepherd, March 21st, 1816, is in the Crace Coll., Brit. Mus., xxv. 39, and is reproduced on p. 122 of this volume. Afterwards the Pay Office was removed to Tower Hill, within reach of the guard. During the Plague of 1665 the business of both the Admiralty and Navy Boards was temporarily removed to the Manor House at Greenwich, and the Navy Office narrowly escaped the Great Fire of 1666. For a long time subsequently the work of the civil department was carried on at Seething Lane, but, about 1780, the office was transferred to Somerset House, where the Victualling, Navy Pay, and Transport branches were located on the west side, while the official residences of the Treasurer and Surveyor of the Navy, of the three Commissioners of the Navy Board, and of the Principal Officers of the Victualling Department were on the west terrace. The Royal Academy of Arts was located in the same buildings. The civil departments of the Navy were successively removed thence to Whitehall and Spring Gardens, the Surveyor's Department in 1855 and the rest by 1870, whereby the conduct of business was greatly facilitated.

For many of the particulars here given concerning Admiralty buildings I am indebted to a valuable pamphlet prepared some years ago for official purposes by Mr. Frank Miller, Superintendent of the Victoria Victualling Yard at Deptford, This gentleman has kindly placed his information at my disposal. I have also to acknowledge my obligations to Mr. W.D. Barber, of the Hydrographic Department at the Admiralty, for the charming view of the interior of the Admiralty Board Room, forming the frontispiece to this volume, which that gentleman has allowed the publishers to reproduce from a photograph by himself.

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