Admiralty House is part of the larger Whitehall government complex and has long had an association with the power of the United Kingdom government. Once the home to the First Lord of the Admiralty, today it serves as an event location and residential flats, but its history is more than being a place to live or hold a party. This remarkable 18th Century building has plenty of interesting facts that we can relate to you, from its association with the Royal Navy to its famous residents. If there’s anything you think we left out, you can let us know in the comments.
Name’s the Same
Well, almost. The building was designed by Samuel Pepys Cockerell, who had studied architecture under Sir Robert Taylor and took over many of Taylor’s projects after the elder architect’s death. Admiralty House was one such project and opened in 1788. Besides Admiralty House, Cockerell is also responsible for much of the Bayswater area of Westminster and Middleton Hall, which is currently home to the National Botanic Garden of Wales.
Admiralty House is a Class I listed building and was first listed on February 5th, 1970.
Sharing a Birthdate
Admiralty House opened the same years that the Times began publishing. Prior to 1788, The Times was founded as The Daily Universal Register in 1785 and changed its name for the first edition on January 1, 1788. It started off as publicizing a system of typography, and with the change in name, it began to publish more commercial news and notices as well as some scandalous reports.
A Place of My Own
Admiral of the Fleet Viscount Howe, who was First Lord of the Admiralty from 1783 to 1788, was responsible for commissioning Admiralty House because he wanted “a few small rooms of my own.” The rather large, three-story property was completed the same year that Howe resigned, so it’s unclear whether he actually got to live in the building he commissioned.
Its Most Famous Resident
Serving twice as First Lord of the Admiralty (the political head of the Royal Navy), Winston Churchill was no stranger to Admiralty House. He lived there from 1911 to 1915 and then again from 1939 to 1940 prior to becoming Prime Minister. It was the residence of the First Lord of the Admiralty from 1788 to 1964. After that year, it became a “gift-and-favor” ministerial home with many Deputy Prime Ministers using its residential flats. It also served as a second home for Prime Ministers whenever 10 Downing Street was being renovated.
The reason for the end of its use as a residence for the First Lord of the Admiralty was due to the position being abolished when the Admiralty Board was created.
Shortly before the Admiralty was moved out of the building, US President John F Kennedy held meetings at Admiralty House with Prime Minister Harold Macmillan.
The World’s Best-Known Fictional Spy
Admiralty House also has ties to James Bond via his creator, Ian Fleming. During World War II, Fleming served as the personal assistant to Rear Admiral John Godfrey, the Director of Naval Intelligence. He instigated a plan called Operation Ruthless to acquire an enigma code machine from a German U-Boat. Fleming wrote a memo to that effect to Godfrey, which was no doubt also read by the then-First Lord of the Admiralty, Albert Victor Alexander. The operation was never carried out (much to the chagrin of Alan Turing and others at Bletchley Park).
Outside and In
Admiralty House is striking not only for its outer yellow bricks but also its grand interior design. The ground-floor staircase is absolutely stunning. The ground floor also has several meeting rooms, which were formerly the Dining Room and Drawing Room.
Open House London
Typically, the ground floor is open to visitors during Open House London, though the upper floors remain closed as they were still used as private residences.