Trips around the Admiralty?

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      Although a keen amateur naval historian, I am, by profession, a musician; and for the past five months I have been working next door to the Old Admiralty Office at the ‘Trafalgar Studios’, or the ‘Whitehall Theatre’, as it used to be called. I have been wondering whether it is possible for SNR members to gain access to this remarkable institution, especially the famous Board Room?
      I asked one security-type on the door and he said, in most ‘helpful’ tones, that there was ‘no chance’. Would any other member be able to assist? It is so tantalizingly close!


        I used to lead occasional guided tours for small special-interest groups of both Admiralty House and the Old Admiralty Office (OAO, known to former naval persons as ‘Ripley’, to civil servants now as 26 Whitehall) just after it was refurbished a decade ago, but since 2005 it has become increasingly difficult to arrange because of security issues, and a certain amount of Government fiefdomism.

        The OAO – recently connected by an interesting internal architectural link from 22 Whitehall (the former Williams & Glynns Bank in Kirklands House) which is now the main entrance to the complex – is ‘owned’ by Cabinet Office and is the home of the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister amongst others, and thus a very busy working building. Admiralty House until very recently, housed apartments for senior ministers and has a suite of delightful and historic state rooms for top-level meetings and receptions. This all means that access has to be carefully arranged and is strictly limited.

        Another factor which, to my mind as an art historian as well as a naval historian is perhaps more important, is that the original OAO structure is quite delicate and the Admiralty Board Room (ABR) dating from c.1695 is very fragile, the more so because it has had at least two major structural rebuilds in the last 70 years.

        It is still possible to arrange a visit for a small group for a special purpose – I gave a talk in the ABR to former naval officers last week – but it takes a long time, can be immediatey frustrated at the last moment by Government demands, and is unlikely to occur for just touristic purposes.

        I understand that rooms in the OAO and sometimes AH are still accessible to the public during the annual ‘Open House’ day for major public buildings – which I do not think is a good idea given the ABR’s fragility – so this may be the easiest option for most people with a casual interest.

        The SNR’s importance to the promulgation of naval history and its record in preserving key artefacts of maritime historical interest does push it up the pecking order in respect of a potential visit for a specific purpose, and I will investigate an appropriate opportunity, although this will take time to come to fruition.

        In respect of the buildings, there are several entries for the OAO on the internet, and occasional descriptions in books such as Colin Brown’s ‘Whitehall’, but most repeat the same errors of fact and interpretation. Modesty makes me hesitate… to suggest two alternatives for those interested in the Admiralty buildings – a ‘virtual tour’ of the whole Admiralty complex and its history by illustrated lecture, which I give from time to time, and my forthcoming (April 2012) book on the buildings and people of the London Admiralty complex including the New Admiralty Offices (inexplicably known officially today as the Old Admiralty), the Arch and the Citadel. Further details available off-list.

        Alastair Wilson

          I can confirm that Admiralty House and a small portion of the OAB (former NOs of my generation refer to it thus – it was the Old Admiralty Building to us) are open to the public on the annual open days.
          It was opened this year on a Sunday in late July/early August. My daughter and her family visited, and were shown the Board Room as well as other rooms. Many years ago, I worked in Room 108, immediately next to the Board Room.

          Sheila B

            As a (very) mature MA student at the Greenwich Maritime Institute, I attended a guided tour of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in 2001 that was very impressive – the most beautiful staircases and one of the Enigma machines, of course.
            John Croker and John Barrow feature prominently in my research and I would give my right arm for a guided tour of the Old Admiralty. I would love to see the Board Room where Croker and Barrow made so many (some disastrous and some corrupt) decisions! I shall watch this post with interest. I see no reason why members of our Society should be refused such a request.

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