Temporary housing for the Government in Great War London

31 Jan

As Britain mobilised for Total War, the Government took over dozens of properties across London and built a host of new temporary buildings in parks and gardens. We have seen how these buildings blighted the view of St James’s Park, but the spread of Government offices was much much more widespread than that.

During the war, the shape of the UK’s civil service shifted dramatically. While the number of civil servants did not increase an enormous amount (a 22% increase from 229,500 to 281,000), the number of female civil servants did increase substantially (by around 400%, to fill a 30% decline in male civil servants) and some departments grew enormously – many growing from nothing to a great size.

DM 18 5 1916 hotel

De Keyser’s Hotel being taken over “for war purposes” (Daily Mirror, 18 May 1916)

Among just five of the new departments there were 23,000 civil servants, of whom 63% were women (theses excludes the 14,000 employees of the regional national service offices in the table below):

Men Women Total
Ministry of Munitions




Ministry of Information




Ministry of National   Service (HQ)




Ministry of National   Service (regions)




War Trade Dept




Ministry of Food




The Admiralty and War Office were the key existing war departments, while the Inland Revenue demonstrates the shift from a largely-male workforce to one that was evenly split between men and women:

Men Women August 1914 total Men Women Early 1918 total







War Office







Inland Revenue







In February 1917, an MP raised in the Commons the question of accommodation at the Hotel Cecil, complaining that the Constitutional Club – which had already lost its own rooms at Northumberland Avenue – was now being squeezed out of the Hotel by the expansion of the Air Ministry.  The Ministry occupied 570 ordinary rooms and 9 of the larger rooms (halls, etc) in the Hotel.

Questioned further the First Commissioner for Works (Sir Alfred Mond) promised to publish a list of all the properties in London that had been lent to, commandeered by or rented by the Government. That list is set out below. It reflects the vast growth in the work and workforce of certain departments, of which the Admiralty and War Office are the obvious examples, alongside the new departments such as the Air Ministry and the Ministry of Munitions. There were also bodies dealing with separation allowances, national service, war pensions and the blockade of Germany.

The types of buildings used varies enormously, from huts on the roofs of existing Government offices – or in open spaces in central London (like St James’s Park and Regent’s Park) – to rooms in museums and galleries (including the British Museum), to the National Liberal Club and the Strand Hotel. A number of additional buildings were then needed across London to house the furniture and other items removed from the buildings commandeered by the Government.

Controversy over the displacement of other organisations continued, including the take-over of buildings on Kingsway by the Air Ministry’s Aircraft Production Department, requiring 122 firms to move. At the same time the War Casualties department moved from Kingsway to Finsbury Court and displaced a number City firms.

As with the temporary huts (more of which were built even after the war to house the Ministry of Pensions!), there were complaints about the continued occupation of hotels. Asked in February 1919 how many hotels had been vacated since the Armistice, Mr John Pratt from the Treasury said that:

Fifteen hotels are still retained as Government offices in the Metropolitan area. No hotels have been restored for public use since the 11th November, 1918, but the Hotel Victoria has been vacated by the Government staff which has occupied it, and arrangements are proceeding as speedily as possible for its reinstatement as a hotel. Carter’s Hotel, Albemarle Street, is to be vacated immediately. The Hotel Cecil will be vacated within two or three months, and the Grand Hotel a little later.

Sir Alfred Mond expanded on this, with a list of the fifteen hotels and who had occupied them. Further updates were given by Winston Churchill in June and Mond in November 1919:

Hotel. Occupied by 1919 updates
Carter’s   Hotel War   Office. Released   at the end of March 1919
De   Keyser’s Hotel War   Office. June 1919:   “arrangements are under consideration for the early evacuation of this   hotel”November 1919: purchased by a private firm and will be used as   offices when Government vacate.
Grand   Hotel Ministry   of Munitions. Feb 1919:   to be vacated in a few months.
Hotel   Metropole Ministry   of Munitions. Still in   use Nov 1919
Hotel   Cecil Air   Ministry. June 1919:   “will be vacated by the end of June, evacuation commencing at once.”
Covent   Garden Hotel Air   Ministry. Vacated in April, 1919.
Horrex’s   Hotel Ministry   of Labour. Still in   use November 1919, still required for Ministry of Labour Appointments Branch
Howard   Hotel Ministry   of Labour. Still in   use November 1919
St.   Ermin’s Hotel Ministry   of Labour. Still in   use November 1919
Holborn   Viaduct Hotel Board of   Trade—Coal Controller. Still in use   November 1919
Hotel York Board of   Trade—Timber Controller and Canadian Red Cross. Still in   use November 1919
Windsor   Hotel Ministry   of National Service and Reconstruction. Still in   use November 1919
Salisbury   Hotel War   Savings Committee. Still in   use November 1919
Belgrave   Mansions Hotel American   Army Headquarters. June 1919:   “Release by the American Expeditionary Force is under consideration.”
Goring   Hotel American   Army Headquarters. Already   vacated by June 1919

In March 1920, Mond announced that “Six hotels (of which three have been taken on lease and one is in course of vacation) and 348 other buildings are still occupied by Departments set up during the War.” The Metropole was also due to be vacated by Easter.

Temporary War Buildings in London, Board of Trade, Whitehall Gardens, Whitehall. © IWM (Q 28727)

Temporary War Buildings in London, Board of Trade, Whitehall Gardens, Whitehall. © IWM (Q 28727)

Temporary buildings constructed for or occupied by Government departments at the end of 1916

Temporary Buildings erected or contracted for HM Office of Works to be used as Government Offices in the London District during the period 1st January to 31st December, 1916…

  • Admiralty: Buildings on Roof; new rooms in Domes
  • Foreign Office: Buildings on Roof; extension for passport office
  • Horse Guards: Alterations and extra accommodations for General Headquarters
  • Horse Guards Parade: Admiralty extension
  • Stationery Office: building, south front, Princes Street, SW
  • Chelsea HospitalL Building for staff of Pensions Deptarment
  • Regent’s Park: extension building for Army Sorting Office; building for War Office Post Office Parcels Censor;
  • Post Office Savings Bank Department: building in Quadrangle
  • Adelphi Gardens: building of Ministry of Munitions
  • Montagu House: extensions for Ministry of Munitions and Ministry of Labour
  • Embankment Gardnes: building for director-general of Military Railways
  • St James’s Park: War Office effects branch; Admiralty transport building; War Trade Intelligence Department building
  • Lancaster House: Foreign Trade Department building in garden
  • Pocock Street: Stationery office warehouse
  • 10 Downing Street: building in garden
  • Home Office: permit office
  • Kew: office for headquarters of Unemployment Insurance
  • Strand House, WC: building on roof for Army Postal Censors
  • Custom House building on quay
  • Board of Trade: building on roof for Queensland Government Offices

Note: Kew building suitable for use after war; some constructed in parks will also be suitable for use after the war.

Temporary War Buildings in London. Tank Association and extensive Leave Huts, Horse Guards Parade. (c)IWM 28708

Temporary War Buildings in London. Tank Association and extensive Leave Huts, Horse Guards Parade. (c)IWM 28708

Temporary War Buildings in London, Ministry of Labour, Whitehall Bungalows. (c)IWM  Q28724

Temporary War Buildings in London, Ministry of Labour, Whitehall Bungalows. (c)IWM Q28724

Premised hired or requisitioned by or on behalf of H.M. Office of Works, etc., in the same area and period and for the same purpose. [n.b. does not include properties taken over for purely military purposes]


  • 62-66 Charing Cross (rooms in)
  • City and Guilds Engineering College, Exhibition Road (portion of)
  • Trafalgar Buildings, 1 Charing Cross (rooms in)
  • 26 Cockspur Street (rooms on 3rd floor; whole of 2nd floor)
  • 47 Victoria Street (rooms on 1st floor)
  • Whitehall House, Charing Cross (rooms on 3rd and 5th floors)
  • Greener House, Haymarket (rooms from basement up to 3rd floor)
  • Dewar House, Haymarket (rooms on 1st and 3rd floors)
  • 29 Spring Gardens
  • 31 Spring Gardens
  • Union Club, Trafalgar Square (3 rooms on top floor)

Ministry of Munitions:

  • LGO Co’s premises, Albany Street, NW (3 rooms)
  • 16 John Street, Adelphi
  • 54 New Bond Street (2 rooms)
  • 117 Piccadilly
  • 118 Piccadilly (2 floors)
  • Bacteriological Laboratory, Point Pleasant, Wandsworth
  • Red Lion Restaurant, 9 Princes Street (upper part)
  • 8 York Buildings, Adelphi
  • 31 Great St Helens, EC (3 rooms, 2nd floor)
  • Grand Hotel
  • Hotel Metropole
  • Hotel Victoria
  • Constitutional Club
  • SPCK premises, Northumberland Avenue
  • 8 Princes Street Westminster (rooms on 2nd, 3rd and 4th floors)
  • 26 Abingdon Street (rooms in)
  • Caxton House, Tothill Street (rooms on ground floor)
  • Avenue House, Northumberland Avenue
  • Chiswick Laboratory
  • St Ermin’s Hotel (4 floors west wing)
  • National Club, 1 Whitehall Gardens
  • 2 Whitehall Court (flats 44 and 46)

Board of Agriculture, Home Grown Timber Committee

  • 4 The Sanctuary, SW
  • 2 and 3 The Sanctuary (rooms on 3rd floor)
  • 54 Victoria Street, SW, including Canadian Forestry Battalion on 1st floor
  • 18 Marshalsea Road, SE
  • Old Smithy, Stewarts Lane, SE

Wheat Commission

  • Trafalgar House, Waterloo Place, SW (part of)

Stationery Office

  • Imperial House, Kingsway (portion of ground floor)
  • 1 Underwood Street, EC (basement)
  • 18 & 20 Shepherdess Walk, EC (3 floors)

Board of Trade, Allies Supplies Commission

  • Canada House, Kingsway (7th floor)
  • Empire House, Kingsway (2nd & 3rd floors)
  • All offices in occupation of private firms in Canada, India and Empire Houses, Kingsway, WC (eight firms)
  • India House, Kingsway (1st floor & portion of 2nd floor)
  • Board of Trade
  • 19 Berkeley Street, W
  • 9 Bridge Street (rooms in)
  • Central House, Kingsway (4th floor)
  • 38 & 39 Parliament Street (1st floor)
  • Portland House, 73 Basinghall Street (rooms in)
  • 2 Thurloe Place, SW
  • Wakefield House, Cheapside

Local Government Board. Military Service (Civil Liabilities) Committee

  • Imperial House, Kingsway (1st & 2nd floors, 3rd floor West, 5th floor West, and one other room on 3rd floor)
  • (Local Commissioners appointed by the Committee for the various boroughs were accommodated mostly in Town Halls or Municipal Buildings, &c, free of rent, or in Government Buildings where rooms were available.)

Inland Revenue, Tax Office

  • Gloucester Mansions, Charing Cross Road, WC (1st floor East and 2nd floor East)
  • 86 Bow Road (ground & 2nd floors)
  • 300 Mare Street, Hackney (1 room)
  • 93 Great Eastern Street, EC (1st & 2nd floors)
  • 214 Bishopsgate, EC (1st floor)
  • 33/37 Hare Street, Woolwich (1st & 2nd floors)
  • Temple Chambers, EC (3rd floor)
  • Salisbury House, Finsbury Circus (rooms in)
  • 62 Altenburg Gardens, SW
  • New Hibernian Chambers, London Bridge, SE (rooms in)
  • 1 Peckham Road, Camberwell
  • 13 Victoria Street (rooms in)
  • Diamond House, Hatton Garden (rooms in)
  • 23 Kingsland High Street, Dalston (2nd floor)
  • 99 Uxbridge Road, Ealing
  • 25 Euston Road (rooms in)
  • 287 Lewisham High Road
  • 139A Finchley Road (1st floor)
  • 1/4 Paternoster Row, EC
  • 178 and 180 Romford Road, Stratford, E
  • Phoenix House, King William Street, EC (3rd, 4th & 5th floors)
  • 1 Dorncliffe Road, Fulham, SW
  • 24 William Street, Woolwich (1st floor)
  • 8 Finsbury Square, EC (1st floor)
  • 36 and 38 Mortimer Street, W (2nd floor)
  • 32 West Kensington Gardens

Customs and Excise

  • 158 High Street, Harlesden (ground floor)
  • 72 Romford Road, Stratford
  • Central Hall, Southall (1 room)
  • 45 Kings Road, Chelsea (1st floor)

Air Ministry

  • Hotel Cecil (except portion occupied by Director General of Military Railways)

Air Board

  • 19 Carlton House Terrace

War Office

  • Queen’s House, Kingsway, WC (4th floor)
  • 9 Victoria Street, SW (rooms in)
  • Strand House, Portugal Street, WC
  • Gilbey Hall, Agricultural Hall, Islington, N
  • Carter’s Hotel, 14 & 15 Albemarle Street, W
  • De Keyser’s Hotel, Victoria Embankment, EC
  • 69/71 Haymarket, SW
  • National Liberal Club, SW
  • 38/39 Parliament Street, SW (ground floor)
  • Whitehall Court, SW: flats 51, 105, 106, 107 and 111
  • 33/38 Baker Street, W (ground floor & basement)
  • Marylebone Town Hall
  • 8 Bedford Square
  • Caxton House, Tothill Street, SW (portions of)
  • Institution of Electrical Engineers, Savoy Hill, WC (1st floor, except library; room in basement)
  • 6 & 7 George Street, Hanover Square, W (2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th floors)
  • 78 Lancaster Gate, W
  • 53 Parliament Street, SW (rooms in)
  • Hotel Cecil, WC (portions of)
  • 201/203 Great Portland Street
  • National Gallery of British Art, Millbank [Tate Gallery]
  • Board of Education Art Buildings, South Kensington

Blockade Ministry

  • 5 Waterloo Place
  • 6 Waterloo Place

War Risks Insurance Department

  • Imrie House, King William Street, EC (rooms 3 & 4, lower ground floor)

War Trade Department

  • Morden House, Dartmouth Street, SW (2nd & 3rd floors)
  • Queen Anne’s Gate Building, SW
  • 1 Central Buildings, SW (library, small hut, and conference hall)
  • 13 Victoria Street, SW (rooms on 1st floor)
  • 27/29 Tothill Street, SW (rooms in)

Office of Works (required to deal with the expansion of Supplies to Munition Factories, War Department, etc, and for storage of furniture, etc, from Hotels and Clubs, etc, commandeered)

  • 7 Grove Road, Balham, SW
  • Warehouse at corner of Suirries Street and Florida Street, NE
  • Bottling Store, Essex Place, Chiswick, W
  • Warehouse in Guildford Street, SE
  • Hertford Street Garage, W (1st floor)
  • 2 Lambeth Palace Road, SE
  • 4 Lambeth Palace Road, SE
  • 137 St Pancras Road, NE
  • Norwich Street, Fetter Lane (part of)
  • 86 North Side, Wandsworth Common, SW

Prisoners of War Bureau

  • British Museum, sub-basement of Extension Building

War Office, Medical Research Committee (Statistical Department)

  • British Museum, sub-ground floor
  • Purchase of Timber (Office of Works)
  • Winchester House, Old Broad Street

National Debt Office

  • 1 Moorgate Street and 3/4 Lothbury (portion of)
  • 32/33 London Wall

National Insurance Audit Department

  • British Columbia House, Regent Street SW (rooms in)

Belgian Colonial Office disturbed from their Offices in India House by Allies Supplies Commission

  • British Columbia House, Regent Street SW (rooms in)

Foreign Trade Dept

  • Lancaster House (upper floors)
  • 70 Lombard Street, EC

Defence of the Realm Losses Commission

  • Spencer House, St James’s Place, SW

Food Controller

  • Grosvenor House, Upper Grosvenor Street, W

Propaganda Dept

  • 8 Buckingham Gate, SW

War Savings Committee (now occupied by Statutory Committee on War Pensions)

  • 18 Abingdon Street, SW
  • 19 Abingdon Street, SW

War Saving Committee

  • Salisbury Hotel, Salisbury Square


  • Danes Inn House, Strand, WC (1 room)

National Service Department

  • St Ermin’s Hotel (except portion taken for Priority Department, Ministry of Munitions)

Labour Ministry and Ministry of Munitions

  • Montagu House, Whitehall
  • Labour Ministry, Employment Department
  • Strancolor House, Martlett Court, WC
  • Victoria and Albert Museum, North Court



Parliamentary papers: 1917 Cd 8499, and 1918(76)


Posted by on 31 January 2014 in Places


2 responses to “Temporary housing for the Government in Great War London

  1. preparednessmovement

    1 February 2014 at 7:12 am

    Did property owners object to these government takeovers, or did a sense of national duty overtake the owners?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: