Navy Board

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Navy Board
Flag of the Navy Board.svg
Flag of the Navy Board
Agency overview
Formed Modern authority, 1964
Jurisdiction United Kingdom United Kingdom
Headquarters Whitehall, London
Agency executive
Parent agency Ministry of Defence

Navy Board is the name of two otherwise unrelated bodies, one past, one present, which are or were involved in oversight of the Royal Navy or of aspects of its operation.

The Navy Board (1964-present)[edit]

The Navy Board is today the body responsible for the day-to-day running of the British Royal Navy.[1] Its composition is identical to that of the Admiralty Board of the Defence Council of the United Kingdom, except that it does not include any of Her Majesty's Ministers.[2]

The Navy Board (1546-1832)[edit]

The Navy Board (1546-1832)
Somerset House marine heraldry.jpg
Badge of the Navy Board on Somerset House (the Board's headquarters 1789-1832)
Agency overview
Formed 1546
Jurisdiction Kingdom of England Kingdom of England Kingdom of Great Britain Kingdom of Great Britain
Headquarters Navy Office, Seething Lane (1656-1788); Somerset House (1789-1831)

The Navy Board was established by Henry VIII in 1546 "to oversee the administrative affairs of the naval service" (while policy direction, operational control and maritime jurisdiction remained in the hands of the Lord High Admiral).[3] It was also referred to as the Navy Office, particularly in the earlier part of its history.

Duties and responsibilities[edit]

The Navy Board of the 16th and early 17th century oversaw shipbuilding and maintenance through the Royal Dockyards of Deptford, Woolwich, Portsmouth and Chatham; it was also responsible for the oversight and maintenance of these dockyards. In addition, the Board co-ordinated provision of victuals for the fleet (obtained from private contractors or "agents") and provision of ordnance items (sourced from the Office of Ordnance). It was also responsible for the appointment of junior officers and warrant officers, and had several other duties in addition.

As the size of the fleet grew, the Admiralty sought to focus the activity of the Navy Board on two areas: ships and their maintenance, and naval expenditure.[4] Therefore, from the mid- to late-17th century, a number of subsidiary Boards began to be established to oversee other aspects of the Board's work.[5] These included:

Each of these subsidiary Boards went on to gain a degree of independence (though they remained, nominally at least, overseen by the Navy Board).[6]

The Navy Pay Office (domain of the Treasurer and the Paymaster of the Navy) was independent of the Board; though the Board's Commissioners were required to authorize payments, all funds were held and issued by the Pay Office (which was also known as the Naval Treasury).[4]

Principal Officers and Commissioners[edit]

Tudor and Stuart period[edit]

Instrumental in the early administration of the Navy Office were four officials or "Principal Officers": the Comptroller of the Navy, the Treasurer of the Navy, the Surveyor of Marine Causes and the Clerk of the Acts. As defined by a set of Ordinances drawn up under Henry's successor, Edward VI, the Navy Board was given a high degree of autonomy while yet remaining subordinate to the Lord High Admiral. This - at times ambiguous - relationship with The Admiralty was an enduring characteristic of the Board, and indeed was one of the reasons behind its eventual demise in 1832.[7]

Commonwealth and Restoration period[edit]

During the Commonwealth the business of both Navy Board and Admiralty was carried out by a committee of Parliament. Following the Restoration, James, Duke of York (as Lord High Admiral) oversaw the reconstitution of the Navy Board. Alongside the aforementioned "Principal Officers" further officials were appointed to serve as "Commissioners" of the Navy, and together these constituted the Board.

List of Principal Officers and Commissioners 1660-1796.

  • Controller (chaired meetings of the Board and liaised with the First Lord of the Admiralty)
  • Surveyor (in charge of shipbuilding, ship design and running the Royal Dockyards)
  • Treasurer of the Navy (in charge of accounts - though in practice his responsibilities were increasingly devolved to the Controller)
  • Clerk of the Acts of the Navy (in charge of the day to day running of the Board and the administration of its work)
  • Three additional Commissioners, who were soon given specific duties (so as to lessen the administrative burden placed on the Controller):
    • Controller of Treasurer's Accounts (from 1667)
    • Controller of Victualling Accounts (from 1667)
    • Controller of Storekeepers' Accounts (from 1671)

To this list must be added the resident Commissioners of the Royal Dockyards, who (though not normally in attendance at its meetings in London) were full members of the Navy Board and carried the full authority of the Board when implementing or making decisions within their respective Yards.[8] Not every Dockyard had a resident Commissioner in charge, but the larger Yards, both at home and overseas, generally did (with the exception of the nearby Thames-side yards of Deptford and Woolwich, which were for the most part overseen directly by the Board in London).

Hanoverian period[edit]

In 1796 the Board was reconstituted: the post of Clerk of the Acts was abolished, as were the three Controllers of Accounts. Henceforward, the Board would consist of the Controller and a Deputy Controller (both of whom were normally commissioned Officers), the Surveyor (usually a Master Shipwright from one of the Dockyards) and around seven other Commissioners (a mixture of officers and civilians) to whom no specific duties were attached.

The Treasurer, though still technically a member of the Board, was (like the Dockyard Commissioners) seldom in attendance.[8] In actual fact the post of Treasurer was by this stage little more than a sinecure; the main work of his department was carried out by its senior clerk, the Paymaster of the Navy.[4]

Following the abolition of the office of Clerk of the Acts, the post of Secretary to the Board was created; as well as overseeing the administrative department, the Secretary attended meetings of the Board and took minutes; but he was not himself a Commissioner and did not therefore have a vote.


Navy Office, Crutched Friars (the Board's headquarters 1656-1788)

From the 1650s the Board, together with its staff of around 60 clerks, was accommodated in a large house at the corner of Crutched Friars and Seething Lane, just north of the Tower of London. Following a fire, the house was rebuilt in around 1863 by Sir Christopher Wren. This new Navy Office provided accommodation for the Commissioners, as well as office space. Different departments were accommodated in different parts of the building; the rear wing (which had its own entrance on Tower Hill) housed the offices of the Sick and Hurt Board. The Victualling Office was also located nearby, on Little Tower Hill, close to its early manufacturing base at Eastminster.[4] The Navy Treasury, where the Treasurer was based, was located from 1664 in Broad Street (having moved there from Leadenhall Street). It was also known as the Navy Pay Office.

In 1789, all these offices were relocated into the new purpose-built office complex of Somerset House.[9]


Both Navy Board and Victualling Board were abolished by the 1832 Admiralty Act; their functions were then taken over by the newly-reconstituted Board of the Admiralty.[5]


  1. ^ About the Royal Navy: Navy Board
  3. ^ "MOD historical summary" (PDF). 
  4. ^ a b c d MacDougall, Philip (2013). London and the Georgian Navy. 
  5. ^ a b "Royal Museums Greenwich archives summary". 
  6. ^ "National Maritime Museum research guide". 
  7. ^ Hamilton, Sir Vesey. "Naval Administration (1896)". Retrieved 11 September 2015. 
  8. ^ a b Collinge, J.M. "Office-Holders in Modern Britain: Volume 7, Navy Board Officials 1660-1832.". British History Online. University of London, 1978. Retrieved 5 September 2015. 
  9. ^ "Somerset House: the Great Institutions".