Thames House

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Thames House as seen from the Lambeth side of the River Thames

Thames House is a Grade II listed[1] building in Millbank, London, on the north bank of the River Thames adjacent to Lambeth Bridge. Originally used as offices by Imperial Chemical Industries (ICI), it has served as the headquarters of the UK Security Service (commonly known as MI5) since December 1994. It also served as the London headquarters of the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) until March 2013.


Thames House on the left; Imperial Chemical House on the right.

The building was constructed in 1929–30 by John Mowlem & Co on riverside land cleared after the disastrous 1928 Thames flood severely damaged run-down residential properties. It was built to designs by Sir Frank Baines, of the Government's Office of Works. It is of design uniform with but not identical to Imperial Chemical House which is opposite it on the north side of Horseferry Road; while Imperial Chemical House was exclusively for ICI, Thames House originally had various uses, including the London headquarters of International Nickel Ltd. Baines's design owes much to the 'Imperial Neoclassical' tradition of Sir Edwin Lutyens and deliberately ties in with the Imperial design of Lambeth Bridge when it was redesigned from 1929. High up on the frontage are statues of St George and Britannia sculpted by Charles Sargeant Jagger. It was owned by Thames House Estates until it was sold to the British Government in 1994. Thames House Estates was jointly owned by ICI and Prudential for many years and subsequently was wholly owned by ICI.

MI5 and NIO headquarters[edit]

The archway, showing the GMW infill extension built for MI5

The dispersed and dilapidated state of its previous buildings at 140 Gower Street (headquarters) and Curzon Street House (registry, administration and technical services)[2] led MI5 to seek a new home in the late 1980s. The Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) were engaged in a simultaneous hunt for new headquarters and consideration was given to co-location of the two. However this proposal was abandoned, due to the lack of buildings of adequate size (existing or proposed) and the security considerations of becoming a single target for attacks. At the same time, Thames House, which was largely used as government offices by then, became vacant when the Department of Energy left the southern half in 1989 and it was decided to convert and refit much of it for MI5's use. The GMW Partnership undertook the design and Mowlem carried out the necessary reconstruction work from 1990, which included part-infilling of the building's distinctive archway.[3] The refurbished Thames House was officially opened on 30 November 1994 by the then Prime Minister, Sir John Major.[4]

The building was shared with the Northern Ireland Office (NIO) until that organisation moved to 1 Horse Guards Road alongside HM Treasury and the Cabinet Office.[5]

Popular culture[edit]

Up until its seventh series, the BBC television series Spooks used the exterior and lobby of the Freemasons' Hall in Great Queen Street as a location for the show's portrayal of Thames House. Since then Thames House has been used, although Freemasons' Hall is still used to show the entrance to the building.

The third series of the BBC television series Torchwood used Thames House as the setting for the arrival of an alien species on Earth.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Historic England. "Thames House (North and South Blocks with Bridge Link)  (Grade II) (1267604)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 7 July 2013. 
  2. ^ "The Secret Architecture of London". Geocities. Retrieved 18 February 2017. 
  3. ^ Sheldon, Robert (June 1993). Thames House and Vauxhall Cross (PDF). London: National Audit Office. p. 43. ISBN 0105566691. Retrieved 7 July 2013. 
  4. ^ "Thames House". Security Service. Retrieved 7 July 2013. 
  5. ^ "Northern Ireland Office moves into the heart of Whitehall". Northern Ireland Office. 5 March 2013. Retrieved 7 July 2013. 

Coordinates: 51°29′38.3″N 0°07′32.2″W / 51.493972°N 0.125611°W / 51.493972; -0.125611