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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)

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)

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

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

Tudor and Stuart period

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

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

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". 

1893 text

A list of the Officers of the Admiralty, May 31st, 1660. From a MS. in the Pepysian Library in Pepys’s own handwriting.

His Royal Highness James, Duke of York, Lord High Admiral. Sir George Carteret, Treasurer. Sir Robert Slingsby, (soon after) Comptroller. Sir William Batten, Surveyor. Samuel Pepys, Esq., Clerk of the Acts.

Commissioners: John, Lord Berkeley (of Stratton,) Sir William Penn, Peter Pett, Esq.—B,

This text comes from a footnote on a diary entry in the 1893 edition edited by Henry B. Wheatley.

5 Annotations

Pauline  •  Link

From Claire Tomalin's "Samuel Pepys: The Unequalled Self" pp49-50
"The members of the Navy Board were appointed by the king and whoever he chose to listen to. In 1660 Sandwich [Montagu], as vice-admiral, was one adviser, alongside the duke of York and his secretary, William Coventry. They agreed that the board should consist of four principal officers, as it had done under Charles I--treasurer, comptroller, surveyor and clerk of the acts--and three commissioners, a system that had worked well under the commonwealth. Sir George Carteret, an impeccable royalist whose service at sea had begun under Charles I and who had held Jersey for him, was appointed treasurer. He had official lodgings at Whitehall, a house in Pall Mall, another at Deptford and a country mansion near Windsor, and he was the highest paid,with L2,000 a year and the right to three pence in every pound he handled--this was a remnant of the old way of doing things. He was well disposed to Pepys, and Pepys knew he must cultivate him. The comptrollership went to two still more aged cavaliers, first Sir Robert Slingsby, who died within a year, then Sir John Mennes, whose naval career went back to the 1620s. He had fought at sea with Prince Rupert and no doubt against William Penn; and he was an educated man, a wit and a poet who had published imitations of Chaucer and encouraged Pepys to appreciate "The Canterbury Tales" and "Troilus and Ciseyde".

"The surveyor, with particular responsibility for the dockyards and the design, building and repair of ships, was Sir William Batten, a professional who had served on both sides during the civil war. Of the commissioners, Penn, who was given a brief to take an interest in every aspect of the board's work, also owed his appointment to his years of experience as a naval commander; both men made a useful practical link with the commonwealth regime. Another commisioner, Peter Pett, the master-shipwright at Chatham, had nothing of the cavalier about him and had served Cromwell zealously; but no change of government could unseat him, because the Pett family had a virtual monopoly of shipbuilding in the Thames yards, and he moved smoothly to work for the restored monarchy. In May 1660 he had been summoned on board the Naseby to prepare it for the king, and later in the year he started to build a royal pleasure yacht, the Catherine, greatly admired by Pepys.

"These were the men with whom Pepys chiefly had to work; Lord Berkeley, the third commissioner, was appointed purely as a sign of royal favour; nothing was expected of him. There were further officers working at the more distant dockyards, Harwich and Portsmouth, some with histories of service to the commonwealth. Other minor officials left over from commonwealth days contrived to hang on in lesser Jobs....

"Each officer of the Navy Board was served by his own two clerks, chosen by himself and usually owing their jobs to personal connections, just as their master did. Pepys was quick to defend his two, Tom Hayter and Will Hewer, against any criticism and to attack inefficiency among the other. The rest of the staff served everyone: two messengers, a doorkeeper, a porter and couple of watchmen; and there were boatmen ready to take all the board official up or down river at all times."

Pedro.  •  Link

Naval Board General powers (L&M Companion):

The Board was to make most of its decisions jointly. It was required to meet twice a week, the hours and days being varied during parliamentary session for the benefit of the members who were MP's or peers. In 1660 when, it was getting into its stride, and in crises, during the war and after, it met more frequently. Two members constituted a quorum. The clerks were present except when the Board resolved to meet "close".

vicenzo  •  Link

Navy board Officials
At the Restoration the offices of the four Principal Officers of the Navy, the Treasurer, Controller, Surveyor and Clerk of the Acts, were re-established, and three Commissioners were appointed to act with them. These officials, known both singly and collectively as Principal Officers and Commissioners of the Navy, formed the Navy Board and were jointly responsible under the direction of the Lord High Admiral for the civil administration of the Navy. .....

Various expedients were adopted to deal with the business arising from the examination of seamen's tickets. The Ticket Office was usually managed by one of the members of the Navy Board. Its management was taken out of the hands of the Controller in 1668 and entrusted to the Controller of Treasurer's Accounts.
From: 'Introduction', Office-Holders in Modern Britain: Volume VII: Navy Board Officials 1660-1832 (1978) pp. 1-17 URL: Date accessed: 10 April 2005

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