Waterbodies & Maritime => Chatham Dockyard => Topic started by: kyn on September 03, 2008, 13:00:41

Title: Commissioners House, Chatham Dockyard
Post by: kyn on September 03, 2008, 13:00:41
The Commissioners House was built in 1704 and is the oldest naval building to survive in Britain, as such it is a Scheduled Ancient Monument.  It was built to house the Resident Commissioner, his and family and his servants.   The original Commissioners House built around 1640 was constructed for Phineas Pett when he became the first Resident Commissioner but the house was demolished in 1703 when Captain George St Lo took up the post and declared the house was not as good as his previous one at Plymouth and needed to be rebuilt.  The Commissioner was responsible for the day-to-day running of the dockyard, his importance is shown by the style of residence and gardens he had built within the dockyard, he also had stables for his horses and coach.  A Captain or Admiral Superintendant replaced the job of Resident Commisonner when the Navy Board was dissolved in 1832 and was again replaced by the Port Admiral in 1971.

The building remains relatively unchanged since it was built with a few additions to the interior between 1770 and 1780 and the servants quarters that were added to the South of the building at the same time.  The main staircase has a large ceiling painting depicting as assembly of gods, this painting was initially in the Great Cabin of the first rate ship the Royal Sovereign.  The painting has been attributed to Thomas Highmore, the sergeant painter to William III, however it is known that some of the painting was by Sir James Thornehill.

The house is now used as a banqueting hall and used for conferences and seminars.

The garden can be viewed by entering through either of the garden gates, the terraces were established before the present house was constructed, the lower terrace was one of the very first Italianate Water gardens in Britain when laid out.  Other interesting features within the garden are an eighteenth century icehouse and a Mulberry tree thought to be over 400 years old and the place where Oliver Cromwell reportedly sat when the Roundhead Army took the City of Rochester from the Royalists.


Title: Re: Commissioners House, Chatham Dockyard
Post by: kyn on September 21, 2008, 16:42:22
Finally got a look inside today although only the ground floor was open. 






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Title: Re: Commissioners House, Chatham Dockyard
Post by: merc on February 02, 2009, 15:46:13
This house became known as Medway House after 1970,according to a book i have.
Title: Re: Commissioners House, Chatham Dockyard
Post by: Miikae on April 25, 2009, 00:18:34
 Hello to all , First off i knew this as Medway House from the mid fifties and my family used to visit the resident Admiral every Christmas for drinkies and chats , i often used to pop in to see my father who was a shipwright,  CPO E.R.Stevens (ted), he was on the staff there for many years from the fifties up until the late sixties when he retired, If i remember correctly they had a resident gardener called Ben (old Ben we called him ) a very nice chap too , also i think the dog was an old  Labrador that wondered the garden but i may be wrong here as it was a long time ago now , at the time i did know all the staff and i bought a 1939 Morris Eight BJY 522 off of one of them Able Seaman J.M.Cox in Sept 1964 for £25, The Flag Officer had a very nice Lagonda sports car which i nearly bought but too dear at £350 for me at that time .
I do have photographs of some Admirals and there families taken in the house with my father .
My fathers workshop was in the cellars and a big workshop it was too and quite spooky,

I even worked in the dockyard for a while in the late sixties when i had finnished my apprenticeship in the Midlands as did my sister in the admin offices for many years.

It certainly is a lovely house as i remember it as i have had lots of tours around it at various times with my father and other staff members over those years.

I met the Beloes , Hoggs and Parkers the most as i remember and all very nice people too.

Title: Re: Commissioners House, Chatham Dockyard
Post by: kyn on April 25, 2009, 08:00:05
Welcome to the forum Miikae, and thank you for sharing your memories!  I would like to see the photo's if you wish to share them!  The basement is not very spooky now, its well lit with carpet and white walls...
Title: Re: Commissioners House, Chatham Dockyard
Post by: Miikae on April 25, 2009, 10:49:56
Welcome to the forum Miikae, and thank you for sharing your memories!  I would like to see the photo's if you wish to share them!  The basement is not very spooky now, its well lit with carpet and white walls...

I will try to dig out some photos today if i find time , i'm retired and always busy these days.

The basement workshop was full of interesting stuff as my father repaired any damaged items of furnature , doors locks etc , i do have a Lazy Susan that was broken and came from there also a small round side table a
nd a large wooden serving tray he made for use in the house, one of my fathers proud possesions was an Eight day clock bought from one of the jumble sales held  there in the Dockyard church hall for the princely sum of 7 shillings and six pence and it is still working today.

I do remember that the older staff members used to tease the younger ratings about the ghost in the back servants stairs  saying they would get them and many very reluctant to venture there.

I would be interesting to find out if Mary Hogg ever wrote anything about her time  there when she was the lady of the house , she had two sons one was training to be a RN Helicopter pilot in the 60s. 

Title: Re: Commissioners House, Chatham Dockyard
Post by: kyn on September 04, 2009, 18:40:42

From file ADM 195/7
Title: Re: Commissioners House, Chatham Dockyard
Post by: merc on September 04, 2009, 19:25:51
I've got those photo's in one of my books.

They're from 1857 when Captain-Superintendant George Goldsmith lived there with his wife. (not sure if they had any kids with them or or not)
George Goldsmith had been appointed Captain-Superintendant of Chatham Dockyard the previous year.
Title: Re: Commissioners House, Chatham Dockyard
Post by: scouseh on July 03, 2010, 22:35:11
]I was fortunate in my time in the Royal Navy to have served on the house staff at Medway House. I was first drafted there in 1972 until 1974, and again in 1977 until my discharge in 1979.
From 1972 until 1974 living in the staff quarters above the kitchens to the side of the house. The admiral at the time was Rear Admiral Colin Dunlop, who was succeeded by then Rear Admiral Stephen Berthon (later to become Vice Admiral Sir Stephen Berthon). I was a steward at this particular time, there was a Barges Crew, Chief Steward, PO Steward, Leading Steward, PO Cook, Cook, Civilian Driver, and Ben the Gardener who had been there for years, and myself.
Drafted back in 1977 to 1979 as a Leading Steward and personal valet to Rear Adm Christopher Bevan who was succeeded by Rear Admiral Charles Williams.  
The house was a magnificent place to be able to work in. Through the front door : The right was the Dining Room,
to the left was the Ballroom, there was a toilet in the Ballroom completely tiled from floor to ceiling in Delft tiles, we called it the "Blue Loo"...
In the hallway before the grand staircase was the "Chatham Chest".

Up to the 1st Floor : On this Floor was 3 rooms,  1x large Living room, 1x small Living room, and 1x guest bedroom.  I can remember on one occassion the actress Dame Judy Dench stayed overnight.

Up to the 2nd Floor which I think consisted of : 1x Master Bedroom (en-suite) and walk through to the Admirals dressing room. + 2 bedrooms opposite.

Through a door to the back staircase and into the attic, where if I can recollect was a bathroom, Linen cupboard, + 3 bedrooms, and a room that I used to do the washing and ironing and general valeting of the Admirals uniforms.  It wasn't so long ago that this floor was on Sky Living TVs most haunted. If I was working up there on days when the house was empty, you could definetly hear noises and also think that something or someone had walked past.  It was a privelige to have worked in such a building.
Title: Re: Commissioners House, Chatham Dockyard
Post by: kyn on July 04, 2010, 10:10:50
Thank you very much for your recollections  :)

I would really love to see the rest of this building.
Title: Re: Commissioners House, Chatham Dockyard
Post by: Leofwine on July 04, 2010, 14:47:25
No 2 Prospect Row in Brompton was built by the Navy at the same time as Commissioner's house (as the Captain of the Guard's House or something like that I believe) and has exactly the same acanthus leaf gable ends as Commissioners House.  I wonder if they were leftovers from the building of Commissioners House, or if they were 'aquired' unofficially.  Certainly the interiors of several houses in Prospect Row use old ship's timbers as beams. Again, I'm not sure how official the acquisition of these timbers were!
Title: Re: Commissioners House, Chatham Dockyard
Post by: smudge on August 01, 2010, 15:04:08
Hi Scouse,,Just read your piece on medway house I was based there as a Leading Steward working for the Bevans at that time.There was a cox`n there called slim setters,an AB called Jan (cant think of his surname) and the PO Chef was Brian Pickup.I think that I handed over to you when I was drafted to the Norfolk.Be interesting to hear from you.
Good Luck
Title: Re: Commissioners House, Chatham Dockyard
Post by: mgt on October 05, 2010, 10:18:06
To Mike, I am a friend (former employee ) of Lady Hogg. She didn't write about her time in Medway House but often spoke about it...and the characters. Mrs Jessop (her maid), Mr Cooper (her gardener), Mr Kirby (head chef), Jason, her cream coloured labrador.
I have spoken to her just, she was delighted when I read out over the phone to her what had been written about the building. She said she would write down for me various things she remembers and I will put them on here. She remembers very much the ghost stories as well.
I am ex army, WRAC, and I was stationed at Chattenden for a very short while. I was there when Chatham d
ockyard closed. I remember going to the base only a few times but I don't recall seeing the house.
Admiral Hogg died in 2003.
Title: Re: Commissioners House, Chatham Dockyard
Post by: Miikae on October 05, 2010, 19:33:06
            Nice to hear and read your comments, it was a long time ago now, but even so i remember the Hoggs very well. In the early sixties one christmas i was talking to Lady Hogg and she suprised me by knowing more about the company i was apprenticed to ( Brush Electrical Co , Loughborough) than i did over drinks in the house that year, i think that she knew her stock and shares at that time.
If you do see her please pass on my good wishes to her and was so sorry to hear about her husband.
Her sons i do remember as one was learning to fly at that time the eldest i think.
My father spent many years there due to my mother having MS and it was a compasionate posting for him until he retired in the late 60s, and as i remember served under 4 or 5 different Admirals whilst there.

Title: Re: Commissioners House, Chatham Dockyard
Post by: Miikae on October 05, 2010, 20:30:08

Lady Hogg & CPO E R Stevens

Title: Re: Commissioners House, Chatham Dockyard
Post by: Spooky on March 08, 2011, 22:41:38
Ghost stories, the two most common, are of the servant's stairs, handed down to each generation working at that end of the yard. Then the garden. reported by a member of the staff at the time of the working yard. I found the story in Gillingham Library, of ghostly goings on, on the lawn.
Title: Re: Commissioners House, Chatham Dockyard
Post by: andwhiteley on March 09, 2011, 09:59:28
I attended a wedding reception in Commissioners house in the late 90s’
I think we were on the second floor in one of the rooms at the front of the house. On our table was friend of the groom who I had been told could see ghosts/sprits. He had seen various ghosts in the Dover Tunnels and some sightings in his back garden. He had not been able to do this all his life it was a new experience for him.
As we sat there he spoke quietly to his wife that he had just seen a lady come into the room and walk through one of the wedding guests on our table. He made no fuss about it and did not announce it to anyone I was just eavesdropping on his conversation. The room did go cold, up until that point it had been very hot due to the fire. I am not sure if the room going cold was due to what I was hearing but it felt like the temperature had dropped rapidly. A noise also came from the fireplace like something falling down the chimney; this may have just been coincidence.
After that we just carried on and had a good time. There was supposed to be an image on the wedding video of a figure but I never saw this.  I Just thought I would share this with the forum.
Title: Re: Commissioners House, Chatham Dockyard
Post by: kyn on August 27, 2013, 17:19:01
2 Marsham Street
London SW19 3EB

11 March 1976

Dear Patrick,


I am replying to your letter of 23 February to Terry Heiser asking us to review our current practise on purchases of residential and official accommodation for members of the Government service at home and abroad and to bring forward any future cases which might prove controversial to the Prime Minister and other ministers concerned.

We doubt whether a particular price level is the best criterion for selecting the cases to be brought forward to Ministers, as prices vary so much from place to place.  We suggest instead that on the Defence estate we should look in particular at purchases for Major General and equivalent Service ranks and above, and on the Diplomatic Estate we should consider particularly residences for Heads of Posts, ie Ambassadors, High Commissioners and Consuls General.

In bringing forward potentially controversial cases to Ministers we think it would be right for the PSA to act jointly with the user Departments concerned, as the arguments for the operational necessity for these purchases are best deployed by them.  Indeed, the costs of purchases on the Defence Estate fall in the Defence budget and not on the PSA Vote.  When it is thought that a particular purchase might be controversial, we propose that there should be a joint submission by the PSA and the MOD or FCO as appropriate to the departmental Ministers concerned to decide whether the case is sufficiently important of controversial to put to the Prime Minister and other colleagues.  We for our part would agree that the AC Committee would seem to be the appropriate forum if a discussion is required.  There may, however, be the odd case which requires very urgent clearance because we might otherwise lose the property; in such instances we would hope that the issues could be cleared quickly by correspondence.

I am copying this letter to the recipients of yours.

Yours sincerely

D A McDonald
Private Secretary

NOTE: The Prime Minister’s Office confirmed on 12 March 1976 that the suggested procedure was acceptable.
Title: Re: Commissioners House, Chatham Dockyard
Post by: kyn on August 28, 2013, 10:10:57
Mr W H Formoy
Whitgift Centre


Your minute of 6 January to Mrs D A Knight, Regional Admin, was copied to Miss D J Price, VCHB with a request for advice on the status of Medway House as a Listed building, and on the statutory constraints implied by this.

In fact, Medway House, although listed Grade II*, is also scheduled as an ancient monument.  The scheduling accordingly takes precedence over the listing, and the building falls to be dealt with under the Ancient Monuments and not the Planning legislation.

This means that there is a statutory requirement for this part of the HB/AM Directorate to receive 3 months written notice of any intention to carry out work on the building.  The Inspectorate and Architects of this Division also have a statutory duty to advise on any proposed work, and in this case would like to empathise that Medway House should not be regarded simply as an officer’s residence, but a building of the first grade of historic importance, whose preservation is in the national interest.

It was built as the residence of the Commissioner of Chatham dockyard in 1703/4.  It is not only of high architectural quality, it is also the second oldest building to survive in a royal dockyard (the oldest, at Davenport, is partly war damaged and is some 10 years older).  Inside is the very remarkable painted ceiling over the staircase, and the main rooms contain much 18th century panelling.  As part of the Country’s heritage of historic houses, it should be repaired using the best materials and skills – In the same way as HM government expects private owners to care for their listed buildings.

There should be no difficulty over the supply of peg-tiles of the correct type as this Doctorate has put PSA in touch with a source of second hand tiles.

J M Melhuish

13 February 1978
Title: Re: Commissioners House, Chatham Dockyard
Post by: kyn on August 29, 2013, 13:41:11
From:   Rear Admiral S. F. Berthon

Flag Officer Medway and
Port Admiral Chatham
HM Naval Base
Chatham ME4 4TA

J R Brown Esq
Area Officer
Barrier Road

16 December 1974

Dear Mr Brown,

I expect that you will have seen Mr Saunders’ letter of 9 December to you about the windows on the main elevations of Medway House. This letter stemmed from a discussion I had with him some weeks ago when, as Chief Inspector of Ancient Monuments and Historic Buildings, he visited Medway House and I showed him round.  I told him then that I had had one of the Under Secretaries of State of the Department of Environment in the precious Government staying with me in the house earlier this year (Lord Sandford) and he had felt very strongly that we should do something to reinstate the original windows on the front of the house in order to restore the appearance of Medway House to its original look.  Lord Sandford in fact suggested to me at the time that I should do something about this bit I was not clear to whom to write and also felt that, in the present economic climate, it might not be too politic to do so.  However, having heard Mr Saunders’ strong views that we should try to have this work done if possible, and knowing what Lord Sandford previously felt about it, I myself now feel that in the long term interests of preserving this, as Mr Saunders puts it, possibly the finest of the naval residences, it would be a very good idea to carry out this work if it was possible to do so.

I therefore felt it was right to write to you to give you the background on Mr Saunders’ letter.

Yours sincerely

S. F. Berton
Title: Re: Commissioners House, Chatham Dockyard
Post by: kyn on September 07, 2013, 18:59:25
Department of the Environment
Fortress House 23 Savile Row London

J.R. Brown, Esq.,
Area Officer,
Barrier Road,

9th December, 1974

Dear Mr. Brown

I am very grateful to you for seeing us at such short notice last Thursday, and for taking steps to ensure that no more redundant equipment is removed from Nos. 1 and 2 Smitheries.  We are putting in hand a thorough record survey of these two buildings.

When we were with Admiral Berthon on Thursday, he raised the question of reinstating the original fenestration on Medway House, and I promised that we would look into this.  As you probably know, the windows on the main elevations of the house were refurbished at the beginning of this century.  The original glazing bars were all removed and the present large-paned sashes inserted.  This undoubtedly spoils the appearance of possibly the finest of the naval residences, and certainly one of the oldest naval buildings in this country.

Would it be possible for you to arrange for small paned sashes to be restored to this house?  Our inspector, Mr. J. Coad, and architect, Mr. N. C. Hodgson, would be able to provide any advice needed; the original patterns of windows still exist at basement level.

I appreciate that finance is not easy to come by these days, but I wonder if this could be a suitable project for 1975 European Architectural Heritage Year?  It would certainly greatly enhance the historic centre of Chatham Dockyard.

Yours sincerely,
A.D. Saunders
Chief Inspector of Ancient Monuments and Historic Buildings.
Title: Re: Commissioners House, Chatham Dockyard
Post by: kyn on September 26, 2013, 16:01:41
Mr W H Formoy
Room B1311
Whitgift Centre

HMNB Chatham – Medway House

1.   Your minute AU1064/45 of 6 January refers.

2.   I must say from the outset that our previous submission, whilst providing adequate information about the nature of the repairs, did not give sufficient detail of the costings and perhaps you will disregard the estimate breakdown.  This is not a criticism of Mrs Knight’s minute but another example of the difficulty we face in presenting a case at an orders of cost stage.  As you are no doubt aware it is proposed to carry out this work during the change of occupancy which occurs later this year and therefore the details planning has been undertaken.  We are not in a better position to define more fully the scope of the work which goes beyond re-roofing and this is itemised under the following headings.  BQs are being produced and it is proposed to invite Lump Sum competitive tenders:-

1.   Removal of peg tiles and replacement with high quality ribbed copper nailed matching tiles.  Up to 50% of the existing tiles may be salvaged and stored for re-use. - £6,000
2.   Replace decayed timber in rood structure, facias brackets, soffits and attic rooms. - £5,000
3.   Replace dormer windows. - £4,000
4.   Treat timber in attic and roof space with wood preservative. - £2,000
5.   Fire Officer’s requirement in providing means of escape internally from attic rooms. - £5,000
6.   Reduce chimney height and cap-off as necessary. - £2,000
7.   Replace lead work to gutters, flashings, hips, etc., these items are essential and may be considered roof repairs. - £8,000
8.   Replace windows as necessary and fit Georgian timber sashes on front elevation. - £14,000
9.   Treat floors, stairs, etc., with preservative. - £2,000
10.   Provide damp-proof course. - £6,000
11.   Strip rood of vegetable store and rebuild. - £4,000
12.   Repair greenhouse. - £3,000
13.   Remove creeper from walls and make good pointing as required. - £2,000
14.   Redecorate externally. - £7,000

Total. - £70,000

15.   Supplies attendance (removal and replacement of floor coverings) - £1,000

Contingencies   20% - £14,000
VAT - £6,000

3.   There is every likelihood when dealing with a building of this age that a number of unforeseen defects will come to light when work commences and it is for this reason we have decided to increase the normal allowance for contingencies.  A copy of the Regional Building Surveyor’s Report is attached.

4.   DAMHB in their latest minute to you have emphasised the need to use the traditional materials which is much in line with the attitude met by the Area staff in their endeavours to reduce costs.  We have however been successful in the use of milled lead rather than the cast lead that was previously used.  We do not propose to follow-up the use of second hand tiles as there is a need for uniform weathering and AMHB have not objected ot the use of new Kent peg tiles.  In view of the general disposition of AMHB to insist on “like for like” materials no comparative costings have been prepared but removal of these restrictions would, it is thought, introduce a saving of about 20% on the total cost.

5.   I can add little to AM’s description of the property except that one wing was added about 100 years later and the whole provides some 1500m2.  There is also a spacious walled garden.

6.   Detailed records of expenditure for this property are not available earlier than 1976/77 when approximately £23,000 was spent on maintenance, this figure included a ‘C’ service of around £11,000 for repairs to the elaborate entrance porch.  Current year’s expenditure will be around £15,000 and the Area Officer has assessed a figure of £10,000 per annum for previous years.

7.   Returning now to the estimate at paragraph 2 above I have the following comments to make and perhaps the attached photographs will illustrate some of the points.

a.   Item 5
You may learn from D of Q that the Flag Officer has been pressing for an external means of escape.  This is not supported by the Fire Officer and a copy of his report explains why we are considering the internal alternative.  I do not think AMHB would agree to an external escape.

b.   Item 6
The photographs show where extension brickwork begins and AMHB have agreed to the reduced height.  This will allow for the removal of the numerous staying wires from the stacks that have become structurally unsound.

c.   Item 8
This requirement was first raised in 1974 by the previous occupant and I enclose copies of correspondence.  The sashes will need to be purpose made as the window apertures are of non-standard dimensions.  This will then produce a frontal elevation matching the adjoining single and two storey structures.

d.   Item 11
This is a single storey outbuilding at the rear of the two storey crew’s quarters and AMHB were asked, some two months ago, whether they recommended the use of asphalt or lead as the re-roofing material.  In the absence of a reply we should select the cheaper alternative.  This store and an adjoining room appeared to be unused except for what appeared to be a small box of flowering bulbs or shallots.

e.   Item 12
Clearly this is a Victorian masterpiece with the usual ornamental cast-iron fretwork, approximate dimensions of 30 X 10 ft.  In an adjoining outhouse there is a coke burning boiler heating this and two other (but much smaller) greenhouses.  There is little evidence of production except for a very small patch of cress sufficient for one afternoon tea and the main use for this and the other greenhouses would appear to be for the over-wintering of various plants susceptible to frost and cold.  The main requirement for this item is the replacement of rotted timber which occurs mainly at one end where there are two vines.  The estimate of £3,000 has been produced with the belief that we would need to dismantle and re-erect, but it may well be possible to carry-out the repairs in situ at a reduced cost.

The fundamental question is whether this and the other two greenhouses are scaled items and no doubt you will cleat this with D of Q as to the extent of PSA’s responsibility.

8.   I attach a drawing of the southernmost tip of the Chatham Naval Base which shows the location of Medway House in relation to the present main gate, barely 200 m away.  The Development Plan envisages the gradual withdrawal of production and storage facilities from this end of the Yard which contains many buildings of historic interest.  Item F3 is the Admiral’s office block and is the only item in this area to be modified in the general re-development.  It will be probably more than 10 years hence before it enters the program.

9.   I am sure that you will examine the usual yardstick for maintenance/new build and whether there is a need to retain the attics for occupation.

10.   Finally, I have discussed with the Supplies Manager his 3 year improvement programme which will begin next financial year with an estimated expenditure, mainly on carpets and curtains, or around £8,000.  Obviously any decision on the future of this Residence will concern his activities.

E H Brooker
Regional Administration
Room 11.09
Gundolphus House

21 February 1978
Title: Re: Commissioners House, Chatham Dockyard
Post by: kyn on September 27, 2013, 08:42:31
The pictures included in the file:
Title: Re: Commissioners House, Chatham Dockyard
Post by: kyn on September 27, 2013, 12:29:53
Miss J M Melhuish
Room 326
Fortress House
23 Saville Row
London W1


1.   With reference to your minute dated 13 February, I invite your attention to the attached copy of a further report from PSA South east Regional Headquarters with a number of enclosures including two photographs.

2.   We hereby give the requisite three months written notice of the PSA’s intention to carry out work on the Ancient Monument, Medway House.  However, your Directorate have been aware for some time that it was proposed to execute repairs to the building and have been in correspondence with PSA Regional Staff about the types of materials to be used.  It may therefore be possible for you to agree that work may start before the statutory period of notice has elapsed: if so, this would be helpful.

3.   We also request the formal advice of the Inspectorate of Ancient Monuments and the Special Services Works Division on the details of the proposed repairs as described in the enclosed report, with particular regard to the following comments by the Married Quarters Group:-

(1)   It is understood that the windows of the house are in need of repair but the estimated cost of £18,000 (Items 3 and 8) seems extremely high.  This is no doubt partly attributable to the proposed fitting of specially made small-paned sashes of Georgian pattern in the front elevation in order to restore the original appearance.  It seems likely that a significant saving could be made if simpler repairs were effected.

(2)   A more substantial saving, about 20% of the total cost, would be possible if the requirement to specify materials similar to those used originally could be relaxed, eg so as to permit the use of milled lead instead of cast lead (see paragraph 4of the report).  We would certainly be in favour of any such measure which would produce satisfactory results without detracting from the appearance of the house.

(3)   Although the recommended fire precautions (Item 5) should certainly be put into effect some economy might be achieved by dispensing with the provision of means of escape from the attic rooms if (as seems possible) these are not to be occupied.

(4)   With regard to Item 12, there is no provision for green-houses in the official accommodation scale for service Officers.  Where there is already a green-house in existence our policy is to maintain it until it is considered to be beyond economical repair; it is then demolished and not replaced.  Special justification would be needed for the proposed expenditure of up to £3,000 in this case.

4.   It is understood that the present Port Admiral lives in part of Medway House (though not accompanied by his family) and is due to be succeeded in July or August.  It is not yet known whether the new incumbent will choose to live in the residence with his family but it should be assumed that he will do so.  It is therefore desirable that the proposed repairs should be completed within the next four months in order to minimise disturbance to the occupants.

5.   The revised estimate is now £91,000 including provision for contingencies and VAT, and subject to any reductions which might be agreed in light of the comments in paragraph 3 above.  We understand that the work when approved could be financed from the funds allocated to PSA South East Region for the maintenance of MOD buildings.  Normally, of course, we would not contemplate spending such a large sum on an individual married quarter, and there could be political embarrassment if it became known publicly that so much was to be spent on an senior officer’s residence (we have had recent experience of such cases).  Our particular concern here is to try to secure, in the interest of our client, (MOD (Navy), a reduction in the charge to the Defence Budget by making any practicable economies in the execution of the work and by arranging for the maximum possible share of the cost to be borne by a Civil Vote.  In our view it is quite inappropriate that funds greatly in excess of the amount that would normally be spent on a Service Residence should be paid from the Defence Budget for the upkeep of an Ancient Monument.  We should therefore be grateful if you would consider the possibility of making a major contribution to the cost of the proposed work from funds which are at the disposal of your Directorate.

6.   It is perhaps relevant to mention that Medway House is located within the Naval Base, entrance to which is restricted to people on official business, and we are advised by MOD that they can see no likelihood that the general public will be allowed access to the house in the foreseeable future.

7.   We shall be grateful for your views on the points raised in this minute and we would be glad to have also the views of the Director of Quartering (Navy) to whom a copy of this minute and the attached report is being sent.  When we have your reply we propose to consider to what level in PSA the submission should be made for approval of the proposed expenditure.

W H Formoy
Room B1311
Whitgift Centre, Croydon

8 March 1978
Title: Re: Commissioners House, Chatham Dockyard
Post by: kyn on October 01, 2013, 09:07:40
Mr W H Formoy
Room B1311 Whitgift Centre


Thank you for your minute of 8 March 1978.

We share your concern at the prospect of spending over £90,000 on this property.

We have the following comments:-

(1)   Would it not be a more economical proposition to provide a Type 1 MQ?

(2)   The property is scheduled as an ancient monument as well as a Grade II listed building.  But the public do not have access to it.  We would find it difficult therefore to justify maintaining it out of public funds solely on account of its history.

D A Dalby
Room 213 Apollo House

20 March 1978.

Ministry of Defence

18 April 1978

W H Formoy Esq.
Room B1311
Whitgift Centre

Dear Bill

Port Admiral’s Residence, Medway House

1.   As you know, we have sought the advice and comment of Flag Officer Medway on the future use of Medway House, taking up the point you made in para 6 of your letter to the Directorate of Ancient Monuments.  The following points may be of use in support of your submission.

(a)   Medway House will be used as a residence for the appointee of Flag Officer Medway and Port Admiral Chatham for the foreseeable future (a double-hatted appointment).
(b)   The residence is the focal point for VIP representational and entertainment purposes within the Command.  As well as lunch and dinner functions it is used to provide accommodation for VIP visitors to Chatham Naval Base.
(c)   Because the house is being used as a residence, sited within the Naval Base, it is not practicable to open it for unrestricted viewing by the public.  However, there appears to be no objection to organised parties being able to view the house, both outside and in, by appointment.  Over the last eighteen months there have been a number of arranged visits to the inside of the house, these parties including:
(1)   110 members of the Georgian Society
(2)   Similar parties of Japanese and American visitors to Britain.

In addition to such visits, “Historic Tours” of the old part of the Dockyard may be arranged for the public, on request.  These tours do not go inside Medway House.

d.   In the last year facilities have been granted for the filming of three TV programmes at Medway house, and also for the use of Medway House as period background for other programmes.  There have also been a number of press facilities granted for magazine articles on Medway House in particular, and for the older part of the Dockyard in general.

2.   You may be interested to know that DAMHB are interested in the old part of the dockyard, and have arranged to attend future meetings of a sub-committee of the Naval Base Development Steering Committee.

3.   DofQ(N) fully supports your attempt to arrange for the maximum possible share of any costs to be borne by a Civil Vote.  We would be grateful if you could let us know the outcome of your discussion, so that we may be able to report back to our Board, in due course.

V Quaglieni
Directorate of Quartering (Navy)
Title: Re: Commissioners House, Chatham Dockyard
Post by: kyn on October 02, 2013, 12:02:56
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Title: Re: Commissioners House, Chatham Dockyard
Post by: kyn on October 03, 2013, 19:34:13
V Quaglieni Esq
Directorate of Quartering (Navy)
Ministry of Defence
Empress State Building
London SW6

24 May 1978

Port Admiral’s Residence, Medway House, Chatham

1.   The useful information contained in your letter of 18 April regarding the future use of Medway House and the arrangements for public access was conveyed to our Directorate of Ancient Monuments and Historic Buildings.

2.   I now enclose a copy of their long-awaited reply to my minute of 8 March, which was copied to you at the time.  Subject to any further comments we may receive from PSA South East Region or from our Directorate of Home Regional Services, it appears that we have no option but to proceed with the necessary repairs to the house as a charge against the maintenance funds allocated to the Region.  The planning and preparation of contract documents is now continuing up to the point where tenders can be invited, but the invitations will not be issued until we have confirmation that MOD(NAVY) are content that the expenditure should be undertaken as a Defence commitment.

3.   I understand that Peter Gold discussed this matter with Dick Fairbairn on Friday and that reference to the Admiralty Board is thought to be necessary.  We expect that contractors will be invited to submit their quotations on a firm price (ie lump sum) basis and that once the tenders have been received there will be minimal delay in starting work on site.  Nevertheless, in view of the time that has already elapsed because of the need to consult DAMHB, and the further time which might have to pass before you can tell us of your agreement, it seems certain that the work will not be completed before the incoming Admiral takes up residence in the house.  In these circumstances we shall be grateful if you will take steps to avoid unfair pressure by the admiral or the local Naval authorities on the PSA Regional staff, who are obviously not in a position to move until all the various interests at Departmental level have been satisfied.
Title: Re: Commissioners House, Chatham Dockyard
Post by: kyn on October 17, 2013, 19:16:37
Mr W H Formoy DS(MQ)


1.   Thank you for sending me a copy of your minute to D of Q(N) and the attached one from DAMHB/AMS.

2.   I think the latter is unfortunately phrased in places so giving an appearance of arrogance which I am sure is not intended.  In any case I will not comment on the specific case of Medway House – although much of what is said is I think open to challenge – and will confine my remarks to the general issues of policy which it touches upon.  I am, of course, concerned about the Ancient Monuments/Historic Buildings aspect of the Navy estate as a whole and what these imply for the Defence Budget, the taxpayer and the Accounting Officer.

3.   Much of the DAMHB argument seems to be based on the reasoning that Government Departments must invariably tow the preservation/conservation line simply because preservation and conservation are aspects of Government policy.  This conveniently ignores the fact that there are other Government policies which are sometimes going to prevail.  To my mind it is indefensible to argue that because the law requires owners to comply with the procedures of the relevant Act it also somehow or other enshrines the standards which the inspectors or other enthusiasts from time to time lay down.  Individuals have the right of appeal/representation/hearing and so should official and Government bodies.  I do not see why it should be automatically assumes that public funds voted for other purposes should be spent in meeting the dictates of the inspectorate without any argument whatsoever or the ability for, say, MOD to argue that the Defence interest is paramount or that they are simply not prepared to use funds which they or the PSA must account for the Parliament and pay through the nose to maintain buildings – especially those away from the public view – for the delectation of the people who scheduled them in the first place.

4.   The trouble always seems to be that DAMHB feel they have got us, by which I mean PSA and MOD, over a barrel.  We can leave the buildings concerned to rot and they will be relatively happy.  (In fact our internal circulars enjoin us to keep buildings weatherproof and here we are required to do more than a private owner).  But should it be felt that a building requires some work in order to keep it in use or to turn it into something more useful (after all the Navy estate’s only purpose is to support the Nation’s defence) then we are faced with the full panoply of DAMHB’s demands for restoration and preservation.  Even where we would be prepared to go to some lengths to maintain appearance and wider aesthetic qualities this is invariably insufficient and we get into esoteric arguments over milled versus cast lead, new versus secondhand tiles, the substitution of Edwardian replacement windows by Georgian “originals”, the need not only to preserve but to recreate internal features (which have then to be covered up if the buildings are going to function in any new role at all).  The end result is that nothing much happens at all (as at 9/10/11 Storehouses in the Dockyard at Portsmouth) because the costs of meeting DAMHB’s demands are prohibitive and the solutions (at Portsmouth at any rate) would not enable Health and safety requirements – also statutorily binding – to be met.

5.   I am fascinated by the financial arguments presented.  DAMHB imply that they are interested in preserving the older part of Chatham Yard should the Navy leave it but since it could not be disposed of it would still be owned by the Crown and the cost of maintenance would still lie where it fell – ie with MOD.  In this way, of course, the true cost of preservation an enormous area would be concealed within the Defence Budget.  A private owner in these circumstances could at least abandon the whole thing, no doubt thankfully, and guardianship/compulsory acquisition would presumably take place with the subsequent costs of maintenance and restoration being properly shown as attributable to the Government policy which brought it about.

6.   You will gather that I do not think we should necessarily take all this lying down.  It looks very much as if Government departments are having to accept tighter controls than those which apply to the community at large and while this may be what the country wants, those of us who are responsible for the commitment of public funds and accounting for them should ensure that we challenge what we reckon are unreasonable demands which we would not in all conscience be able to defend if asked to account for.  If this means that cases have to go to Ministers then what is wrong with that?

P. J. M. Butter

8 June 1978
Title: Re: Commissioners House, Chatham Dockyard
Post by: kyn on October 31, 2013, 14:01:52
V Quaglieni Esq
Directorate of Quartering (Navy)
Ministry of Defence
Empress state Building
London SW6

24 May 1978


1.   The useful information contained in your letters of 18 April regarding the future use of Medway House and the arrangements for public access was conveyed to our Directorate of Ancient Monuments and Historic Buildings.

2.   I now enclose a copy of their long-awaited reply to my minute of 8 March, which was copied to you at the time.  Subject to any further comments we may receive from PSA South East Region or from our Directorate of Home Regional Services, it appears that we have no option but to proceed with the necessary repairs to the house as a charge against the maintenance funds allocated to the Region.  The planning and preparation of contract documents is now continuing up to the point where tenders can be invited, but the invitations will not be issued until we have confirmation that MOD (Navy) are content that the expenditure should be undertaken as a Defence commitment.

3.   I understand that Peter Gold discussed this matter with Dick Fairbairn on Friday and that reference to the Admiralty Board is thought to be necessary.  We expect that contractors will be invited to submit their quotations on a firm price (ie lump sum) basis and that once the tenders have been received there will be minimal delay in starting work on site.  Nevertheless, in view of the time that has already elapsed because of the need to consult DAMHB, and the further time which might have to pass before you can tell us of your agreement, it seems certain that the work will not be completed before the incoming Admiral takes up residence in the house.  In these circumstances we shall be grateful if you will take steps to avoid unfair pressure by the Admiral or the local Naval authorities on the PSA Regional staff, who are obviously not in a position to move until all the various interests are Departmental level have been satisfied.

W H Formoy
Title: Re: Commissioners House, Chatham Dockyard
Post by: kyn on November 08, 2013, 11:12:07
Mrs J Laidlaw
Room 314
Southbridge House


1.   MOW 306 D Estimate in the sum of £7,950 (1978/79 part of the 3 year programme) was approved by DS(MQ) on 5 5 78 and this included work in the following rooms:-

BELLONA      £500

2.   Mr R B Perry DOE Area Works Office Chatham has now advised me that there are certain Works Services to be carried out at the Residence which could affect the above two rooms and, in view of this, he has suggested that SD Services to the two rooms be deferred for twelve months but that we bring forward SD Services to the Dining Rooms at a cost of £1,000 (replacement of curtains and chair covers) from the 1979/80 part of the 3 year programme to the current year.

3.   This seems to me to be a most sensible suggestion – may I have your comments please.

G W Ballard
Room 1/02
Gundolphus House

15 June 1978
Title: Re: Commissioners House, Chatham Dockyard
Post by: kyn on November 10, 2013, 14:42:12
Medway House

Comments on Mr Butter’s Minute of 8 June 1978

1.   Although MQ Group have dealt with a few listed buildings, Medway House is the first Ancient Monument case that I can remember.  We all assumed that we had no option but to carry out the repairs in accordance with the views of DAMHB/AMS.  However, it now appears that Medway House is only part of a wider problem, and that it could be unhelpful to other Defence Secretariats if we accede too readily to the demands of DAMHB.AMS.

2.   I have not gone into the question of how the relevant Acts apply to the Crown but DAMHB/AMS’s Minute seems to indicate that PSA are not legally bound to do more than give 3 months’ notice and there is no suggestion that DAMHB/AMS’s advice is mandatory.  We do not appear to be under a statutory obligation to respect that Directorate’s wishes, and although they may seek to persuade us to carry out the work in certain ways we still have some freedom of choice in the matter.

3.   One can visualise a case where there was a direct clash of interests between MOD who claimed that operationsl necessity made it imperative to demolish an ancient monument and DAMHB who wanted is preserved.  That conflict would probably have to be resolved by Ministers.  In the present instance the issue is far less clear-cut.  All parties have the same general aim of preserving Medway House in good repair as a residence: The point at dispute is the extra expenditure with DAMHB want to be undertaken over and above the amount needed to complete repairs to our normal standards (which are themselves high, because official residences are treated as special buildings).

4.   This extra expenditure is not quantified but must be substantial.  It seems to me wrong in principle that it should be met from an MOD Vote administered by DS(MQ) because it is in effect a misuse of part of the Defence Budget.  (There would almost certainly be a Parliamentary row if the Opposition were to learn that nearly £200,000 of the funds voted for Defence were to be spent on an Admiral’s house, when – they would claim – so many operational weaknesses needed to be rectified).  However, see para 6 below.

5.   The internal argument about the extra expenditure would hinge on the point that, with a finite Part III allocation for Naval maintenance, facilities contributing directly to operational effectiveness must suffer if money is diverted to beautifying Medway House.  (This argument is weakened by the underspending of MQ Group B funds and no doubt other subhead sections also, because it could be pointed out that while Part III funds might be tight there is obviously no shortage of money for Defence Accommodation Services generally.  However DAMHB do not know this.)

6.   It appears that we have no hope of switching the extra expenditure to some non-Defence Vote, because of the Treasury instructions referred to in the final paragraph of DAMHB/AMS’s Minute.  We have not seen these instructions but the quotation is recognizable as the usual Treasury doctrine and we are not likely to get very far if we attempt to challenge DAMHB on this point.  We could ask FPSA for confirmation but their answer is predictable.

7.   It all boils down to the thought that when we have the revised estimate which SE Region are preparing we should try to reach some kind of compromise with DAMHB to limit the extra expenditure as much as possible, both to make the commitment more palatable to MOD(N) and to reduce the political risk as much as we can – though any major expenditure will be potentially sensitive.

Title: Re: Commissioners House, Chatham Dockyard
Post by: kyn on November 12, 2013, 10:07:36
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Title: Re: Commissioners House, Chatham Dockyard
Post by: kyn on November 21, 2013, 15:27:40
R T Fairbairn Esq. OBE
Directorate of Navy Quartering
Old War Office Building
London SW1

20 February 1979


1.   I am enclosing with this letter a copy of the latest report received from the Area Officer, Chatham about Medway House.  Discussions have taken place locally between the Admiral, the Area Officer and the DAM HB architect and inspector responsible for this building.  Between them they have drawn up a list of what they consider to be the essential repairs required to preserve the fabric of the building and maintain it in a habitable condition.

2.   Although the estimated cost has thus been reduced from £182,200 to £119,000, it is still an excessive sum of money to devote to a single quarter, and I consider that it would still be beneficial for all the interested parties to meet and discuss this case.  Previous attempts to arrange a meeting were abandoned in the face of snow drifts and rail problems.  I hope that this second attempt will be more successful, and Mrs Pickett will be contacting the parties concerned to confirm the date.

L A Prior

23 Feb 1979

To PSA Croydon
Fm PSA St Leonards on Sea
INFO PSA Chatham (Barrier Road)

For Formoy DS(MQ)RM B1311 Whitgift Centre   INFO Mr Perry AWO Chatham from Brooker Admin SE Region PD Medway House PD

We are now seriously alarmed that the delay in deciding degree of maintenance necessary for this residence has jeopardised our programme for even the essential roof maintenance CMM the start for this work is now due and any further delay can only result in possibility of work extending into next winter PD We are loath of approach Admiral for meeting dates without some assurance to him that a positive decision has been reached CMM can you oblige query.
Title: Re: Commissioners House, Chatham Dockyard
Post by: kyn on February 11, 2014, 18:58:55
The Painted Ceiling in Medway House

This picture was painted between the years 1690 and 1710 and the subject was evidently suggested by the close of the war of the English Succession, 1688-97.

It is believed that the picture was originally painted for the “Great cabin” of the “Royal Sovereign” which was  built in 1701 to replace the famous “Sovereign of the Seas” designed by Phineas Pett and built at Woolwich in 1637 and eventually destroyed by fire in 1696.

The explanation of the picture is as follows:

“In the foreground Peace and Plenty recline in the centre flanked on the left by Pity raising up the deserving, and on the right by Justice putting down the underserving.  In the middle ground, reading from the left to right, War (a female armed figure with a sword) advised by Minerva, passes an orb to the enthroned Jove, while Neptune (see trident below) hands him a crown.  Fame declares the event.  Floating either side in the clouds are cherubs who show that the scene is an allegory in heaven of what happens on earth.  The interpretation of the allegory is as follows:  The world should know (Fame with the trumpet) that a ruler (Jove), has won his dominion by a wise war (War advised by Minerva giving him the orb) at sea (Neptune conferring crown); the result being a settled society in which peace and plenty reign and men get the rewards and punishments that they deserve.  The picture seems to celebrate William II’s success in the War of the English succession (Peace of Ryswick, 1897)”.

The above history and description come from a book published by Admiral J. G. Crace in 1946.
Title: Re: Commissioners House, Chatham Dockyard
Post by: kyn on August 12, 2014, 23:17:52
The lovely greenhouse.
Title: Re: Commissioners House, Chatham Dockyard
Post by: kyn on January 09, 2015, 23:46:36
Department of the Environment

9th March 1979

Dear Prior


At the end of our meeting in MOD on 8 March I said I would write to you about why we consider Medway House to be so important.

As you know the House is both a Grade II* listed building under the Planning Act and a scheduled Ancient Monument (Kent No 216) under the Ancient Monuments Act.

The Inspectorate of Ancient Monuments value the House historical, architecturally and aesthetically – although, of course, it is somewhat artificial and arbitrary to try and divide up one’s appreciation of a structure in this way.


Medway House was built as a residence of the Commissioner of Chatham Dockyard in 1703/4; it is the oldest undamaged building to survive in a Royal Dockyard (the one at Devonport which is a few years older was badly damaged by bombing).  So it is an historic first, but even if it were not, there are very few other early 18th century houses in the dockyards.  It has been the house of the Admiral of the Dockyard since it was built.


It is a particularly fine building facing west.  It is of red brick with grey headers, three storeys high together with an attic and a basement.  The roof is hipped and is slate-hung.  The wide modillion eaves cornice and the heavy painted string courses between the floors add emphasis to the horizontal lines of the building.  There is a single storied extension behind the north east, and on the south side a ground floor extension of three windows joins the house to a wing of the two storeys and seven bays.  As it is the Admiral’s House, it has been well maintained during the past 2 ½ centuries.  Inside, mention should be made of the room formally known as the Billiard Room.  Samuel Wyatt is said to have had much to do with the decoration here while in the Drawing Room the architraves of the connecting doors and the ceiling cornice are worthy of note.  At the head of the stairs is a painted ceiling being executed between 1690 and 1710.  It is believed that this was designed for the great cabin of the Royal Sovereign.  (A separate description is attached as Appendix 1).

The West Front

This is seven window bays in width.  The basement area is stuccoed and painted white.  The main door in the middle of the ground floor has a moulded architrave surround and the door has six moulded panels.  This is approached by a flight of six steps in a rather heavy wooden porch with a projecting portion over the pavement forming a porte cochere.  All the windows are square-headed, and on the ground and first floor are entirely missing their glazing bars.  Only those windows in the basement appear to have had their full quota.  The attic has 5 dormer windows on this side.

The East Side

This is very similar to the west front the chief difference being that it has no porch and a balcony runs the length of the first floor.  Four of the windows on this floor have been converted to French windows to give access to this.

North End

The building is four bays deep, and appears somewhat narrow for its height.  The window spaces are marked out in the brickwork, but this appears to be merely an architectural feature; and it is doubtful if windows were ever fitted at either this of the south end.  On the second floor there are two modern insertions and at attic level there are two dormers.  In addition there are three round-headed load rain water pipes of indeterminate age.

South End

A ground floor extension of three bays joins Medway House to its Annex.  This Annex is of two storeys and similar in design to the main building.  It is seven window bays long on the front and has two dormer windows in moulded architrave surrounds with a projecting cornice over.

The Chimneys

At some stage the chimney stacks on the main building have been heightened above the ridge levels.  They are now heavily supported by struts which somewhat disfigure the sky-line.

The Garden

The garden of Medway House is surrounded on three sides by a brick wall with a flat stone capping.  The wall is about 2 metres in height, is probably contemporary with the House.  Part of it has been stuccoed.  There are two doorways, one in the west corner of the south wall, one in the south end of the east wall.  These five access to the garden.  The doorways are flanked by brick pilasters with stone cappings and stone balls.  Over the doorways are moulded brick drip stones and above these miniature stone capped pediments.


The House together with the garden form a very attractive composition.

I think I mentioned to you that I will be retiring at the end of the week.  Miss Gladys Newton will be taking over from me.  Her telephone and room numbers will be the same as mine.

Yours sincerely

J S M Vinter.
Title: Re: Commissioners House, Chatham Dockyard
Post by: kyn on July 09, 2015, 12:50:51
Medway House


Chairman Mr Fairbairn AD of Q(N)
Capt Richards D of Q(N)
Mr Butter DS(Navy)
Mr Prior DS(MQ)
Mr Formoy DS(MQ)
Mrs Pickett DS(MQ)
Mr Brooker – SE Regional Admin.
Mr Wetherill – A O Chatham
Mr Vinter DAMHB
Mr Campbell DAMHB

Mr Fairbairn opened the meeting, listing the main areas for discussion:

1)   Statutory position
2)   Defining the requirements
3)   Procedure for meeting the requirements.

1.   Medway House is an Ancient Monument and there is an obligation to inform DAMHB when structural works are proposed.  DAMHB have a statutory obligation to advise on the work proposed and the standards required.  The “listed” or “scheduled” grading indicates that the particular building is of a high standard and should be maintained as such.  There is a statutory obligation for members of the public who are owners of such buildings, to maintain them in a good state of repair and to comply with DAMHB recommendations.  Although the Crown is not statutorily bound, in practice it always complies with the regulations laid down.  Mr Vinter pointed out two possible ways of avoiding the expenditure on Medway House.
a.   by challenging the classification of Medway House as an Ancient Monument, but this could not be justified and
b.   by deciding there was no longer a requirement, enabling responsibility for it to be transferred to DAMHB.

However, there is a requirement for a Residence and a new one could not be justified in these circumstances.

2.   Having accepted that there is a legal obligation to follow the advice of DAMHB when dealing with an Ancient Monument, the points of contention were then discussed:-

a.   Roof – retiling and replacement of defective roof timbers; the extent of the work required here was very difficult to judge and could not be accurately assessed until the tiles were lifted.  DAMHB insisted that second-hand Kent clay peg tiles must be used when replacing the roof, in order to match the existing.  A0 Chatham has had trouble in locating these supplies and DAMHB agreed to search for supplies once A0 Chatham provided an estimate of how many would be required.  If an excess number were purchased they could be sold to DAMHB who are always looking for such materials.  The use of second hand tiles is more expensive than purchasing new tiles of a matching colour, but DAMHB feel these would be out of keeping, being machined rather than hand cut.
b.   Dormer windows – DAMHB agreed that these could be repaired rather than replace the frames.
c.   Leadwork –DAMHB agreed that milled lead would be acceptable.

The crew’s quarters, which form part of the Ancient Monument, are in poor condition and all the items listed are considered to be essential, and do not carry any restrictions by DAMHB.  Treatment of the dry rot is already in hand to stop it spreading further.

A number of items have been withdrawn from the original proposals and Mr Wetherill stated that some, such as the DPC, were not necessary and some, such as rewiring and decoration would be deferred until a later date and undertaken in the course of normal maintenance.

A revised estimate for the essential works of about £92,000 was arrived at during the meeting:

Crew’s Quarters£31,000
Fire Officer’s Recommendations£3,850

3.   Mr Formoy explained that that dealing with Residences are contentious, especially when such high expenditure is involved and the Medway House case will certainly have to be put to Treasury for approval.  It will also need to be referred to Ministers, because a large amount of money voted for Defence purposes is being allocated to works on one particular house, which is also an Ancient Monument.  During the meeting it became clear that a great deal of maintenance work is required to the Residence as a matter of course and the cost will be very high anyway.  The fact that DAMHB are insisting on the use of certain materials will not dramatically increase the cost, as was previously anticipated.
It was agreed that DAMHB would write a letter to DS(MQ) emphasising the importance of Medway House, and Mr Brooker would confirm the new estimate and scope of work.  DS(MQ) will approach Treasury for approval to the scheme, and PSA and MOD will approach their respective Ministers for a decision.

Mr Brooker and Mr Witherill stressed the urgency of obtaining a decision quickly if the work is to be undertaken this summer, as it needs to be.  Several months are required in which to set up a contract and get the contractor on site, and delays now will mean the approach of next winter and the subsequent postponement of the scheme for yet another year.

Mrs C A Pickett
Title: Re: Commissioners House, Chatham Dockyard
Post by: kyn on July 09, 2015, 14:36:19

Following Mr Johnston’s minute, April 2, Mr Marks may wish to know that there has been comment on BBC Radio, SE News, and the local press.  There was also a report in yesterday’s Daily Telegraph.

None of the reports we have seen or heard have been critical – rather factual reporting – with speculation on the future of the historical side of the yard.

Last week we took a party of technical journalists plus the local papers and Radio Medway, round the yard and although there was no visit to Medway House, there was reference to the problems of maintaining buildings of this age.

John Snubbs


Lady Stedman has seen Mr Johnston’s minute of 2 April 1979 about proposed works on Medway House.  She has commented “We have no alternative but to do the work.  The obligation is on us to maintain the house in good order.”

Barbara Riddell
PS/Lady Stedman


I have received a verbal message this afternoon from Mr Marks’ office giving us the all-clear to go ahead with the major renovation of Medway House.  Will you please therefore proceed accordingly.

Formal confirmation from the Minister’s office will follow shortly.

H. P. Johnston

4 April 1979


The Government is to spend more than £1/4m to renovate and re-roof historic buildings in Chatham Dockyard. 

The money will be spent on a dozen buildings, including the 18th century Medway House, the home of Rear Admiral Charles Williams, Flag Officer Medway.

Under expansion plans announced late last year the historic part of the yard, near the main gate, will be made into a ‘living’ museum.  It is the only example of a Georgian dockyard left and the Department of the Environment wants to preserve it.

The department’s Property Services Agency has been waiting for a year to get the right tiles for the buildings.  The roof of the Admiral’s house has slipped and there were fears that it might collapse.

Work will also be carried out on officers’ houses, dating from 1706, and on one of the covered slipways.


This minute is to confirm that we have obtained Ministerial repairs to Medway House at an estimated cost of £92,000 chargeable to maintenance funds.

W H Formoy.


1.   Further to our telephone conversations during this year, please see attached revised pink estimate No. 2 for the total sum of £14,367.

2.   As you will recall the need for additional funds was as a result of Mr Sharp’s (Controller of Supplies) visit to this Residence and his request that the proposed 3 year programme be accelerated during the 1978/79 financial year.  This work was carried out as requested and the revised pink estimate is submitted to regularise the exceeding.

A F Lockwood
PSA Supplies

28th September 1979

Supplies Estimate

Details or Supplies under section (2) for which Approval is now sought.Estimated Cost £
A. Porch Hall Staircase landing replacement of carpet2,500
B. Temeraire (Study) replace carpet, curtains, upholstery1,250
C. Revenge (Bedroom) replace carpet, bedspread, upholstery1,000
D. Ramelles (Bedroom) replace carpet500
E. Victory (Bedroom) replace bedspreads, upholstery480
F. Large sitting room cushions, upholstery240
G. Ballroom replace curtains, upholstery605
H. Dining room replace curtains, upholstery350
I. Leviathan replace bedspreads and upholstery, provide dressing table750
J. Supply lamp shades for all main rooms300
K. Total cost of making up/laying carpets renovation of polish work2,500
CS Charge 27%2,828
VAT 8%1,064


You will see from the attached letter that I have sent to Sir James Eberle following our visit to Northwood last week that he raised with me a worry he had about Admirals House Chatham.  This really stemmed from his time as CFS when he was concerned to limit the expenditure of scarce maintenance finds on this historic building.  Since his time he had heard that we were proposing to spend up to £100,000 solely on repairing the rood of the house and he thought that particularly with a new Admiral in post at Chatham, we may have been guilty to some extent of sleight of hand in putting forward this large expenditure at a time when the occupant would be most vulnerable. 

Whether this is true or not, I should be grateful if you would enquire into the Chatham situation and let me know in due course precisely what has been agreed in terms of immediate renovation and why.

I should perhaps also mention that Admiral Eberle did raise the old question of the replacement house for the Flag Officer Submarines.  As you reminded me, we solved this eventually by leasing suitable property in the Northwood locality, but Admiral Eberle still feels sore because he feels we could have purchased a suitable house as he wanted to do at the time, of only we had more correctly indicated the sale value of the  of the old house at Gosport.  Despite repeated questioning, our Estate Agents people stuck by their valuation of £45,000 for the old house and all our sums on the combined sale and purchase deal had to be based on this premise.  In the event, the house was sold I believe for some £75,000 which was much closer to the Navy’s opinion of its true value.

Had this been known at the time, the purchase deal at Northwood would probably have gone through ad there is therefore some disenchantment in Navy circles at the advice we gave.  There is nothing we can do about this now, but there are obvious lessons here worth bearing in mind in case we get other similar situations in the future.

H P Johnston
11 February 1981
Title: Re: Commissioners House, Chatham Dockyard
Post by: kyn on July 09, 2015, 15:37:13

Following your minute of 11 February, I have now had a chance to look at the papers and take up the points Admiral Eberle raised with you about expenditure on reroofing the House.  I think Sir James is being a little unfair, to say the least, in accusing us of some sleight of hand in this matter.  In fact we seem to have handled the whole business remarkably conscientiously, marred only by the circumstances which have so far actually prevented the work starting.

The recent history starts in late 1977 when it became clear that some restoration and repair work was vital.  This was originally estimated to cost some £180,000 but as a result of limiting the work to bare essentials (which includes not only the roof, nut some work to the windows and alterations to satisfy fire requirements) the estimate was reduced to £92,000 (at 1979 prices).  In paring down the cost we fought vigorously against DAMHB pressure to replace everything with authentic materials – the House is an Ancient Monument as well as a listed building – and the final estimated cost although high was recognised as being the least we could spend in the circumstances if further deterioration was to be avoided.  This exercise culminated in your submission to the then DOE Ministers which was approved.  MOD also received Ministerial approval and subsequently Treasury authorisation for the expenditure was obtained.

The current estimate of £125,000 is simply the 1979 figure updated, which breaks down broadly into about £78,000 for essential repairs to the roof, timbers, leadwork and windows of the main house; £42,000 for similar work to the adjoining staff quarters which are integral to the house; and about £5,000 to meet the fire requirements.  Work should have commenced in late 1979 but it seems South East region were not ready with the documentation and the contract let was progressively delayed until it was caught last Autumn by the moratorium.  Current South East Region plans are for a 1981/2 start, the expenditure to be charged against art III funds.

I do not see from this that we can be criticised for sharp practice.  On the other hand I can appreciate the Navy’s resentment and reluctance to see their scarce money spent on maintaining our “national heritage” (although no doubt they would take completely the opposite line if it was the Navy’s “heritage” at risk).  The roots if Admiral Eberle’s criticism really lies, I suspect, in the whole question of the historic estate and whose responsibility its maintenance ought to be.  As things stand it is the Navy’s, and however unpalatable this may be they must lump it and have now accepted the position following the resent DS(N), DQ(N) and DAMHB consideration.  This issue is also a Raynor item (and MOD and ourselves have identified Chatham as a particularly difficult area) but I cannot see any radical change in responsibilities emerging.  The only outcome of the Raynor point is likely to be greater scrutiny of restoration proposals and more attention to the possibilities for alternative uses if disposal is not a possibility.  As far as the Admiral’s House is concerned, whether or not he occupies it, it must be repaired and at MOD expense.

Basil Skeates
Director of Defence Services II

19 February 1981

2 APR 82




1.   Funds are required from the 1982/83 allocation for the continued replacement and maintenance of various items at the above residence.
2.   The immediate requirement is for replacement linen, crockery and glassware.  The period leading up to the closing of the Dockyard has created a considerable increase in the Admiral’s entertainment programme.
3.   Carpeting in the rear corridor has become a health and safety hazard.  To avoid the expense of replacement we intend adaption of carpeting from a disused bedroom.
4.   Currently we have spent £1148 of the £1250 allocated for repairs and maintenance.  This includes a carry over of £556 from 1981/82.  The funds have mainly been spent on the cleaning of carpets, curtains and furniture (£557) prior to the present Admiral taking up residence.
D F Holmans
PSA Supplies

11 January 1983.
Title: Re: Commissioners House, Chatham Dockyard
Post by: kyn on July 13, 2015, 15:52:30
G. Clifford Esq
Ministry of Defence
Old War Office Building

18th March 1983

Dear Alan,

Medway House, Chatham

We have been hearing rumours via our suppliers offices in London and the South east Region that Medway House is due to close some time this year and that Senior Naval Officers are queuing up to stake their claim on every desirable bit of furniture in the place.  Someone has even demanded that the brass cannon and wooden gun carriage that stand at the entrance should be transferred to the residence of the Director of the Staff College at Greenwich!

The fate of your cannon and gun carriage is, I expect, your concern, not ours.  But when Medway House does close (at the end of September, I think you told me) the furniture and furnishings will be dealt with by the PSA.  They may be taken into store; used where appropriate in other navy residences in our South east region; or in residences belonging to the other two services; or even sold.  Bur the decision on their future rests with the PSA.   And out South East Regional Supplies Manager has issued instructions that none of the furniture and furnishings in the house should be removed without his consent.  Because of the low financial delegations for residences conferred our various officers within the PSA this effectively means that DSMP’s approval will be needed in every case.


John Ash****

Property services Agency (Supplies)
Gundolphus House
London Road
St Leonards on Sea
East Sussex

2 Mar 83

Inventory of Furniture and Fittings - Medway house

1.   In accordance with the Chatham Naval Base closure plan, the Port Admiral’s last day in office is 30 Sep 83 and he will have vacated Medway House by 3 Oct 83.

2.   The furniture and fittings in the house are the responsibility of the Property services Agency Supplies Division.  However, many of the items are of particular Naval interest and the contents have therefore been advertised to Senior Naval Officers who occupy residences which also have PSA controlled inventories.  Bids are now being received; they will be considered on their merits and proposals for the disposal of the contents of Medway House will then be made to PSA (Supplies) for action as soon as possible after 3 Oct 83.

3.   By this means the best use will be made of the Naval Artefacts and furniture in Medway House; part of the Naval heritage will be preserved for the Navy; waste will be avoided and the PSA will be saved storage charges.

H M Humphreys
For Rear-Admiral