The Home Office, a Government Agency During the Georgian Era

I often have the heroes of my Regency romances be associated with the Home Office. Each of the seven men in my “Realm” series served the Home Office, with Sir Carter Lowery, eventually, assuming one of the leadership roles in the agency. The three men in my “Twins” trilogy did the same. In fact, I even had Lord John Swenton and Sir Carter Lowery from the Realm make brief appearances in the last two books of the trilogy. My Christmas novella, “Last Woman Standing,” also has a hero involved with the Home Office. 

The Realm: A Touch of Scandal; A Touch of Velvet; A Touch of Cashémere; A Touch of Grace; A Touch of Mercy; A Touch of Love; A Touch of Honor; and A Touch of Emerald

The Twins’ Trilogy: Angel Comes to the Devil’s Keep; The Earl Claims His Comfort; and Lady Chandler’s Sister.

Exactly, what were the responsibilities of the Home Office during the Regency Era? The Home secretary dealt with prisons, probation, courts, and public order. For example, one very important case of the era dealt with William Oliver, the plotter of a general insurrection after 1818, and known as “Oliver the Spy.” 

To Learn More of This Case, See This Piece on A Web of English History: 

http://www.historyhome.co.uk/c-eight/distress/oliver.htm

The first duty of the government is to keep citizens safe and the country secure. The Home Office has been at the front line of this endeavour since 1782. As such, the Home Office plays a fundamental role in the security and economic prosperity of the United Kingdom. The Home Office (HO) is a ministerial department of Her Majesty’s Government of the United Kingdom, responsible for immigration, security and law and order. As such it is responsible for policing in England and Wales, fire and rescue services in England, and visas and immigration and the Security Service (MI5).

Wikipedia provides us a brief overview of the “history” of the Home Office in the Georgian Era. “On 27 March 1782, the Home Office was formed by renaming the existing Southern Department, [This Department was initially established in 1660. It had a variety of responsibilities, including domestic and Irish policy, colonial policy and foreign affairs concerning southern European powers such as France, Spain, Portugal, Switzerland, Italy, Greece and the Ottoman Empire.] with all existing staff transferring. On the same day, the Northern Department [The department was responsible for dealing with government business in the northern part of Europe. This included foreign affairs concerning such northern powers as Russia, Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands and the Holy Roman Empire.] was renamed the Foreign Office. To match the new names, there was a transferring of responsibilities between the two Departments of State. All domestic responsibilities were moved to the Home Office, and all foreign matters became the concern of the Foreign Office.

“Most subsequently created domestic departments (excluding, for instance, those dealing with education) have been formed by splitting responsibilities away from the Home Office. The initial responsibilities [of the Home Office] were:

  • Answering petitions and addresses sent to the King
  • Advising the King on
    • Royal grants
    • Warrants and commissions
    • The exercise of Royal Prerogative
  • Issuing instructions on behalf of the King to officers of the Crown, lords-lieutenant and magistrates, mainly concerning law and order
  • Operation of the secret service within the UK
  • Protecting the public
  • Safeguarding the rights and liberties of individuals

“Responsibilities were subsequently changed over the years that followed:

  • 1793 added: regulation of aliens 
  • 1794 removed: control of military forces (to Secretary of State for War) 
  • 1801 removed: colonial business (to Secretary of State for War and the Colonies) 
  • 1804 removed: Barbary State consuls (to Secretary of State for War and the Colonies)[9]
  • 1823 added: prisons  
  • 1829 added: police services” 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Home Office was part of the Palace at Whitehall. A book From Palace to Power: An Illustrated History of Whitehall  tells us the Home Office took over the Board of Trade premises in the old Tudor tennis court in 1782. This was an indoor tennis court—a big building by Dover House. The palace includes many buildings.”

This passage from Spartacus Educational provides us some idea of what the Home secretary did.

“In 1812, Lord Liverpool became prime minister, and he offered Sidmouth the post of Home Secretary in his new government. Viscount Sidmouth now had the responsibility of dealing with social unrest in Britain. This included making machine-breaking an offence punishable by death. On one day alone, fourteen Luddites  were executed in York. Social unrest continued and in 1817, Sidmouth was responsible for the passing of what became known as the Gagging Acts. The unpopularity of Sidmouth increased in 1819 after he wrote a letter supporting the action of the magistrates and the Manchester & Salford Yeomanry  at what opponents called the Peterloo Massacre. In November 1819, Sidmouth persuaded Parliament to pass a series of repressive measures that became known as the Six Acts.   Sidmouth retired from office in 1821.”

The National Archives provides us some information on the Home Office from the late 1700s to 2005. See the link HERE:  http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/records/looking-for-subject/19th-century-political-history.htm#

Regan Walker has written a novel about some of the spying the Home Office engaged in. There were two under-secretaries and a chief clerk. Clerks, a law clerk, a private secretary who was  Lord Sidmouth’s son, and minor workers. Sidmouth was paid  £6000 a year. His son received 300£.

The offices and more formal rooms have not been changed much since the Regency time period. They tended to be wooden floored, with formal wood paneling (wainscoting) half way up the wall and plaster coving at the top of the wall connecting to the ceiling. Some of the light fixtures were quite elaborate chandeliers, especially in the formal meeting rooms

That being said, no one now knows how the office looked then. The building has been renovated  over two centuries. In many ways, the office might have looked more like modern offices with open cubicles rather than having separate offices for all except those in power. The secretaries would have a large room with a place to meet distinguished visitors. The Foreign Secretary would have a place to meet foreign dignitaries. Secretaries were the head men, though the term used with private secretary was used as we do. The ones doing  clerical work were called clerks. They are the ones who might work in a large open room.

The Home Office was located in the Palace of Whitehall. The Palace of Whitehall gave its name to the street. Whitehall is the building. When I researched the Foreign Office a few years ago, I discovered it was housed in the Treasury Building during the Regency. 

The Royal Kalendar of 1815 says the Home Secretary was at Whitehall. It was a large building. The addresses given provide the street address if the building is not well known and there are a couple of addresses of places on Downing Street – with  numbers.

The palaces of Westminster and White hall were used as public offices They were multipurpose  buildings. 

Westminster was  the name of the city in which Mayfair was located. There is also Westminster Abbey. I need my Visitors Guide to London of 1809 or one of the Gentlemen’s guides to the government buildings to keep them straight.

Hierarchy of 1815 officers in Home Office:

Henry Addington, 1st Viscount Sidmouth, Home Secretary

Undersecretary: John Beckett, Esq. and the Honourable John Addington

Chief clerk

senior clerks

law clerk

Private secretary  W. L  Addington

Librarian

Addington’s sons would probably have people under them who did the work.

There was an Irish division with a chief secretary to the Lord Lieutenant, Robert Peel.

Here’s a free PDF on archive.org entitled The British Civil Service: Home, Colonial, Indian, and Diplomatic by Francis George Heath.   https://archive.org/details/britishcivilserv00heatrich if anyone else is curious. [Also, available on Amazon.]

There was a big push for reform of the Home Office starting in the 1830’s. One or two sources refer to Bathurst and Liverpool being more “government aristocracy” than part of the old landowning aristocracy. Henry Addington was Sidmouth, head of the Home Office, two of his sons worked under him. Like the Bathurst family, much of their income came from the government positions. This was before the British form of civil service was established and patronage and nepotism were acceptable.

You might also find this Google Book of use: Calendar of Home office papers of the reign of George iii. 1760-(1775) preserved in her majesty’s Public record office. Ed. by J. Redington (R.A. Roberts).

About reginajeffers

Regina Jeffers is the award-winning author of Austenesque, Regency and contemporary novels.
This entry was posted in British history, buildings and structures, George IV, Georgian England, Georgian Era, Living in the Regency, political stance, real life tales, Realm series, Regency era, Regency personalities, research, trilogy and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to The Home Office, a Government Agency During the Georgian Era

  1. Diane Dario says:

    Thank you for this informative blog. While reading Regency romances I always get confused by the differences between the Home/War and Foreign Offices.

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