Many another scene of naval interest does the old house conjure up. We may picture, for instance, Captain Cook arriving with intelligence of his marvellous voyages. From its roof the semaphore signalled its messages to Portsmouth and other naval stations during the Napoleonic Wars. To-day the wires and apparatus on the top of Admiralty House tell of the triumphs of electrical science. Who that watched the old semaphore could have predicted the Marconigram ?
Notable figures have passed through the apartments during successive Administrations, and some highly jovial memories also linger about the Great Room where the First Lords, in "the good old days," dined with their gallant comrades.
Most notorious of all who reigned at Admiralty House was the gay Lord Sandwich, who was First Lord for eleven years in the Administration of Lord North, and had twice before held the office. Lady Sandwich was prevented by mental illness from doing the honours, and the famous and beautiful Miss Ray presided over the dinners which the First Lord gave to his friends.
A Romance of the Admiralty
Her tragic story forms one of the romances of the place.
Martha Ray was the daughter of humble people, and worked as a mantua maker. She was extremely beautiful, with quiet, engaging manners, and had a fine voice. Lord Sandwich fell in love with her as she passed to and fro to the West End shop where she was engaged. He removed her from her employment, and sent her to be educated and to have her voice trained.
Lord Sandwich introduced Miss Ray into his family circle at Hinchinbroke, Huntingdonshire, where it is said she charmed the county by her pretty, modest manners and beautiful voice. She frequently stayed at Admiralty House. One evening, when attending the opera, she was shot dead by the Rev. Mr. Hackmen - an infatuated admirer, whom she had refused to marry - just as one of her friends from the Admiralty was handing her into the chariot of Lord Sandwich.
To come to more recent times, the ladies who have reigned at the Admiralty have been political hostesses for their party, as the Navy is governed by the Cabinet through the First Lord.
The names at once suggest themselves of Lady George Hamilton, a noted political hostess, who, during her husband's term of office took a keen interest in everything connected with our sailors and seamen. She was also much interested in the progress of women's work, and took an active part in promoting the Women's Section of the Victorian Era Exhibition in 1897.
She was twice hostess at the Admiralty, first during the short Conservative Administration of 1885-86 and again, after the General Election, from 1886-92.
Mrs. Winston Churchill, who. in virtue of her husband's position as First Lord of the Admiralty, fills the important role of hostess at Admiralty House. Mrs. Winston Churchill has always taken the keenest interest in her husband's public work, and is one of the most beautiful and talented of society hostesses
Photo, Lallie Charles
She was succeeded by the late Lady Spencer, who, as the granddaughter of that distinguished naval commander, Admiral Lord Hugh Seymour, had a very congenial position as the wife of the First Lord. Lady Spencer was a friend of Queen Victoria, and a member of the Order of Victoria and
Another lady who has graced the Admiralty in recent years is the Countess of Selborhe, a daughter of the late Marquis of Salisbury, and one who is distinguished by the cleverness and capability of the Cecils.
Seldom, if ever, I believe, has old Admiralty House had so youthful a hostess as the wife of the Right Hon. Reginald Mckenna. She was Miss Pamela Jekyll, the daughter of Sir Herbert and Lady Jekyll, and considerably the junior of her husband.
Her engagement was announced on March 28, 1908, and about a fortnight later Mr. Mckenna was appointed First Lord of the Admiralty in Mr. Asquith's Government. They were married on June 3 at St. Margaret's, Westminster, and passed their honeymoon up the river.
In olden days the First Lord and his bride might, had they felt so disposed, have set out in their state barge from the stairs at Whitehall, and been rowed by their own watermen in picturesque style up the river. The old state barge of the Admiralty is, however, a thing of the past, like the state barge of the King, so Mrs. Mckenna had to be content with a more prosaic mode of travelling.
She returned from her honeymoon to take up her position at Admiralty House. On June 26, Mr. Mckenna gave a full-dress dinner on the official birthday of the late King. The same evening Mrs. Mckenna accompanied her husband to the reception at the Foreign Office, and made her debut in the political social world. Some eight months later, the young bride was called upon to fill a very important role as hostess at the Admiralty.
Owing to the wife of the Prime Minister being abroad, the official Ministerial reception on the eve of the opening of Parliament in February, 1909, was held at the Admiralty.
Four days later, Mrs. Mckenna received at a second reception at the Admiralty, when the rooms were indeed a brilliant spectacle with naval officers, members of Parliament, Ministers, and the highest members of society belonging to all political parties.
The whole train of circumstances conspired to make the inauguration of the First Lord and his bride at the Admiralty a particularly interesting and brilliant affair.
Mrs. Mckenna continued to play a graceful part in the private and official hospitalities of her husband. Throughout the three years of his office she was continually with Mr. Mckenna, both when in London for his Parliamentary work and when visiting the dockyards and ports, and naturally took the greatest interest in all that concerned the Royal Navy.
The appointment of the Right Hon. Winston Churchill (1911) as successor to Mr. Mckenna at the Admiralty brings another youthful hostess to the historic house. Mrs. Churchill is one of the most charming and beautiful of the young married women of the day. She has taken the keenest interest in her husband's public work during his term at the Home Office, and now that his versatile personality is devoted to naval matters, Mrs. Churchill brings her social gifts to aid him in his new sphere. Within a few days of his appointment she inaugurated her reign at the Admiralty by the launching of a new battleship.