I was interested in some of the wider questions that were raised over the spring this year on the size and scale of the civil service. One of the straw-men that was set up was that the UK government, at the height of Empire, ran everything with 4,000 people, all of whom could be fitted neatly into Somerset House. With a little help from the team here (in particular Ed Hampshire), we thought it might be useful to assess this in some more detail.
Starting with civil servants in Whitehall, 4,000 is about right for the interwar period, but too high for the 19th century. The central government departments were all very small until the First World War. For example, the Foreign Office had around 100-175 staff (including doorkeepers, porters etc.) up to 1914. The Admiralty had around 70-80 well into the mid-19th century.[1*] Four government departments (Colonial Office, Foreign Office, Home Office, India Office) were all housed in the building that now only houses about a 1/3rd of the staff of today’s FCO (Charles Street).[2*]