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The first Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs was appointed in March 1782, but the first purpose-built Foreign Office was not begun until 1861. It was completed in 1868 as part of the new block of Government Offices which included the India Office and later (1875) the Colonial and Home Offices. George Gilbert Scott was responsible for the overall classical design of these offices but he had an amicable partnership with Matthew Digby Wyatt, the India Office's Surveyor, who designed and built the interior of the India Office.

Scott designed the new Foreign Office as 'a kind of national palace or drawing room for the nation' with the use of rich decoration to impress foreign visitors. The same was true of Wyatt's India Office. The Colonial and Home Offices, however, were seen purely as working buildings and their interior decoration, by contrast, was 'as plain as was compatible with a major department of state'.

During the twentieth century, the impact of two world wars and the growing complexity of public business and international affairs led to severe overcrowding within the buildings. Lack of money during post-1945 Austerity Britain and distaste for anything Victorian helped to reduce grandeur to squalor, and many of the fine areas were lost to sight behind false ceilings and plasterboard partitions. In the 1960s, as part of the grandiose plans for a new Whitehall, it was decided to demolish Scott’s buildings and to erect completely new offices on the same site.

Lack of money and a public outcry which led to the Offices being designated as a Grade 1 Listed Building eventually resulted in the rejection of demolition in favour of restoration. The rolling programme of restoration and refurbishment carried out between 1984 and 1997 not only brought the Fine Rooms and areas back to life but produced 25% extra usable space for far less than the cost of demolition and rebuilding.

The pictures in this display show a selection of the restored areas. They are in constant use and not normally open to the public, but some can be seen during various Open Days and other events.

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