Somerset House has been the home of the tax authorities since 1775, when an
act of Parliament declared that the Stamp Office and Tax Office would be housed
in a new building to be erected on the banks of the Thames.
By 1780, the north wing of the building facing the Strand, designed by
surveyor-general of works Sir William Chambers, had been built. The rest of the
structure was eventually completed in 1819, and some kind of tax office has been
housed there ever since.
Yet this year could herald the end of the taxman’s long affair with this
grand old lady of buildings. There are still 760 HM Revenue & Customs
officials based at Somerset House, but the taxman is currently undertaking a
sweeping review of its property portfolio and Somerset House is one of the
properties facing the chop.
The future of the venue as an HMRC office will be decided by the summer.
Richard Mannion of Smith & Williamson, and also a former president of the
Chartered Institute of Taxation, says the building has always been a ‘special’
place in which to do business. ‘I have always thought there is something special
about the place. There is so much history there and it is really atmospheric,’
PricewaterhouseCoopers tax partner John Whiting shares Mannion’s reverence
for the building, recalling its spectacular sweeping staircases and long,
However, he adds: ‘The building is not designed to handle computer cabling
and there have been days when I went there and realised that air conditioning is
a really good invention. I love going to Somerset House for meetings because of
its aura, but would I really like to work there everyday? I am not so sure.’
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