Arising out of the Brussels Conference of Maritime Nations in 1853 and consultations, initiated by the Board of Trade with the Royal Society in the following year, a Meteorological Department of the board was formed at the beginning of August 1854 for the collection and co-ordination of meteorological observations made at sea.
Its first Superintendent, Admiral Robert Fitzroy, extended the functions of the department by initiating regular weather reports from a network of land stations, employing for the purpose the recently invented electric telegraph. With their aid he issued storm warnings to certain ports for the benefit of seamen and also began the practice of 'forecasting'.
In 1867 the name of the department was changed to the Meteorological Office and in the same year the office was transferred from the Board of Trade and placed under the administrative control of a Meteorological Committee, the members of which were appointed by the Royal Society. A grant in aid was assigned by the Treasury, the committee being responsible for the administration of the grant.
In 1877, following a review of these arrangements by a Treasury committee, the committee was replaced by a paid council of six members, of whom the Hydrographer of the Navy was one and the remaining five were nominated by the Royal Society. R H Scott, who had been the director of the office since 1867, became Secretary of the Meteorological Council, while retaining informal administrative control.
In 1905, following the recommendations of another Treasury committee, the office was placed under the management of a reconstituted Meteorological Committee, consisting of the director as chairman, the hydrographer, two members appointed by the Royal Society, and one each appointed by the Board of Trade, the Board of Agriculture and Fisheries and the Treasury. This committee was responsible for administering the Treasury grant in aid, but the director was responsible for the day-to-day administration of the office.
During this period the office developed steadily and by 1914 it was organised into separate Marine, Forecast and Storm Warning, Statistics and Library, Observing, Instruments, and Correspondence and Accounts Branches. In 1910 it took over from the National Physical Laboratory administration of Kew Observatory.
During the First World War three other meteorological services were developed: that of the Air Ministry, responsible for the supply of information for airships; that of the Admiralty, developed to meet the needs of the Royal Navy; and the Meteorological Section of the Royal Engineers, formed to meet the requirements of aircraft and gas warfare in France. The unco-ordinated development of these four services resulted in serious duplication and overlapping, and by 1922, following the recommendations of a sub-committee of the Research Committee of the Cabinet, the three younger services were absorbed into the Meteorological Office, which was to become a 'central State Meteorological Service'.
The reconstituted office was attached originally to the Civil Aviation Department of the Air Ministry, the director being appointed by the Air Council. The sub-committee's recommendation that there should be a 'board of management' for the office was met by a reorganised Meteorological Committee, representative of all departmental and scientific interests concerned, to which all important policy questions affecting the office and all appointments to higher posts on its staff were referred for advice. In 1927 the office's responsibility for research into atmospheric pollution was transferred to the Department of Scientific and Industrial Research.
Meanwhile, the development of the Fleet Air Arm resulted in the Navy establishing its own meteorological service in ships carrying aircraft. In 1937, to overcome the organisational anomalies which were becoming apparent, it was decided to transfer the administrative functions of the Naval Division of the Meteorological Office to the Admiralty's Hydrographic Department.
Since 1990 the Meteorological Office has been an executive agency within the Ministry of Defence, the chief executive being responsible to the Secretary of State for Defence. In addition to its defence role the office provides meteorological services for the public services, the press, industry and the public, and undertakes research in meteorology and geophysics.