10 Downing Street
(Colloquially known in the
United Kingdom as “Number 10”) is the official residence and office
of the First Lord of the
and hence Prime Minister of the
. The headquarters of Her Majesty's Government, it is
situated on Downing
Street in the City of Westminster in London.
Number 10 is perhaps the most famous address in the United Kingdom
and one of the most widely recognised houses in the world. Almost
three hundred years old, the building contains about one hundred
rooms. There is a private residence on the third floor and a
kitchen in the basement. The other floors contain offices and
numerous conference, reception, sitting and dining rooms where the
Prime Minister works and meets with and entertains government
ministers, national leaders and foreign dignitaries. There is an
interior courtyard and, in the back, a terrace overlooking a half
acre garden. Adjacent to St James's Park, Number 10 is near the Palace of
Westminster, the Houses of Parliament, and Buckingham Palace, the official London residence of the British Monarch.
Number 10 was originally three houses. In 1732, King George II
offered them to
Sir Robert Walpole
who accepted on
the condition that they be a gift to the office of First Lord of
the Treasury rather than to him personally. Walpole commissioned
to join the three houses
together. It is this larger house that is known today as Number
10 Downing Street
The arrangement was not an immediate success. Despite its size and
convenient location near Parliament, few early Prime Ministers
lived there. Costly to maintain, neglected, and run-down, Number 10
was close to being razed several times.
Nevertheless, Number 10 survived and became linked with many
statesmen and events in British history. In 1985, Prime Minister
said Number 10
had become "one of the most precious jewels in the national
History of the building
The original Number 10
Downing Street was originally three houses: a mansion overlooking St. James's Park (called "the house at the back"), a townhouse behind it located at 10 Downing Street
and a cottage next to Number 10.
The townhouse, from which
the modern building gets its name, was one of several built by
Sir George Downing
between 1682 and
Downing, a notorious spy for Oliver
and later King
, invested in properties and acquired considerable
wealth. In 1654, he purchased the lease on land south of Saint
James's Park, adjacent to the house at the back within walking
distance of Parliament. Downing planned to build a row of
townhouses designed "for persons of good quality to inhabit in..."
The street on which he built these homes now bears his name, and
the largest became part of today's Number 10 Downing Street.
Sir George Downing.
This painting now hangs in Number 10 just inside the front
Straightforward as this investment seemed, it proved otherwise.
There was another claim to the land: the Hampden family had a lease
that they refused to relinquish. Downing fought this claim, but
failed and consequently had to wait thirty years before he could
build his houses.
When the Hampden lease expired, Downing received permission to
build further west to take advantage of recent real estate
developments. The new warrant issued in 1682 reads: "Sir George
Downing ... [is authorized] to build new and more houses further
westward on the grounds granted him by the patent of 1663/4 Feb.
23. The present grant is by reason that the said Cockpit or the
greater part thereof is since demolished; but it is to be subject
to the proviso that it be not built any nearer than 14 feet of the
wall of the said Park at the West end thereof."
Between 1682 and 1684, Downing built a cul-de-sac of two-storey
townhomes complete with coach-houses, stables and views of St.
James's Park. How many he built is not clear, most historians say
fifteen, others say twenty. The addresses changed several times;
Number 10 was "Number 5" for a while; it did not become "10" until
Downing employed Sir Christopher
to design his houses. Although large, they were put up
quickly and cheaply on soft soil with shallow foundations. The
fronts, for example, were facades with lines painted on the surface
imitating brick mortar. Prime Minister Winston Churchill
wrote that Number 10 was
"shaky and lightly built by the profiteering contractor whose name
end of the Downing Street cul de sac closed off access to St. James's
Park, making the street quiet and private.
advertisement in 1720, described it as: "... a pretty open Place,
especially at the upper end, where are four or five very large and
well-built Houses, fit for Persons of Honour and Quality; each
House having a pleasant Prospect into St. James's Park, with a
Tarras Walk." They had several distinguished residents. The
Countess of Yarmouth lived at Number 10 between 1688 and 1689, Lord
Lansdowne from 1692 to 1696 and the Earl of Grantham from 1699 to
Downing probably never lived in his townhouses. In 1675, he retired
to Cambridge where he died a few months after they were completed.
A portrait of Sir George Downing now hangs in the entrance foyer of
the modern Number 10 Downing Street.
History of the "House at the Back" before 1733
at the Back", the largest of the three houses that were combined to
make up Number 10, was a mansion constructed around 1530 next to
Rebuilt, expanded, and renovated many times
since, it was originally one of several buildings that made up the
"Cockpit Lodgings", so-called because they were attached to an
octagonal structure used as a cock-fighting
ring. Early in seventeenth
century, the Cockpit was converted to a concert hall and theatre;
after the Glorious Revolution
some of the first Cabinet
meetings were secretly held there.
For many years, the "house at the back" was the home of the Keeper
of Whitehall Palace, Thomas Knevett
famous for capturing Guy Fawkes
and foiling his plot to assassinate James I
. The previous year, Knevett moved
into a house next door, approximately where Number 10 is
From this time, members of the royal family and the government
usually lived in the "house at the back". Princess Elizabeth lived there from
1604 until 1613 when she married Frederick V, Elector Palatine
and moved to Hanover.
was the grandmother of George
, the Elector of Hanover
, who became King of
England in 1714, and the great-grandmother of King George II
, who presented the
house to Walpole in 1732.
George Monck, 1st
Duke of Albemarle
, the general responsible for the Restoration
of the monarchy, lived there from 1660 until his death in 1671. As
head of the Great Treasury
of 1667-1672, Albemarle transformed accounting
methods and allowed the Crown greater control over expenses. His
Secretary, Sir George
, who later built Downing Street, is thought to have
created these changes. Albemarle is the first Treasury minister to
live in what would eventually become the home of the First Lord of
the Treasury and Prime Minister.
In 1671, George
Villiers, 2nd Duke of Buckingham
, took possession when he
joined the Cabal Ministry. (The "B" in the acronym CABAL refers to
Buckingham.) At considerable expense, Buckingham rebuilt the house.
The result was a spacious mansion, lying parallel to Whitehall
Palace with a view of St. James Park from its garden.
After Buckingham retired in 1676, Lady Charlotte Fitzroy
, Charles II's daughter,
moved in when she married the Earl of
, Master of the
. The Crown authorized extensive rebuilding again that
included adding a storey, giving it three main floors, an attic and
basement. This structure can be seen today as the rear section of
Number 10. (See Plan of the Premises Granted to the Earl and
Countess of Lichfield in 1677 )
The likely reason that repair was
required is that the house had settled in the swampy ground near
the Thames, causing structural damage. Like Downing Street, it
rested on a shallow foundation, a design error that would cause
problems until 1960 when the modern Number 10 was rebuilt on deep
The Litchfield family followed James
into exile after the Glorious
. In 1690, King William III and Queen Mary II, gave the "house at the
back" to Hendrik van
Nassau-Ouwerkerk, a Dutch general who had assisted in securing the Crown for
the then-Prince of Orange.
Nassau, who Anglicized his named
to "Overkirk", lived there until his death in 1708.
The "house at the back" reverted to the Crown when Lady Overkirk
died in 1720. The Treasury issued an order "for repairing and
fitting it up in the best and most substantial manner" at a cost of
£2,522. The work included: "The Back passage into Downing street to
be repaired and a new door; a New Necessary House to be made; To
take down the Useless passage formerly made for the Maids of Honour
to go into Downing Street, when the Queen lived at the Cockpit; To
New Cast a great Lead Cistern & pipes and to lay the Water into
the house & a new frame for ye Cistern." (See Buildings on
the Site of the Cockpit and Number 10 Downing Street c1720 )
Johann Caspar von Bothmer
, envoy from Hanover and
advisor to George I and II, took up residency in 1720. Although
Bothmer complained about "the ruinous Condition of the Premises",
he lived there until his death in 1732.
The First Lord's House: 1733–1735
Sir Robert Walpole accepted George
II's gift of the house at the back and two Downing Street houses on
the condition that they be given to the office of First Lord of the
When Count Bothmar died, ownership of the "house at the back"
reverted to the Crown. George II took this opportunity to offer it
to Sir Robert Walpole, often called the first Prime Minister, as a
gift for his services to the nation: stabilizing its finances,
keeping it at peace and securing the Hanoverian succession.
Coincidentally, the King had obtained the leases on two Downing
Street properties, including Number 10, and added these to his
Walpole did not accept the gift for himself. He proposed — and the
King agreed — that the Crown give the properties to the Office of
First Lord of the Treasury. Walpole would live there as the
incumbent First Lord, but would vacate it for the next one.
To enlarge the new house, Walpole persuaded Mr Chicken, the tenant
of a cottage next door, to move to another house in Downing Street.
This small house and the mansion at the back were then incorporated
into Number 10. Walpole commissioned William Kent
to convert them into one building.
Kent joined the larger houses by building a two-story structure
between them, consisting of one long room on the ground floor and
several above. The remaining interior space was converted into a
courtyard. He connected the Downing Street houses with a corridor,
now called the Treasury Passage.
Having united the structures, Kent gutted and rebuilt the interior.
He then surmounted the third story of the house at the back with a
pediment. To allow Walpole quicker access to Parliament, Kent
closed the north side entrance from St. James's Park, and made the
door on Downing Street the main entrance.
The rebuilding took three years. On 23 September 1735, the London
Daily Post announced that: "Yesterday, the Right Hon. Sir Robert
Walpole, with his Lady and Family moved from their House in St
James's Square, to his new House adjoining to the Treasury in St
Walpole did not enter through the now-famous door; that would not
be installed until forty years later. Kent's door was modest,
belying the spacious elegance beyond. The First Lord's new, albeit
temporary, home had sixty rooms, with hardwood and marble floors,
crown moulding, elegant pillars and marble mantelpieces; those on
the west side with beautiful views of St. James's Park. One of the
largest rooms was a study measuring forty feet by twenty with
enormous windows overlooking St James's Park. "My Lord's Study" (as
Kent labelled it in his drawings) would later become the Cabinet
room where Prime Ministers meet with the Cabinet ministers.
The cost of conversion is unknown. Originally estimated at £8,000,
the final cost probably exceeded £20,000.
Shortly after moving in, Walpole ordered that a portion of the land
outside his study to be converted into a terrace and garden.
Letters patent issued in April 1736 state that: "... a piece of
garden ground situated in his Majesty's park of St. James's, &
belonging & adjoining to the house now inhabited by the Right
Honorable the Chancellor of His Majesty's Exchequer, hath been
lately made & fitted up at the Charge ... of the Crown".
The same document confirmed that Number 10 Downing Street was:
"meant to be annexed & united to the Office of his Majesty's
Treasury & to be & to remain for the Use & Habitation
of the first Commissioner of his Majesty's Treasury for the time
A "vast, awkward house": 1735–1902
Walpole lived in Number 10 until 1742. He had accepted it as a gift
from the Crown for future First Lords of the Treasury. However, it
would be twenty-one years before any chose to live there; the five
who succeeded Walpole preferred their own homes. This was the
pattern until the beginning of the twentieth century. Of the 31
First Lords from 1735 to 1902, only 16 (including Walpole) lived in
A few enjoyed living in Number Ten. Lord
, who conducted the war against the American Colonies'
rebellion, lived there happily with his large family from 1767 to
1782. William Pitt the
who made it his home for twenty years — longer than any
First Lord before or since — from 1783 to 1801 and from 1804 to
1806, referred to it as "My vast, awkward house." While there, Pitt
reduced the national debt, formed the Triple Alliance
against France, and won
passage of the Act of Union
created the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. Fredrick Robinson, Lord Goderich
special liking to the house in the late 1820s; he spent state funds
lavishly remodeling the interior.
Nevertheless, for seventy years following Pitt's death in 1806,
Number 10 was rarely used as the First Lord's residence. From 1834
to 1877, it was either vacant or used only for offices and
One reason many First Lords chose not to live in Number 10 was that
most were peers who owned homes superior in size and quality. To
them, Number 10 was unimpressive. Instead, they saw their
"possession" of the house, albeit temporary, as a perk they could
use as a political reward. Most lent it to the Chancellor of the
Exchequer, others to lesser officials, and still others to friends
Another reason was that Number 10 was hazardous. Prone to sinking
because it was built on soft soil and a shallow foundation, floors
buckled, walls and chimneys cracked; it became unsafe and
frequently required repairs. In 1766, for example, Lord Charles Townshend
, the Chancellor of the
Exchequer, pointed out that the house was in a dilapidated
condition. His architect's letter to the Treasury read: "... we
have caused the House in Downing Street belonging to the Treasury
to be surveyed, & find the Walls of the old part of the said
House next the street to be much decayed, the Floors & Chimneys
much sunk from the level ..." Townsend ordered extensive repairs,
but they were still incomplete eight years later. A note from Lord
North to the Office of Works, dated September 1774, asks that the
work on the front of the house, "which was begun by a Warrant from
the Treasury dated 9 August 1766", should be finished. (See
Kent's Treasury and No. 10, Downing Street, circa
Treasury officials complained that the building cost too much to
maintain; some suggested that it be razed and a new house
constructed on the site or elsewhere. In 1782, the Board of Works,
reporting on "the dangerous state of the old part of the House",
stated that "no time be lost in taking down said building ..." In
1783, the Duke of Portland
out because it was once again in need of repair. A committee found
that the money spent so far was insufficient. This time the Board
of Works declared that "the Repairs, Alterations & Additions at
the Chancellor of the Exchequer's House will amount to the sum of
£5,580, exclusive of the sum for which they already have His
Majesty's Warrant. And praying a Warrant for the said sum of
£5,580—and also praying an Imprest of that sum to enable them to
pay the Workmen." This proved to be a gross underestimate; the
final bill was over £11,000. The Morning Herald fumed about the
expense: "£500 pounds p.a. preceding the Great Repair, and £11,000
the Great Repair itself! So much has this extraordinary edifice
cost the country For one moiety of the sum a much better dwelling
might have been purchased!" (See Plan of the Design for Number
Ten c1781 )
Downing Street declined at the turn of the nineteenth century
surrounded with run-down buildings, dark alleys, crime and
prostitution. Earlier, the government had taken over the other
Downing Street houses: the Colonial Office occupied Number 14 in
1798: the Foreign Office was at Number 16 and the houses on either
side; the West India Department was in Number 18 and the Tithe
Commissioners, Number 20. They deteriorated from neglect, became
unsafe, and one by one were torn down. By 1857, Downing Street's
town houses were all gone except for Number 10, Number 11
(customarily the Chancellor of the Exchequer's residence) and
Number 12 (used as offices for Government Whips). In 1879, a fire
destroyed the upper floors of Number 12; it was renovated but only
as a single storey structure. (See Numbers 10, 11, and 12
Downing Street First Floor Plan  and Ground Floor Plan )
Revival and recognition: 1902-1960
Winston Churchill emerging from Number
10 holding up the "V" sign for "Victory"
Lord Salisbury retired in 1902, his nephew, Arthur James Balfour
, became Prime
Minister. It was an easy transition: he was already First Lord of
the Treasury and Leader of the House of Commons, and he was already
living in Number 10.
was the last Prime Minister who did not make Number 10 his official
home. From 1877 when Disraeli moved into Number 10 the house had
been — with the exception of Salisbury — occupied continuously by
the Prime Minister. Salisbury reluctantly resided in Number 10
briefly from 1886 to 1887 during his first ministry, but then moved
out. He lived at his home on Arlington Street in St. James's and
his estate at Hatfield House while Prime Minister from 1887-1892
Balfour revived the custom that Number 10 is the First Lord and
Prime Minister's official residence. It has remained the custom
since, although there have been times when Prime Ministers have
unofficially lived elsewhere. Winston
for example had a great affection for Number 10, but
he grudgingly slept in the bunkered Annex of Number 10 for his
safety during World War II. To reassure the people that his
government was functioning normally, he insisted on being seen
entering and leaving Number 10 occasionally. Harold Wilson
, during his second ministry from
1974 to 1976, lived in his home on Lord North Street because Lady
Wilson wanted "a proper home". Recognising its symbolic importance,
he maintained the public illusion of living in Number 10, working
there, holding meetings, and entertaining guests in the State
Photography and the penny press had by this time linked Number 10
in the public mind with the Premiership. The introduction of films
and television would strengthen this association. Pictures of Prime
Ministers with distinguished guests at the door became commonplace.
With or without the Prime Minister present, visitors had their
picture taken. Suffragettes posed in front of the door when they
petitioned Herbert Asquith
women's rights in 1913, a picture that became famous and was
circulated around the world. In 1931, Mohandas Gandhi
, wearing the traditional
, posed leaving Number 10 after meeting with
to discuss India's
independence. This picture, too, became famous especially in India.
Illiterate peasants could see their leader had been received in the
Prime Minister's home. Couse's elegant, understated door—stark
black, framed in cream white with a bold white "10" clearly
visible—was the perfect backdrop to record such events (see Section
2.1 below). Prime Ministers made historic announcements from the
front step. Waving the Anglo-German Agreement of Friendship,
"Peace With Honour" in 1938 from Number 10 after his meeting with
Adolf Hitler in Munich. During World War II, Churchill was
photographed many times emerging confidently from Number 10 holding
up two fingers in the sign for "Victory". The symbol of British
government, Number 10 became a gathering place for protestors.
suffragette leaders stormed Downing Street in 1908; anti-Vietnam
War protestors marched there in the 1960s, as did anti-Iraq and
Afghanistan War protestors in the 2000s. Number 10 became an
obligatory stop in every tourist's sightseeing trip to London.
Ordinary people, not only British but foreign tourists, posed
smiling and laughing in front of its famous door.
Description of rooms and special features
Cameramen pose in front of Number 10's
famous front door.
The front door and entrance hall
Most of the modern exterior shape and features of Number 10 were
created by Kent when he combined the house at the back with the
Downing Street townhouses in 1735. Its outside appearance is
basically the same today as it was when he completed his work. The
most important exception is the now world famous front door
Number 10's famous door is the product of the renovations Townsend
ordered in 1766; it was probably not completed until 1772. Executed
in the Georgian style by the architect Kenton Couse
, it is unassuming and narrow,
consisting of a single white stone step leading to a modest brick
front. The small, six-panelled door, made of black oak, is
surrounded by cream-coloured casing and adorned with a semicircular
window. Painted in white, between
the top and middle sets of panels, is the number "10". A black iron
in the shape of a lion's head
is between the two middle panels; below the knocker is a brass
with the inscription "First
Lord of the Treasury". A black ironwork fence with spiked newel
posts runs along the front of the house and up
each side of the step to the door. The fence rises above the step
into a double-swirled archway, supporting an iron gas lamp
surmounted by a crown. (See The
Entrance Door c1930: As seen from the outside )
After the IRA mortar attack in 1991 (see Section 4 below), the
original black oak door was replaced by a blast-proof steel one.
Regularly removed for refurbishment and replaced with a replica, it
is so heavy that it takes eight men to lift it. The brass letterbox
still bears the legend "First Lord of the Treasury". The original
door was put on display in the Churchill Museum at the Cabinet War
Beyond the door, Couse installed black and white marble tiles in
the entrance hall that are still in use and almost as famous as the
door itself. A Chippendale guard's chair sits in one corner. Once
used when policemen sat on watch outside in the street, it has a
unique "hood" designed to protect them from the wind and cold and a
drawer underneath where hot coals were placed to provide warmth.
Scratches on the right arm were caused by their pistols rubbing up
against the leather.
Couse also added a bow front to the small cottage—formerly Mr.
Chicken's house—incorporated into Number 10 in Walpole's time.
(See The Entrance Door c1930: As seen from inside showing the
black and white marble floor and the door providing access to
Number 11 )
The main staircase
When William Kent
rebuilt the interior
of Number 10 between 1732 and 1734, his craftsmen created a stone
triple staircase with no visible supports in the main section. With
an wrought iron balustrade embellished with a scroll design and
mahogany handrail, it rises from the garden floor to the third
floor. Kent's staircase is the first architectural feature visitors
see as they enter Number 10. Black and white engravings and
photographs of all the past Prime Ministers decorate the wall; they
are rearranged slightly to make room for a new picture of the most
recent former Prime Minister. There are two photographs of Sir Winston Churchill
. (See The
Main Stairway c1930 General view showing portraits of the Prime
Ministers  and Detail of the Wrought Iron
(See also Simon Schama's Tour of
Downing Street. Pt4: The Staircase )
Prime Minister Gladstone meeting with
his Cabinet in 1868 in the Cabinet Room with its distinctive pair
of double columns in the background.
The Cabinet Room
In Kent's design for the enlarged Number 10, the Cabinet Room was a
simple rectangular space with enormous windows. As part of the
renovations begun in 1783, the Cabinet Room was extended, giving
the space its modern appearance. Probably not completed until 1796,
this alteration was achieved by removing the east wall and
rebuilding it several feet inside the adjoining secretaries' room.
At the entrance, a screen of two pairs of Corinthian columns was
erected (to carry the extra span of the ceiling) supporting a
moulded entablature that wraps around the room. The resulting small
space, framed by the pillars, serves as an ante-room to the larger
area. Hendrick Danckerts' painting "The Palace of Whitehall (shown
at the beginning of this article) usually hangs in the ante-room.
Robert Taylor, the architect who executed this concept, was
knighted on its completion.
Although Kent intended the First Lord to use this space as his
study, it has rarely served that purpose; it has almost always been
the Cabinet room. Painted off-white with large floor to ceiling
windows along one of the long walls, the room is light and airy.
Three brass chandeliers hang from the high ceiling. The Cabinet
table, purchased during the Gladstone era, dominates the room. The
modern boat-shaped top, introduced by Harold MacMillan
in the late 1950s, is
supported by huge original oak legs. The table is usually
surrounded by twenty-three carved, solid mahogany chairs that also
date from the Gladstone era. The Prime Minister's chair, the only
one with arms, is situated midway along one side in front of the
marble fireplace, facing the windows; when not in use, it is
positioned at an angle for easy access. The only picture in the
room is a copy of a portrait of Sir Robert Walpole
by Jean-Baptiste van Loo
hanging over the
fireplace. Each Cabinet member is allocated a chair based on order
of seniority. Blotters inscribed with their titles mark their
places. Former US President Ronald
was the first non-Cabinet member to sit at the table
during a Cabinet meeting. The Cabinet Room also acts as a library;
outgoing Prime Ministers traditionally donate to the
The First Lord has no designated space in Number 10; each has
chosen one of the adjoining rooms as his private office.
Prime Minister Gordon Brown and
President Barack Obama in the Pillared Room, 2009.
The Pillared State Drawing Room
Number 10 has three inter-linked State Drawing rooms: the Pillared
Room, the Terracotta Room and the White Drawing Room.
The largest is the Pillared Room thought to have been created in
1796 by Taylor. Measuring long by wide, it takes its name from the
twin Ionic pillars with straight pediments at one end. Today, there
is a portrait of Queen Elizabeth I over the fireplace; during the
Thatcher Ministry (1979-1990), a portrait of William Pitt by Romney
was hung there.
A Persian carpet covers almost the entire floor. A copy of a 16th
century original now kept in the Victoria and Albert Museum, there
is an inscription woven into it that reads: "I have no refuge in
the world other than thy threshold. My head has no protection other
than this porchway. The work of a slave of the holy place, Maqsud
of Kashan in the year 926" (the Moslem year corresponding to
Sparsely furnished with a few chairs and sofas around the walls,
the Pillared Room is usually used to receive guests before they go
into the State Dining Room. However, it is sometimes used for other
purposes that require a large open space. International agreements
have been signed in this room. Tony Blair
entertained the England Rugby Union team in the Pillared Room after
they won the World Cup in 2003. And, John Logie Baird
gave Ramsey MacDonald
a demonstration of his
invention, the television, in this room. (See The Pillared
Drawing Room c1927 )
The Terracotta Room
The White Drawing Room
The State Dining Room
(later Lord Goderich), became Chancellor of the
Exchequer in 1823, he decided to leave a personal legacy to the
this end, he employed Sir John Soane,
the distinguished architect who had designed the Bank of
England and many other famous buildings, to build a State
Dining Room for Number 10.
Begun in 1825 and completed in
1826 at a cost of £2,000, the result is a spacious room with oak
panelling and reeded mouldings. Accessed through the first floor,
its vaulted, arched ceiling rises up through the next so that it
actually occupies two floors. Measuring by , it is the largest room
in Number 10. First used on 4 April 1826, Soane was the guest of
The room is usually furnished with a table surrounded by 20
reproduction Adam style
made for the British Embassy in Rio de Janeiro. For larger
gatherings, a horseshoe-shaped table is brought in that will
accommodate up to 65 guests. On these occasions, the table is set
with the Silver Trust Silver set given to Downing Street in the
1990s. (See the State Dining room with the Silver Trust Silver in
use for a luncheon ) Above the fireplace, overlooking the room, is
a massive portrait by John
of George II, the king who originally gave the
building to the First Lord of the Treasury in 1732. Celebrity chefs
such as Nigella Lawson have cooked for Prime Ministers' guests
using the small kitchen next door. Entering through the Small
Dining Room, Blair used this room for his monthly press
conferences. (See Simon Schama's Tour of Downing Street.
Pt 3: The Dining Room
See also The State Dining Room c1930: View
toward the entrance 
and View from the entrance 
The Great Kitchen
The great kitchen located in the basement was another part of the
renovations begun in 1783, probably also under the direction of
. Seldom seen
by anyone other than staff, the space is two storeys high with a
huge arched window and vaulted ceiling. Traditionally, it has
always had a chopping block work table in the centre that is long,
wide and thick. (See The Kitchen c1930 View showing the table,
window and ceiling )
The Small Dining or Breakfast Room
Above Taylor's vaulted kitchen, between the Pillared Room and the
State Dining room, Soane created a Smaller Dining Room (sometimes
called the Breakfast Room) that still exists. To build it, Soane
removed the chimney from the kitchen to put a door in the room. He
then moved the chimney to the east side, running a Y-shaped split
flue inside the walls up either side of one of the windows above.
The room therefore has a unique architectural feature: over the
fireplace there is a window instead of the usual chimney breast
During the 1990s, Prime Minister Thatcher used this room as a
gallery for British scientists. There was a bust of Sir Isaac
Newton on the window sill above the fireplace and on the walls
portraits of Joseph Priestley, Humphrey Davy and Edmund Halley.
Then Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin
(seated in the centre with his legs crossed) poses in the garden
with representatives to the Imperial Conference - 1923.
The terrace and garden have provided a casual setting for many
gatherings like this.
With its flat unadorned ceiling, simple mouldings and deep window
seats, the Small Dining Room is intimate and comfortable. Usually
furnished with a mahogany table seating only eight, Prime Ministers
have often used this room when dining with family or when
entertaining special guests on more personal state occasions.
(See the Small Dining or Breakfast Room c1927. The
double doors behind the table lead to the State Dining Room.
The Terrace and Garden
The terrace and garden were constructed in 1736 shortly after
Walpole moved into Number 10. The terrace, extending across the
back, provides a full view of St James's Park. The garden is
dominated by an open half acre lawn that wraps around Numbers 10
and 11 in an L-shape. No longer "fitted with variety Walle fruit
and diverse fruit trees" as it was in the 17th century, there is
now a centrally located flower bed around a holly tree surrounded
by seats. Tubs of flowers line the steps from the terrace; around
the walls are rose beds with flowering and evergreen shrubs. (See
North elevation of Number Ten with steps leading to the garden
) The terrace and garden have provided a
casual setting for many gatherings of First Lords with foreign
dignitaries, Cabinet ministers, guests, and staff. Prime Minister
Tony Blair, for example, hosted a farewell reception in 2007 for
his staff on the terrace. John Major announced his 1995 resignation
as leader of the Conservative Party in the 'rose garden'. Churchill
called his secretaries the "garden girls" because their offices
overlook the garden.
Furnishings and decorations
Rebuilding Number 10: 1960–1990
By the middle of the 20th century, Number 10 was falling apart
again. The deterioration had been obvious for some time. The number
of people allowed in the upper floors was limited for fear the
bearing walls would collapse. The staircase had sunk several
inches; some steps were buckled and the balustrade was out of
alignment. An investigation ordered by Prime Minister Harold Macmillan
in 1958 concluded that
there was widespread dry rot. The interior wood in the Cabinet
Room's double columns was like sawdust. Baseboards, doors, sills
and other woodwork were riddled and weakened with disease. After
reconstruction had begun, miners dug down into the foundations and
found that the huge wooden beams supporting the house had
There was some discussion of tearing down the building and
constructing entirely new residence. But the Prime Minister's home
had become an icon of British architecture like Windsor Castle,
Buckingham Palace and the Houses of Parliament. Instead, it was
decided that Number 10 (and Numbers 11 and 12) would be rebuilt
using as much of the original materials as possible. The interior
would be photographed, measured, disassembled, and restored. A new
foundation with deep pilings would be laid and the original
buildings reassembled on top of it, allowing for much needed
expansion and modernisation. Any original materials that were
beyond repair — such as the pair of double columns in the Cabinet
Room — would be replicated in detail. This was a formidable
undertaking: the three buildings contained over 200 rooms spread
out over five floors. The architect Raymond Erith
carried out this painstaking
The Times reported that initially the cost for the project would be
£400,000. After more careful studies were completed, it was
concluded that the "total cost was likely to be £1,250,000" and
would take two years to complete. In the end, the cost was close to
£3,000,000 and took almost three years due in large part to 14
labour strikes. There were also delays when archaeological
excavations uncovered important artifacts dating from Roman, Saxon
and mediaeval times. Macmillan lived in Admiralty House during the
The new foundation was made of steel-reinforced concrete with
pilings sunk to . The "new" Number 10 consisted of about 60% new
materials; the remaining 40% was either restored or replicas of
originals. The garden floor — including the door and entrance
foyer, the stairway, the hallway to the Cabinet Room, the Cabinet
Room, the garden and terrace, the Small and Large State Rooms and
the three reception rooms — was reconstructed exactly as in the old
Number 10. The staircase was rebuilt and simplified. Steel girders
were hidden inside the columns in the Pillared Drawing Room to
support the floor above. The upper floors were modernised and the
3rd floor extended over Numbers 11 and 12 to allow more living
space. As many as 40 coats of paint were stripped from the
elaborate cornices in the main rooms revealing details unseen for
almost 200 years in some cases. When builders examined the exterior
façade, they discovered that the black colour visible even in
photographs from the mid-nineteenth century was misleading; the
bricks were actually yellow
. The black appearance was the
product of two centuries of pollution. To preserve the
'traditional' look of recent times, the newly cleaned yellow bricks
were painted black to resemble their well-known appearance.
Although the reconstruction was generally considered an
architectural triumph, Erith was disappointed. He complained openly
during and after the project that the government had altered his
design to save money. "I am heart broken," he said, "by the result
... the whole project has been a frightful waste of money because
it just has not been done properly. The Ministry of Works has
insisted on economy after economy. I am bitterly disappointed with
what has happened." Erith's concerns proved justified. Within a few
years, dry rot was discovered, especially in the main rooms due to
inadequate water-proofing and a broken water pipe. Extensive
reconstruction again had to be undertaken to resolve these
In the late 1980s, Margaret Thatcher commissioned Quinlan Terry
, Erith's partner, to redecorate
the main rooms to celebrate Britain's past glory and her renewed
status after the Falklands War. Among other details, Terry restored
the fireplace in the Pillared Drawing Room. Executed in the Kentian
style, the small Ionic pillars in the overmantle are miniature
duplicates of the large ones in the room. He also added ornate
Baroque-style central ceiling mouldings and corner moldings of the
four national flowers of the United Kingdom: rose (England),
thistle (Scotland), daffodil (Wales) and shamrock (Northern
Security at Number 10 after the 1991 bombing
For most of its history, Downing Street was accessible to the
public. There was some security at Number 10 but it was minimal: a
police officer standing guard. The front door has no keyhole on the
outside. A second officer is on duty in the entrance hall to open
it for the Prime Minister.
After the 1991 bombing, security at
Number 10 was enhanced including retractable electronic barriers
barring access; visitors can only view the Prime Minister's
residence from a distance.
Gates were installed at both ends of the street during the
premiership of Margaret Thatcher
due to terrorist threats. On 7 February 1991, the Provisional IRA used a van they parked in
Whitehall to launch a mortar
shell at Number 10.
It exploded in the back garden,
while Prime Minister John Major
holding a Cabinet meeting. Major moved to Admiralty
House while repairs were completed.
this actual attack, heavier security measures were imposed, if not
always visible. A guardhouse stands at the gated entrance
accommodating several uniformed heavily armed police. The Metropolitan
Police Service's DPG (Diplomatic Protection Group)
provides protection for ministers in London, acting on intelligence
Number 10's 250th anniversary: 1985
Number 10 became 250 years old in 1985. To celebrate, Prime
Minister Margaret Thatcher
a grand dinner at Number 10 in the State Dining Room for her living
, Harold Wilson
, and James Callaghan
Queen Elizabeth II. Also in attendance were representatives of the
families of every 20th century Prime Minister since Asquith,
including Olwen Carey Evans (daughter of Lloyd George), Lorna
Howard (daughter of Stanley Baldwin), and Clarissa Avon
The same year, the Leisure Circle published Christopher Jones' book
No. 10 Downing Street, The Story of a House
foreword is a letter from Thatcher in which she summarises the
feelings that she and many other British people have toward Number
10: "How much I wish that the public ... could share with me the
feeling of Britain's historic greatness which pervades every nook
and cranny of this complicated and meandering old building ... All
Prime Ministers are intensely aware that, as tenants and stewards
of No. 10 Downing Street, they have in their charge one of the most
precious jewels in the nation's heritage."
The Prime Minister's Office
The Prime Minister's office, for which the terms Downing
and Number 10
are synonymous, lies within 10
Downing Street and is headed by a Chief of Staff and staffed by a
mix of career civil servants
. It provides the Prime Minister with support and
advice on policy, communications with parliament, government
departments and public/media relations.
- The No. 10 Private Office (government and
- The No. 10 Press Office (press relations) – The
press office has grown in significance as media attention on the PM
has intensified. Thatcher's press officer Bernard Ingham was one of her most important
advisors. Alastair Campbell's
influence as Blair's press officer was even greater;
- The No. 10 Policy Unit (advice on policy and
- The No. 10 Political Office (liaised with the PM's party and
- The No. 10 Appointments Office.
The office was reorganised in 2001 into 3 directories:
- Policy and government
Took over the functions of the Private office and policy unit.
Prepares advice for the PM and coordinates development and
implementation of policy across departments
- Communication and strategy, contains 3 units:
- Press office: responsible for relations with the media
- Strategic communications unit
- Research and information unit: provides factual information to
- Government and political relations: Handles party/public
Changes were intended to strengthen the PM's office. However, some
commentators have suggested that Blair's reforms have created
something similar to a 'Prime Ministers' department.The Times'
political correspondent Peter Riddell
discussed the consequences of
the reform in an article entitled "New look behind the revolving
doors of power" (13 June 2001, p. 12) in which he observed "Mr
Blair has not formally set up a Prime Minister's Department, in
order to avoid charges of presidentialism, but he has created one
in all but name in 10 Downing Street". The reorganisation
brought about the fusion of the Prime Minister's Office and the
Office—a number of units within the Cabinet
Office are directly responsible to the Prime
- Jones, in letter from Margaret Thatcher used as a preface to
- Bolitho, pages 16-21.
- Jones, pages 24-32.
- Feely, pages 17-31.
- Minney, p. 28.
- Feely, pages 28-31.
- Jones, p. 41.
- Bolitho, p. 20.
- Minney, p. 34.
- Jones, see back cover picture credited to Robert Hill @
- Minney, p. 23.
- Jones, pages 16-18.
- Minney, pages 23-24.
- Minney, p. 24.
- Minney, pages 24-25.
- Jones, pages 20-21.
- Jones, p. 21.
- British History Online, From: 'No. 10, Downing Street', Survey
of London: volume 14: St Margaret, Westminster, part III: Whitehall
II (1931), pp. 113-141. URL:
accessed: 22 July 2008.
- Pepys records a high
tide when Whitehall was under water and buildings in the area
require deep foundations to avoid settling.
- Minney, p. 25.
- Jones, p. 23.
- Minney, p. 33.
- See letter, dated, "Downing Street, 30 June 1742," from Horace
Walpole to Sir Horace Mann: "I am writing to you in one of the
charming rooms towards the Park: it is a delightful evening, and I
am willing to enjoy this sweet corner while I may, for we are soon
to quit it. Mrs. Sandys came yesterday to give us warning; Lord
Wilmington has lent it to them. Sir Robert might have had it
for his own at first: but would only take it as First Lord of the
Treasury. He goes into a small house of his own in Arlington
Street, opposite to where we formerly lived." (Horace Walpole's
Letters, ed. Cunningham, 1857, I, p. 246.) British History Online,
From: 'No. 10, Downing Street', Survey of London: volume 14: St
Margaret, Westminster, part III: Whitehall II (1931), pp. 113-141.
Date accessed: 21 July 2008.
- Feely, p. 34.
- Bolitho, p. 25.
- Minney, p. 50.
- Jones, p. 46.
- Miney, p. 47.
- Seldon, p. 16.
- Minney, pages 46-47.
- Minney, p. 117.
- Minney, pages 182-183.
- Minney, p 29.
- Jones, p. 52. Henry Pelham, for example, had his own spacious
home and had no need for Number 10. In what one historian called a
piece of "blatant political corruption", he allowed his son-in-law,
Clinton, Earl of Lincoln, to live there from 1745 to 1753 even
though Clinton was not involved in politics.
- Minney, pages 173 and 179. Lord Liverpool assigned it to his two
Chancellors of the Exchequer, Nicholas Vansittart (1812–1823) and
Frederick Robinson (1823–1827).
- British History Online, Letter (B.M. Addl. MS. 38292, f. 11)
from Lord Liverpool to Charles Ellis, dated 22 January, 1823, is of
interest. "When you spoke to me some time ago upon the subject of
the House in Downing Street, I was under the impression, as you
were yourself, that the house was the King's & that he might
dispose of it in any manner he might think proper. Upon
Inquiry, however, it appeared that the House was attached to the
Treasury as a Part of the Office. That the First Lord of the
Treasury occupies it if he thinks proper. If he declines it, the
Chancellor of the Exchequer occupies it, not as Chancellor of the
Exchequer, but as second in the Commission of the Treasury. That if
he declined it, it would go to the next in the Commission, or it
might possibly be disposed of by the Board to any Member or Officer
of the Treasury; but could not, & never has been detached from
it. You are mistaken in supposing that Mr. Vansittart is the only
Chancellor of the Exchequer who, without being first Lord of the
Treasury, occupied it. Lord North certainly occupied it during
the two years he was Chancellor of the Exchequer only. I believe
Mr. Charles Townshend occupied it, but I know Mr. Dowdeswell did,
& it is remarkable that he is, I believe, the only instance of
a Chancellor of the Exchequer upon Record who was not in the
Cabinet. The House stands in fact upon the same footing as the
Houses of the Admiralty, which could not be assigned to any Person
not belonging to that office."
- Bolitho, p. 116. A few peers lived in Number 10 out of
necessity. The Duke of Wellington, for example, grudgingly lived
there for eighteen months between 1828 and 1830 because his own
home, Apsley House, was undergoing extensive renovations. He left
as soon as it was finished.
- At the end of the nineteenth century, Lord Salisbury lived in
his house on Arlington Street and the Cecil estate Hatfield House. During
his last ministry from 1895 to 1902, Arthur Balfour, his nephew lived in
Number 10. Minney, p. 322.
- Minney, pages 83-84.
- Jones, p. 71.
- Jones, p. 72.
- British History Online, From: 'Plate 111: No. 10, Downing
Street: plan of alterations in 1781', Survey of London: volume 14:
St Margaret, Westminster, part III: Whitehall II (1931), pp. 111.
Date accessed: 22 July 2008.
- Seldon, p. 23
- Jones, p. 96.
- Minney, p. 409
- Jones, p. 156
- Minney, p. 393
- Minney, p.402
- Minney, pages 333-334
- Minney, p. 84.
- British History Online: From: 'Plate 118: No. 10, Downing
Street: main doorway and kitchen', Survey of London: volume 14: St
Margaret, Westminster, part III: Whitehall II (1931), pp. 118. URL:
accessed: 20 July 2008.
- British History Online, From: 'Plate 126: No. 10, Downing
Street: entrance hall and drawing room', Survey of London: volume
14: St Margaret, Westminster, part III: Whitehall II (1931), pp.
accessed: 22 July 2008.
- Seldon, p. 49.
- Feely, p. 13.
- British History Online, From: 'Plate 124: No. 10, Downing
Street: details', Survey of London: volume 14: St Margaret,
Westminster, part III: Whitehall II (1931), pp. 124. URL:
accessed: 20 July 2008.
- British History Online, From: 'Plate 125: No. 10, Downing
Street: detail of iron balustrading to main staircase', Survey of
London: volume 14: St Margaret, Westminster, part III: Whitehall II
(1931), pp. 125. URL:
accessed: 20 July 2008.
- Seldon, p.18.
- Seldon, p. 43.
- Minney, pages 117-118.
- (See Simon Schama's Tour of Downing Street. Pt2: The
Cabinet Room  See also The Modern Cabinet Room: Two
photographs taken by Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin, c1927 View looking
toward the screen  and View from the Screen 
- British History Online, From: 'Plate 121: No. 10, Downing
Street: Cabinet Room', Survey of London: volume 14: St Margaret,
Westminster, part III: Whitehall II (1931), pp. 121. URL:
accessed: 20 July 2008.
- There have been a few exceptions. Stanley Baldwin used the
Cabinet Room as his office. A few Prime Ministers, such as Tony
Blair, occasionally worked at the Cabinet Room table
- Jones, p. 161.
- Jones, p 179.
- Jones, p. 129
- Seldon, p.55
- Seldon, p. 25.
- British History Online, From: 'Plate 126: No. 10, Downing
Street: entrance hall and drawing room', Survey of London: volume
14: St Margaret, Westminster, part III: Whitehall II (1931), pp.
accessed: 9 August 2008.
- Jones, p 180.
- Seldon, p. 59.
- Minney, p. 182.
- Jones, p. 89 and see also Soane's sketches of several versions
of the State Dining Room on p. 84.
- British History Online, From: 'Plate 130: No. 10, Downing
Street: Official Dining Room', Survey of London: volume 14: St
Margaret, Westminster, part III: Whitehall II (1931), pp. 130. URL:
accessed: 21 July 2008.
- British History Online, From: 'Plate 131: No. 10, Downing
Street: Official Dining Room', Survey of London: volume 14: St
Margaret, Westminster, part III: Whitehall II (1931), pp. 131. URL:
accessed: 21 July 2008.
- Jones, p. 179.
- Seldon, p. 20.
- British History Online, From: 'Plate 129: No. 10, Downing
Street: breakfast room and smaller drawing room', Survey of London:
volume 14: St Margaret, Westminster, part III: Whitehall II (1931),
pp. 129. URL:
accessed: 9 August 2008.
- Jones, p. 180.
- Seldon, p.46
- British History Online, From: 'Plate 117: No. 10, Downing
Street: elevation and general view', Survey of London: volume 14:
St Margaret, Westminster, part III: Whitehall II (1931), pp. 117.
Date accessed: 21 July 2008.
- Jones, p 138.
- Minney, p. 428
- Jones, pages 153-154
- Seldon, p. 32.,
- Minney, 429-430
- London Times, Downing Street Reconstruction to Cost
£1,250,000, December 1959
- Seldon, p. 32.
- Jones, p. 154
- Seldon, p. 33.
- Jones, pages 154–155
- Minney, pages 429–433
- Seldon, p. 34.
- Seldon, pages 35-37.
- Time Magazine, People by Ellie McGrath, 16 December
- Seldon, p. 90.