10 Downing Street

How many Prime Ministers have there been? How many were Labour? What was the age of the youngest Prime Minister? These were the sorts of questions that were asked of me whilst researching the most famous house in the country.

10 Downing Street was offered to the First Lord of the Treasury, Sir Robert Walpole, as a personal gift by King George II in 1732 but was only accepted on the basis that it be a home for all future holders of the office as well. Although the term Prime Minister wasn’t in use at the time, Walpole is regarded as the first. It was originally called No. 5 and was built along with other buildings on the street by the developer Sir George Downing in 1682-84. The gift from the King actually consisted of three separate buildings – No. 10 itself, a mansion behind and a cottage next-door. The complex, created for Walpole by William Kent, is a fascinating TARDIS-like warren of flexible interconnecting rooms of different shapes, sizes and styles.

There’s a story behind every room within No. 10 and it’s of course impossible to recount every one here. The standard of decoration is extremely high and my favourite room is probably the Cabinet Room with its large table, views over the gardens and ornamental sword from Kuwait. Around the famous staircase, which has no visible supports, is a collection of pictures of all previous Prime Ministers – most recent at the top.

No. 10 came extremely close to demolition one more than one occasion. Ultimately, it was built badly on inappropriate foundations so problems were inevitable. During the 1960s, it was rebuilt at a cost of £3 million with as much of the fabric of the building being retained as possible. The seemingly black bricks were found to be yellow so black paint now replaces what was previously soot. The trademark front door is made from steel following an attack by the IRA in 1991. Clearly displayed on its brass letterbox is the inscription FIRST LORD OF THE TREASURY – one of the offices currently held by Gordon Brown.

I was able to see around 10 Downing Street due to a resourceful Parliamentary colleague arranging a group tour. Incidentally, I didn’t answer any of the questions correctly but, for those who are wondering, the answers are 52, 6 and 24* (Pitt The Yonger).

* Figures correct at time of writing.