10 Downing Street

From Academic Kids

10 Downing Street, commonly known as Number 10, is the most famous street address in London. It is the official residence of the First Lord of the Treasury, who since the beginning of the twentieth century has always been the British Prime Minister.

Missing image
Prime Minister Tony Blair and U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney stand in front of the main door to Number 10.


The building is technically the official residence of the First Lord of the Treasury, and is so labelled on the front door. This office is now inextricably linked with that of the Prime Minister, hence it is known as the official residence of the Prime Minister. The last Prime Minister not to be the First Lord of the Treasury was Lord Salisbury, prime minister at the very beginning of the twentieth century (as a result he did not live at Number 10).

Although the official residence, many Prime Ministers chose not to actually live at Number 10. Some 19th and 20th century prime ministers owned larger and more impressive townhouses with servants and in reality lived in them. Some prime ministers, notably in the 1950s and again in the 1990s lived in Admiralty House (London) while Number 10 was undergoing rebuilding work or in the 1990s, following an IRA mortar attack. Harold Wilson lived in his own private home in Lord North Street during his second term as Prime Minister in 1974-76, but maintained the pretence of living at Number 10 for security and privacy reasons, while secretly exiting by a side door to return to his 'private' home. When he came into office Tony Blair lived in the Chancellor of the Exchequer's apartment in Number 11, because the apartment there is larger and so more suitable for his family, while Chancellor Gordon Brown lived in the Prime Minister's apartment in Number 10. After Brown married and the Blairs had their fourth child Leo, the Blair family occupied both and Gordon Brown moved out to his own private flat nearby.

 presented 10 Downing Street to Sir  as an official residence
George II of Great Britain presented 10 Downing Street to Sir Robert Walpole as an official residence

Numbers 10 and 11 were originally townhouses in which government ministers lived, with servants, but they ceased to be used as such in the 1940s. Instead they evolved into offices, with the Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer living in small apartments at the top of the building created from rooms that had once been used by servants. Additionally, the walls between the houses on Downing Street and the corresponding houses behind them on Horseguards Parade were knocked through and the buildings integrated.

With the use of photography from the mid nineteenth century, pictures began to appear of 10 Downing St. They all showed a rather dark, dank street lined by black buildings. In the 1950s, it became clear that No. 10 was in such a poor state of repair that it was in immediate danger of collapse. (The pillars in the cabinet room that held the upper stories in place were themselves found to be held together by little more than two hundred years of layers of overpainting and varnish, with the internal original wood having rotted away almost to dust!) After considering demolishing the entire street, it was decided that, as occurred in the White House in the 1940s, the facade would be preserved while the interior would be gutted down to the foundations, and a 'copy' of the original building erected using modern steel and concrete, over which furnishings of the original interior could be grafted. When they examined the exterior facade, they discovered that it was not black at all; it actually was yellow, the black look a product of two centuries of severe pollution. After considering restoring the exterior to its original eighteenth century yellow look, it was decided instead to preserve its 'traditional' look of more recent times, so the newly cleaned yellow bricks were painted black to resemble their previous polluted colour.

The Prime Minister's Office

The Prime Ministerís office for which the terms "Downing Street" and "No.10" are synomous lies within 10 Downing Street and is headed by a Chief of Staff and staffed by a mix of career civil servants and special advisors. It provides the prime minister with support and advice on policy, communications with parliament, government departments and public/media relations.

Until 2001 the office had 5 main units:

  • The private office (relations with parliament and Whitehall)
  • The press office-The press office has grown in significance as media attention on the PM has intensified. Thatcherís press officer Bernard Ingham was one of her most important advisors. Alistair Campbellís influence as Blairís press officer has been even greater
  • The policy unit (advice on strategic issues and detailed questions of policy)
  • The political office (liased with the PM's party and constituency)
  • The appointments office

Present organisation

The office was reorganised in 2001into 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 no. 10
  • Government and political relations: Handles party/public relations

Changes were intended to strengthen the PMís office. However, Some commentators have suggested that Blairís reforms have created something similar to a ĎPrime ministers department.í The reorganisation brought about the fusion of the Prime ministerís office and the cabinet office- a number of units within the cabinet office are directly responsible to the PM

History of the building

,  (1828-1830), refused to live in Number 10 because it was too small
Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, Prime Minister (1828-1830), refused to live in Number 10 because it was too small

Number 10 has been the residence of the First Lord ever since it was given to Sir Robert Walpole (who was also the first 'prime minister of Great Britain'*) by King George II on behalf of the nation and the Crown. Walpole accepted the gift on the condition that the house was a gift to the incumbent First Lord of the Treasury rather than to him personally, so that ownership passes to each incoming First Lord, who with rare exceptions is also Prime Minister.

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, 10 Downing Street was generally seen as a small, unimpressive, mediocre building that was far below the quality and standard possessed by leader peers. Hence a number of prominent prime ministers, notably the Duke of Wellington, chose to live in their rather more spacious and grand personal London residences, giving Number 10 over to be used by some more junior official. When he became prime minister in the early 1920s, Ramsay MacDonald, the first Labour Prime Minister, faced a different problem. In an era when ministers of the Crown received only minimal pay and in effect had to subsidize themselves through their own private wealth, MacDonald, lacking the wealth of former 'grandee' prime ministers, found himself moving into an almost unfurnished house, surrounded by household staff he could not afford - some of whom, despite their low wages, earned more than he did.

During his last period in office, in 1881, William Gladstone claimed residence in numbers 10, 11 and 12 for himself and his family. This was less of a problem than it might have been had he not been both Chancellor of the Exchequer and Prime Minister at the time.

By the 1940s, economic and social changes led to major change in the use of 10 Downing Street. Instead of being a large residence run by servants, it became a working office, with the Prime Minister and his office relegated to a small 'flat' created specially among the old servants' rooms in the roof-space. The cramped nature of that 'flat' and its location above what is now a busy office-complex, has led some prime ministers to 'secretly' live elsewhere, though both they (through being photographed entering the front door) and the media conspire, often for security considerations, to keep the fact hidden.

After the 1997 General Election in which Labour took power, a swap was carried out by the present incumbents of the two titles, Tony Blair being a married man with three children still living at home, whilst his counterpart, Gordon Brown, was unmarried at the time of taking up his post. Although Number 10 continued to be the prime minister's official residence and contain the prime ministerial offices, Blair and his family actually moved into the more spacious Number 11, while Brown lived in the more meagre apartments of Number 10.

In reality, two and a half centuries of use as government residences has led to so much interlinking between the houses that it can be hard to know where one ends and the other one begins.


A police officer traditionally stands outside the black front door of Number 10 - a door which can only be opened from the inside. Gates were installed at either end of Downing Street during the Premiership of Margaret Thatcher to protect against possible terrorist attack. However on 7th February 1991, the Provisional IRA launched a mortar through the roof of a white van parked in Whitehall. The mortar exploded in the back garden of 10 Downing Street, blowing in all the windows of the cabinet room, whilst then Prime Minster John Major was leading a session of the Cabinet. While the building underwent repair, Major was moved to Admiralty House nearby, which is generally used as a sort of 'alternative 10 Downing Street' when for whatever reason (from security and rebuilding work to simply rewiring and repainting) the Prime Minister and First Lord of the Treasury has to move elsewhere.

Media relations

Daily press briefings are currently given by the Prime Minister's Official Spokesman (PMOS) from number 10. These are published on the Downing Street website and amplified at DowningStreetSays.org (see external links).

External links

nl:10 Downing Street


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