Point of Interest

Downing Street

England / Europe

The official residence, office and entertaining space of the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. The site of the most important political decisions affecting Britain to have been made for the last 275 years. Famous for its impressive three sides stairwell, chequered floorboards and Larry, the first cat to be bestowed with the title of Chief Mouser. The earliest recorded building to have existed on this land was the Axe brewery in the Middle Ages before it fell into ruin by the 1500s. Sir George Downing, British Ambassador to the Hague in 1657, bought the land for investment properties and employed Sir Christopher Wren to design 15-20 houses for it. However Downing did not build strong foundations on the marshy ground, with even Winston Churchill later commenting that Number 10 was ‘shaky and lightly built.’ Originally Number 10 was actually house number 5, and the building now known as Downing Street is made up of both Downing’s original house plus a more grand house behind it (once the home of Charles II’s daughter the Countess of Lichfield, and built in 1677) with views over Horse Guard Parade. The last known resident of Number 10 was Mr Chicken, a man of mystery of which only his name is known. After he moved out in 1732, King George II gifted it to Sir Robert Walpole, First Lord of the Treasury whom refused it as personal gift instead requesting it be made available for all future First Lords of the Treasury (the title before Prime Minister came in to fashion in the early 1900s). The letterbox on the front door still contains the inscription of this title. It was when Arthur Balfour became Prime Minister in 1902 that started the precedent that Prime Ministers were expected to reside behind the black door of 10 Downing Street. 

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