10 London sites associated with Sir Winston Churchill – 4. 10 Downing Street…
March 4, 2015
Sir Winston Churchill lived a number of residences in London but, of course, the most famous in its own right is the traditional home of British PMs, 10 Downing Street.
Located in a short street just off Whitehall (now closed to the public), the property has been home to Prime Ministers since Sir Robert Walpole, officially First Lord of the Treasury but effectively the first PM, took up residence in 1735.
Churchill moved in following his election to the office of Prime Minister in 1940 and he and his wife Clementine took up residence in a second floor flat. It was in this property where, cigar in hand, he is famously known to have dictated speeches and letters to his secretary while propped up in bed.
The building suffered some bomb damage during the Blitz – on 14th October, 1940, a bomb fell on nearby Treasury Green and damaged the home’s kitchen and state rooms. Three civil servants doing Home Guard duty were killed but the kitchen staff were saved thanks to Churchill who, dining in the Garden Rooms when the bombing raid began, ordered them to leave their duties and get into a bomb shelter.
The Garden Rooms – which included a bedroom, meeting area and the small dining room – were subsequently reinforced with steel and heavy metal shutters although these apparently would have made little difference had there been a direct hit.
Cabinet moved out of Number 10 into the underground bunker complex now referred to as the Churchill War Rooms (see last week’s post) in October, 1939, and, after several near misses, the Churchills – Sir Winston apparently very begrudgingly – moved into the Number 10 Annex above the war rooms in 1940 (although Churchill continued to visit Number 1o for working and dining).
Much of the furniture and valuables were removed from Number 10 and only the Garden Rooms, Cabinet Room and Private Secretaries’ office remained in use (along with a reinforced bomb shelter built underneath – King George VI is known to have sheltered here when he was dining with Churchill when a raid began).
At the end of the war the Churchills quickly moved back into Number 10 and it was from the Cabinet Room that he made his Victory in Europe (VE) Day broadcast on 8th May, 1945.
He vacated the premises after his election defeat later in 1945 but returned when re-elected PM in 1951 and left after he resigned in 1955 having held a dinner party attended by Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip the night before.
A couple of interesting facts about Churchill’s time at number 10: Churchill had many pets who usually had free rein in the house – even at 10 Downing Street his poodle Rufus was known to have wandered into a meeting in the Cabinet Room (before he was ejected) – while in 1958, Georgina Landemare, the cook during his time at number 10, famously published a book, Recipes from No. 10, which featured an introduction by Churchill’s wife, Clementine.
There are apparently two portraits of Churchill among those of other PMs which grace the wall of the Grand Staircase.
For more on the history of 10 Downing Street, see www.gov.uk/government/history/10-downing-street