With the recent change at 10 Downing Street – David Cameron out/Theresa May in – we thought it a good time to look back at when the man considered Britain’s first PM moved in.
Sir Robert Walpole, commonly considered Britain’s first Prime Minister although he was never formally known by that title, was actually First Lord of the Treasury when in early 1730s King George II presented him with the terrace house at 10 Downing Street, off Whitehall, and the large mansion behind it (in fact the title of ‘First Lord of the Treasury’ can still be seen inscribed on the brass letter-box on the property’s front door).
Sir Robert accepted the king’s gift, but only on condition that it be made available to all future First Lords of the Treasury And he didn’t move in until 22nd September, 1735, having had architect William Kent join the terrace house with the mansion behind it before doing so.
Kent had joined the houses on two levels with the main entrance facing onto Downing Street instead of Horse Guards. The Walpoles would live at the back of the new house where Kent had created a series of grand rooms – suitable for receiving honoured guests – and had built an unusual three sided staircase which remains a star sight of the building today.
Walpole used the ground floor of the new property for business and set-up his study in what is now the Cabinet Room. Lady Walpole used the upstairs room now known as the White Drawing Room as her sitting room and what is now called the Terracotta Room (although the name of this room changes with the colour scheme) as the dining room.
Among those who attended 10 Downing Street during the Walpole’s residency were luminaries such as Queen Caroline (wife of King George II) as well as prominent politicians, writers and military figures.
The Walpoles left in 1742 and it was more than 20 years later before another First Lord of the Treasury moved in.
PICTURE: Sergeant Tom Robinson RLC/ Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0.
June 1, 2015
It’s not often that we feature living people in ‘Famous Londoners’, but this prominent figure, albeit not a human, deserves special mention.
A resident of Number 10 Downing Street in Whitehall, Larry the cat is officially Chief Mouser to the Cabinet Office – a position for which he has won accolades (and, at times, reproaches, for a seeming lack of action in the face of invasion – this includes, most recently the arrival of a heron at the residence, with Larry nowhere to be found).
Larry arrived at Downing Street (then home to Conservative PM David Cameron) in February, 2011, then a four-year-old tabby who came from the Battersea Dogs & Cats Home in south London and was apparently recruited to deal with a rodent problem after they were spotted in news broadcasts behind correspondents. It was June, some four months later, before he apparently made his first kill.
Larry has had an at times prickly relationship with the media – it started soon after his arrival at Downing Street when he scratched ITV reporter Lucy Manning who was trying to get him to pose for a news item (you can see it here).
He’s also apparently had some run-ins with visiting dignitaries – although US President Barack Obama apparently was able to stroke him without incident – and with Freya, Chancellor George Osborne’s cat (who has since been exiled to Kent).
Larry isn’t the first cat to live at Downing Street – his predecessors include Wilberforce who lived there for 18 years during the tenure of PMs including Edward Heath, Harold Wilson, Jim Callaghan, and Margaret Thatcher, and Humphrey, who served Ms Thatcher, John Major and, briefly Tony Blair, before he retired in 1997. But Larry is the first who has officially held the title of Chief Mouser to the Cabinet Office.
PICTURE: HM Government (via Wikipedia).
April 27, 2015
One of the most famous streets (and photographed) in London (though sadly not open to the public), Downing Street in Whitehall is these days most well-known for being the location, at Number 10, of the official residence of the British Prime Minister.
But Downing Street’s history dates back to a time before the first British PM moved in (this was Sir Robert Walpole in the 1735 and even after that, it didn’t become a regular thing for Prime Ministers to live here until the Twentieth century). And its name bears testimony to its creator, Sir George Downing, a soldier and diplomat described as “a miserly and at times brutal” man who served first under both Oliver Cromwell and, following the Restoration, King Charles II (and was, coincidentally, one of the first graduates of Harvard University).
In the 1650s, Sir George took over the Crown’s interest in land here, just east of St James’s Park, and intended to build a row of townhouses upon it. His ambitions were delayed, however, due to an existing lease with the descendants of Elizabethan courtier Sir Thomas Knyvet who had once lived in a large home on the site of what is now Number 10 Downing Street.
By the 1680s, however, the lease had expired and between 1682-84, Downing was able to construct a cul-de-sac, closed at the St James’s Park end, featuring either 15 or 20 two storey terraced townhouses with stables and coach-houses, designed by no less than Sir Christopher Wren.
While the homes were apparently of shoddy craftsmanship and stood upon poor foundations (Churchill famously wrote that Number 10 was “shaky and lightly built by the profiteering contractor whose name they bear”), the street apparently attracted some notable residents from the start.
These included the Countess of Yarmouth, who briefly lived at Number 10 in the late 1680s, Lord Lansdowne and the Earl of Grantham, and even, briefly, apparently the diarist James Boswell in the mid 1700s. Downing himself isn’t thought to have ever lived here – he retired to Cambridge a few months after the houses were completed.
The houses between Number 10 and Whitehall – on the north side of the street – were taken over by the government and eventually demolished in the 1820s to allow for the construction of offices for the Privy Council, Board of Trade and Treasury while the houses on the south side remained until they were demolished in the early 1860s to make way for the Foreign, India, Colonial and Home Offices.
The numbers in the street have changed since Downing’s houses were first built. Of the original homes in the street only Number 10 (home of the PM) and Number 11 (home of the Chancellor of the Exchequer) survive.
Access to the street has been restricted since the 1980s with the current black steel gates put in place in 1989.
An underground tunnel apparently runs under the street connecting number 10 with Buckingham Palace and the underground bunker, Q-Whitehall, built in the 1950s in the event of nuclear war.
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
This Week in London – London’s garden squares open their gates; World War I comics; and, exploring the Science Museum’s garbage…
June 12, 2014
• London Open Garden Squares Weekend will see more than 200 “hidden and little known” gardens swing their gates open to the public this Saturday and Sunday. Featuring 20 more gardens than last year’s event, the gardens range from classic London square parks to rooftop gardens, community allotments and ecology centres as well as gardens attached to restaurants and historic properties. They include Highbury Square – former home of the Arsenal Football Club, Barnsbury Wood – London’s smallest nature reserve, the Cordwainers community garden in Hackney, Garden Barge Square which will see a floating garden created on the decks of barges, the garden at the PM’s home of number 10 Downing Street, and The Roof Gardens, located above the former Derry & Toms department store in Kensington. One £12 ticket gains access to all gardens (excepting those with special conditions) while National Trust members are half-price and children under 12 go free. For more and a full programme of open gardens, head to www.opensquares.org.
• Comics created during World War I are the focus of a new exhibition which opened at the Cartoon Museum in Bloomsbury this week. Never Again! World War I in Cartoon and Comic Art features works by British cartoonists Alfred Leete, Bruce Bairnsfather, William Heath Robinson and Donald McGill and includes more than 300 images ranging from political and joke cartoons taken from newspapers and periodicals and children’s comics to comic cigarette cards and publications produced in the trenches by serving soldiers. There are also some more recent works such as the 1980s comic strip Charley’s War and drawings from the Horrible Histories series. The exhibition runs until 19th October. Admission charge applies. For more, see www.cartoonmuseum.org.
• Explore the world of garbage in this new exhibition opening at the Science Museum in South Kensington on Monday. The Rubbish Collection aims to use 30 days worth of the Science Museum’s waste to “expose the beauty, value and volume of what we call ‘rubbish'”. Visitors are able to take part by collecting, sorting and documenting the rubbish generated by the museum which will then be photographed by artist Joshua Sofaer before going on to be processed for recycling or to generate electricity. During a second phase of the exhibition, Sofaer will bring the rubbish back into the museum at different stages of processing. The exhibition is part of the museum’s Climate Changing programme. Runs until 14th September. For more, see www.sciencemuseum.org.uk.
Around London – ‘Hidden Treasures’; Open House programme; and the Isabella Plantation celebrates 60 years…
August 15, 2013
• Hidden Treasures – the national initiative to celebrate the UK’s museum and archive collections – kicks off for its second year next Thursday, 22nd August, and runs over the bank holiday weekend until 27th August. Among the London institutions taking part this year are the British Library, the British Postal Museum and Archive in Houghton, the Museum of the Order of St John in Clerkenwell (pictured) and Orleans House Gallery in Twickenham. Hidden Treasures is an initiative of the Collections Trust and the Independent newspaper. All events are free but some have to be pre-booked and have limited spaces so make sure you check out the details at www.hiddentreasures.org.uk/?page_id=118.
• The programme for Open House London – held over the weekend of 21st and 22nd September – will be made available online from today (or alternatively you can order a hard copy via the Open House London website). It’s important to note that a few of the buildings involved can only be entered by those successful in a ballot – they include 10 Downing Street, The View from The Shard, EDF Energy London Eye and Gray’s Inn. Head to the website – www.londonopenhouse.org – to enter the ballots which close on 13th September.
• The Isabella Plantation – a 40 acre ornamental woodland garden located in the south west area of Richmond Park – is celebrating 60 years since its creation and they’ve kicked off a fortnight’s programme of free events community to mark the occasion. The events, which will be focused around the yurt by Peg’s Pond in the plantation, include guided walks, a showcase of art for young people and a Teddy Bears picnic on the bank holiday weekend. One of the most visited parts of Richmond Park, the plantation is home to the Wilson 50 National Collection of Evergreen Azaleas, more than 150 hardy hybrid Rhododendrons, 50 species of Rhododendron and a large collection of camellias and magnolia as well as many rare and unusual trees and shrubs. While the plantation can be dated as far back as 1771 (then named Isabella Slade), it was planted for timber in 1831, and in 1953 the present garden was established and the old name Isabella adopted for it. For more on the events, see www.royalparks.org.uk.
• As Muslims mark the end of Ramadan this weekend, the festival of Eid-ul-Fitr will be celebrated in Trafalgar Square on Saturday. As well as the chance to sample foods from across the Islamic world, there will also be entertainment on stage, exhibitions and children’s activities. The festival, put on by the Mayor of London Boris Johnson, runs between 1.30pm and 6pm. For more, see www.london.gov.uk/eid.
• On Now: Take One Picture – Discover, Imagine, Explore: Children Inspired by Willem Kalf. This display at the National Gallery focuses on Willem Kalf’s Still Life with Drinking-Horn (about 1653) and features alongside it responsive works created by children from 25 schools across the UK and as far afield as Turkey with works from other schools captured in a slide-show. Located at the Annenberg Court (Getty Entrance), admission is free. Runs until 12th September. For more, see www.nationalgallery.org.uk.
Thousands turned out for the Open Garden Squares Weekend in London earlier this month when more than 200 of London’s private, hidden, unusual or little known gardens – including those at Eccleston Square in Pimlico, pictured above – threw open their gates to the curious public. Among the highlights of this year’s weekend was the chance to see the gardens at 10 Downing Street (more than 40,000 people applied for the 40 places) which also included a tour of the house. Next year’s event will be held on 14th and 15th June. For more, see www.opensquares.org.
PICTURE: Courtesy of Open Garden Squares Weekend.
Around London – Open gardens; new gates mark St Paul’s tercentenary; a new Olympics trail; and, truces at the IWM…
June 7, 2012
• If you’re not too exhausted after last weekend’s Diamond Jubilee festivities (or if you’re looking for something a little more sedate), this Saturday and Sunday London plays host to Open Garden Squares Weekend. Among the 208 gardens to be opened this weekend is the communal garden at Number 10 Downing Street, home of Prime Minister David Cameron. Laid out in 1736, the L-shaped garden at 10 Downing Street is shared by residents of both Number 10 and Number 11, including Larry, the Downing Street cat (tickets for this garden have already been allocated via a ballot process). Among the more than 200 gardens open to the public as part of the weekend are 24 new gardens and, for the first time, the event is being supported by the National Trust (along with the usual organisers, the London Parks and Gardens Trust). Downing Street aside, other gardens open to the public include the Regent’s Park Allotment Garden, the Royal College of Physicians’ Medicinal Garden, the Kensington Roof Gardens, and the gardens at HMP Wormwood Scrubs. Tickets for the gardens are cheaper if bought online in advance of the weekend and picked up on Saturday or Sunday – it’s not too late to do so, so for tickets and more information, head to www.opensquares.org.
• A new pair gates designed to mark St Paul’s Cathedral’s tercentenary were opened in Richmond Park for the first time last week. The gates, which now form part of the historic vista seen from King Henry’s Mound in Richmond Park when looking toward’s St Paul’s Cathedral, were designed by 21-year-old blacksmith Joshua De Lisle and funded through a donation from the family of family of the late environmentalist and The Ecologist magazine founder Edward Goldsmith. Called ‘The Way’, the gates stand on the fence of Sidmouth Woods, and depict oak branches. Sir Christopher Wren, designer of St Paul’s, is acknowledged through the inclusion of a wren on one of the lower branches. For more on the Royal Parks, see www.royalparks.org.uk.
• Now On: Winning at the ancient Games. The British Museum is celebrating the London Olympics with a victory trail bringing together 12 “star objects” in its collection, united by the theme of winning. The ‘stops’ on the trail include a classical Greek statue of a winning charioteer on special loan from Sicily, a previously never exhibited mosaic showing Hercules, the legendary founder of the ancient Games, and the 2012 Olympic Medals. The trail is free. For more information, see www.britishmuseum.org.
• Now On: Build the Truce. Drawing on the idea of truce that was implemented during the ancient Olympic Games to allow athletes from Greece’s warring cities to compete, this new display at the Imperial War Museum features films, interviews and insights collected during a project investigating the concepts of truce, conflict and resolution and their relevance in the 21st century. Highlights include excerpts of interviews with former IRA prisoner Seanna Walsh and former UDA prisoner Jackie McDonald -both now involved in peace initiatives in Northern Ireland, Courtny Edwards, who worked with a health service in displaced persons’ camps following civil war in Sierra Leone; and Professor Tony Redmond, who led aid teams in Kosovo following NATO attacks in 1999. Family activities are being run in conjunction with the exhibition on selected weekends. Entry is free. Runs until 23rd September. For more, see www.iwm.org.uk.