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10 Downing Street

10 Downing Street (46)

Number 10 Downing Street is the official residence of the prime minister of Great Britain. Even though on many occasions you will have seen on television the austere façade of dark bricks, access to the street was restricted to the public in 1990 to ensure the safety of the head of the government and his or her family.  

The origin of this street dates back to the 17th century, and specifically to the figure of the spy and diplomat George Downing. Downing, who had grown up in New England and was one of the first graduates of Harvard, returned to England to take part in the Civil War. Around 1650 he was one of Cromwell’s main collaborators. However, once the monarchy had been re-established, he had no qualms about betraying the parliamentarians and offering his services to Charles II.

After buying this land close to Hampden House and the palace of Whitehall, he undertook the property development that would become what today is Downing Street. The street was marked out between 1663 and 1671. Downing, keen to obtain the maximum profits possible, specified his project in two rows of houses built of a more than dubious quality. Today, only 4 of these properties remain standing, although they have been the object of many reforms.

In 1732, number 10 Downing Street was granted by King George II to Sir Robert Walpole, considered the first political leader in Great Britain to undertake the functions of a Prime Minister. Nevertheless, Walpole did not want to accept the property as a personal gift and asked the king that it be used as residence for future heads of the government.

Today, the property combines the P.M.’s offices with their private rooms. On the one hand, the Cabinet Room is where the direction the country takes is decided, and on the other, on the second floor lives the Prime Minister’s family. Margaret Thatcher said that it was like living above the shop. Both the public spaces and private rooms of the Prime Minister have been reformed on several occasions. Notable here are the improvements undertaken in the 19th century during the mandates of Disraeli and Gladstone.

A traditional spot for protest movements, such as the Suffragettes who fought for votes for women in the early 20th century, the number of historic events that have taken place inside number 10 Downing Street is vast. To mention just two, Great Britain’s strategy in the two world wars was planned from here.  

In Downing Street there are other buildings with leading roles in British politics. Number 11 is the official residence of the Chancellor, while at number 12 is the Government Whips’ Office, an important organisation of parliamentary control. On the other side of the street is the Foreign Office. You thus find yourself in an area of great importance and relevance in world politics.

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