10 Downing Street
One of the most famous addresses in the world, but how did the leader of the United Kingdom end up living in a rather ordinary-looking London terrace?
Since 1735, 10 Downing Street has been the official residence of the Prime Minister of Great Britain. The building is not as modest as it looks and contains approximately 100 rooms.
A private residence for the officeholder's use occupies the third floor and there is a kitchen in the basement. The other floors contain offices and conference, reception, sitting and dining rooms where the Prime Minister works, and where government ministers, national leaders and foreign dignitaries are met and entertained. At the rear is an interior courtyard and a terrace overlooking a half-acre garden.
10 Downing Street was joined to the more spacious and elegant building behind it in the early 18th century. It has also spread itself out to the left of the front door, and has taken over much of 12 Downing Street, which is accessed by a corridor that runs through 11 Downing Street – the official residence of the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
The earliest known building on the site was a brewery, followed by parts of Henry VIII's Whitehall Palace. The road and the houses upon it were built in 1684 by George Downing who, like many before and since, thought a bit of London property speculation was bound to increase his fortune. In order to maximise profit, the houses were cheaply built, and their arrival was hugely annoying to the aristocrats who lived in grander houses overlooking Horse Guards.
King George II presented both the house on Downing Street and the house behind it overlooking Horse Guards to Sir Robert Walpole, who held the title First Lord of the Treasury and effectively served as the first Prime Minister. Walpole refused the property as a personal gift. Instead, he asked the king to make it available as an official residence to him and to future First Lords of the Treasury – starting the tradition that continues today.
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