Downing Street

Downing Street is the world famous street in central London which contains the buildings that have been, for over two hundred years, the official residences of two of the most senior British cabinet ministers, the First Lord of the Treasury (an office held by the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom) and the Second Lord of the Treasury, an office held by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The most famous address on Downing Street is 10 Downing Street, the official residence of the First Lord of the Treasury--and thus, in modern times, the residence of the Prime Minister, since the two roles have been filled by the same person.

Downing Street is located in central London beside Whitehall, a couple of minutes' walk from the Houses of Parliament and Buckingham Palace. The street was built by and named after Sir George Downing (1632-1684). Downing was a soldier and diplomat who served under Oliver Cromwell and Charles II. In the service of the King he was rewarded with the plot of land adjoining St James's Park upon which Downing Street now stands. The Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and the Chief Whip all officially live in houses on one side of the street. The houses on the other side were all replaced by the massive Foreign and Commonwealth Office (generally described as the Foreign Office) in the nineteenth century. In the 1950s and 1960s, plans were considered to demolish both the Foreign Office and the rest of Downing Street and build "something more modern". However the plans were never implemented and have long since been abandoned.

The Street: Who Lives Where?


William Ewart Gladstone
Prime Minister in the 1880s and 1890s
moved his family into Numbers 10, 11 & 12.

10 Downing Street is the official residence of the First Lord of the Treasury, and thus the residence of the British Prime Minister, as in modern times, the two roles have been filled by the same person.

11 Downing Street is the home of the Chancellor of the Exchequer,

9 Downing Street was named in 2001 and is the Downing Street entrance to the Privy Council Office and currently houses the Chief Whip's office.

12 Downing Street, formerly the Chief Whip's Office, currently houses the Prime Minister's Press Office, Strategic Communications Unit and Information and Research Unit.

Throughout the history of these houses, ministers have lived by agreement in whatever rooms they thought necessary.

During his last period in office, in 1881, William Gladstone claimed residence in numbers 10, 11 and 12 for himself and his family. This was less of a problem than it might have been had he not been both Chancellor of the Exchequer and Prime Minister at the time.

After the 1997 General Election in which Labour took power, a swap was carried out by the present incumbents of the two titles, Tony Blair being a married man with three children still living at home, whilst his counterpart, Gordon Brown, was unmarried at the time of taking up his post. Although Number 10 continued to be the prime minister's official residence and contain the prime ministerial offices, Blair and his family actually moved into the more spacious Number 11, while Brown lived in the more meagre apartments of Number 10.

In reality, two and a half centuries of use as government residences has led to so much interlinking between the houses that it can be hard to know where one ends and the other one begins.

See Also


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