The Quick 10: 10 Facts About Number 10
Number 10 Downing Street, that is. We do a lot of posts about the White House and its notable residents here on the _floss, but not quite as many on their counterparts. We’re looking to even the score a little bit today by featuring 10 on 10 Downing Street, the office and residence (sometimes – read on for more) of the Prime Minister of England.
1. The 300-year-old building contains about 100 rooms, which makes it seem like a shack to Queen Elizabeth II – Buckingham Palace has 775 rooms.
2. The first person to live at Number 10 has his own claim to fame, although he was never Prime Minister. Queen Elizabeth I leased the property to Sir Thomas Knyvet in 1581, whose fame these days is due to the fact that he arrested Guy Fawkes for leading the Gunpowder Plot in 1605.
3. The famous black exterior is actually a farce. When extensive renovations had to happen after WWII, workers discovered that the exterior of the building was actually yellow. A couple of centuries worth of cars and pollution and overpopulation had badly stained the sunny building. Workers restored the bricks to their original bright appearance, but only to remove the grime and decay. As soon as the bricks were cleaned, the building was immediately painted black because that’s the 10 Downing Street the world was familiar with.
4. Despite the fact that 10 Downing Street is often touted as the Prime Minister’s official residence, not all Prime Ministers choose to live exactly there. Tony Blair, for example, decided that 11 Downing Street was a better fit for his family since it’s larger. Current PM Gordon Brown also lived there briefly before moving back to Number 10.
5. The original Downing Street house is basically now just a passageway to the rest of 10 Downing Street. Multiple buildings and residences have been combined to make up the grand dwelling we know today.
6. William Pitt the Younger – who, at the age of 24, was Britain’s youngest prime minister ever – opted to have a facial cyst removed right at Number 10 rather than go to a hospital to have the surgery carried out.
7. There’s a room in the building that changes names depending on what the prime minister decides to paint it. It was the Blue Room when Margaret Thatcher inherited it and changed to the Green Room shortly thereafter. These days it goes by the name “Terracotta Room,” which seems a bit specific. This colorful room is home to much of Number 10’s art collection, borrowed from the Government Art Collection.
8. As you might imagine, the residence and office is full of priceless antiques, art and memorabilia. Winston Churchill wasn’t very impressed with this, though – a grandfather clock in the entryway by famed clockmaker Benson of Whitehall had to be silenced during Churchill’s tenure because the music it played annoyed him so much.
9. Since 1924, 10 Downing Street has “employed” a Chief Mouser to the Cabinet Office – a cat. The latest to serve in this prestigious position was Sybil and she was the pet of Alistair Darling, the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Since she left – some say PM Gordon Brown didn’t particularly care for her – the post has remained vacant.
10. Although Winston Churchill had to vacate the residence part of Number 10 after it nearly suffered a direct hit in a round of bombing during WWII, he refused to give it up entirely. Churchill kept returning to Downing Street to eat and work; a bomb shelter that would hold up to six people was built underneath in case something happened while he was there.