It must be one of the most photographed and filmed front doors globally. The iconic but understated black front door of Number 10 Downing Street – the official residence and executive office of the First Lord of the Treasury (aka the Prime Minister) – features almost daily on TV channels not just across the UK but worldwide.
Number 10 has been the seat of the British Prime Minister since 1735. It may look modest from the front, but behind the façade, it houses an extensive rabbit warren of rooms and staircases that extend left and right into numbers 11 and 12 and is truly the centre of all UK government activities. The building actually contains over 100 rooms, including a banqueting hall, numerous offices and reception rooms, and the official residence for the Prime Minister and his or her family.
10 Downing Street Door Facts
Here’s one lesser-known 10 Downing Street door fact – it hasn’t always been black. Liberal PM Herbert Asquith, who served in power from 1908 to 1916, ordered for the door to be repainted in dark green. When he left office, the door was immediately returned to its original black.
We’re all used to seeing the front door opening and closing whenever someone approaches. The door itself is monitored 24 hours a day. No one actually has a key to the door, and it is never locked. Originally a big black chair was placed by the door, which had a draw underneath that was filled with hot coals to keep the watchman warm in those bitter winters before the installation of central heating. This fact led to the expression ‘in the hot seat.’
If you look carefully, you’ll see that the ‘0’ on the door is slightly wonky. This is a deliberate ‘slip’ in tribute to the original door, which had the number poorly centred.
Is there a 10 Downing Street secret tunnel?
It is a well-known fact that there is a tunnel that links number 10 Downing Street with number 12, running under number 11. But beyond that, there is no official confirmation of any tunnels under Downing Street itself.
The ‘Corridor of Power’ runs from along Whitehall between Downing Street and Westminster Abbey, and below ground level is a warren of rooms (or ‘bunkers’) which have become known as the infamous Churchill War Rooms.
But there are plenty of rumours. Whispers talk about secret tube stations serving Buckingham Palace and tunnels between Downing Street and Buckingham Palace. The truth is we’ll never really know, but it’s great to imagine these things!
Here’s a list of 10 ‘quick facts’ about 10 Downing Street:
In 1877, when Disraeli was Prime Minister, hot and cold running water was installed, as well as a bath!
When Gladstone took over in 1894, Gladstone installed electric lighting and the first telephones.
The letterbox on the front door doesn’t actually open – it is just there for show.
Central heating was first installed in 10 Downing Street in 1937. The night watchman must have been extremely grateful for his ‘hot seat’ up until then!
Nearly 70 years after they were first installed, all electric and telephone systems were replaced in 1963, which was a period of extensive renovation for the building.
1982 (Margaret Thatcher’s first term in office) saw the computerisation of Number 10. The first direct hotline was established between Number 10 and the White House, and there was a wide rollout of microcomputers and microfilm readers.
This was then followed by further computer technology being installed for general use by all working at Number 10 Downing Street.
John Major was the first Prime Minister to use video conferencing during his tenure in office in the nineties (1990-97).
A dedicated video conferencing suite was installed following the 9/11 attacks in New York, highlighting the need for more immediate face-to-face contact with other world powers in times of crisis.
Number 10 sent out its first Tweet in 2008. There have since been literally thousands.
One thing that we can be sure of is that the iconic black front door of Number 10 Downing Street will continue to revolve around incoming and outcoming ministers and prime ministers of every political hue. The constancy of such institutions is what makes London a constant favourite destination for visitors from every corner of the globe.
Westminster is an area of immense interest and intrigue if you are interested in how successive governments wield their power over the United Kingdom and beyond. Our Westminster Tours include a visit to 10 Downing Street. If this is an area you would like to concentrate on, we are more than happy to arrange a private tour focussing on these ‘Corridors of Power.’