Tuesday, 21 February 2012


                                          The real history of Downing Street in London was not always surrounded by the elegant and high society area as it is now. 

The history includes a previous prime minister Spencer Perceval being assassinated. Robert Peel's secretary was shot dead because they mistook him for the PM. 

To begin with Downing Street was in a very doubtful neighbourhood which was full of shabby brothels, gin parlours and violent criminals. In the nearby Jermyn Street were flagellation clubs. In St James's Street high society Ladies could buy early varieties of sex toys imported from Italy.

At that time the area where Downing Street is now was just a piece of land leased to George Downing by the Crown at the end of 17th century. He was quite a bit of a 'personality'. George Downing was a British Diplomat from Dublin who had formerly been Oliver Cromwell's intelligence chief and a spy master. When Oliver Cromwell's government fell George Downing happened to make friend with Charles II and his son James I. That really is a diplomat.

George Downing was shrewd and calculating. Surprise, surprise he had a reputation for double dealings. The famous diarist Samuel Pepe called him a 'perfidious rogue' and an 'ungrateful villain' for having been a turncoat. He not only switch sides from the Roundheads to save his own skin but he sold his former friends.

Downing told King Charles II, when he returned to the throne, that he realized he was all wrong. He blamed his former republicanism on being educated at Havard University in America. He was one who first graduated in 1642. Although Downing was one of the leading men overthrowing the monarchy and was part of the execution of Charles I.
He accumulated a great private fortune first from the republican and then from his royal master. Although the King wasn't all that keen on him but he used him to get back onto the path and to the monarchy.
In 1654 George Downing managed to get hold of a piece of valuable land right next to ST James's Park. He got it more as a grace-and-favour than paying the full price. He built a street of red brick houses there called Downing Street.
Shrewd as he was; he saw the potential of being close to House of Parliament and this would make future prime ministers and chancellors wanting to live close by. His calculation was dead right but it took him 30 years to build on the land. The lease of the land belonged to a powerful family Knyvet and they owned an old mansion next to where 10 Downing Street is today.
Eventually when George Downing was able to build his house he died soon after, in 1684. The Countess of Yarmouth lived there in No 10 from 1688 to 1689. Lord Lansdowne live there from 1692 to 1692 and Earl of Grantham from 1699 to 1703



In 1721 the first Prime Minister Sir Robert Walpole moved in there. As a matter of fact, he was only the "first Lord of the Treasury" but official he was the first prime minister. King George II gave the house to him as a reward for stabilising the economy. He also established the Hanoverian Monarchy.  Walpole accepted it as a gift for the office holder but not for himself. He demanded that the house should only be used for that. Mind you, his generosity had also a reason; he was previously found out for corruption. He had no choice but to turn it down.
The next two prime ministers lived in their own home. When Lord North became prime minister he declared No 10 Downing Street as the official home. He made improvement to house such as putting the lion's head on the door and the famous checkerboard floor in the hall.
Today Downing Street is a great rambling house. It was joined up with the house behind it and several rooms added. It has a small dining room, a large state dining room for 65, a kitchen with a 20th high window, a garden room, a state drawing room, a white-drawing room which was Lady Walpole's sitting room, A Cabinet room which was Sir Robert Walpole study and a wonderful staircase.
The house started to be neglected because the Duke of Wellington, Lord Melbourne and Viscount Palmerstone lived in their own home.
In 1870 Disreali renovated the house in a grand Victorian manner. Gladstone modernised it and put in electricity, telephone and broke through to No 11 and 12. Neville Chamberlain put central heating in 1937.
However, many prime ministers would not have thanked Downing because it was not always a comfortable.

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