Monday, 11 May 2015

Downing Street - The Most Famous Address in the World

The famous front door can only be opened from the inside, lest the PM lock himself out after a night out with the lads


Noun phrase. Late 18th century.
[A street in London containing the official residence of the Prime Minister and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, from Sir George Downing (c. 1624-84), English diplomat and owner of the site.]

The British Government;
the Prime Minister;
the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

10 Downing Street, sometimes referred to as the most famous address in the world, is an example of a metonym, in which a word or name is substituted for something it is closely related to. Therefore, just as one might say 'The White House has issued a statement' to mean that the US government has issued a statement, one can also say 'Downing Street responded swiftly to the crisis' (it is also sometimes expressed simply as Number 10).

As unassuming as it looks from the outside, 10 Downing Street is a fascinatingly enigmatic building, and is considerably bigger than it looks (you can take a virtual tour of its most famous rooms by clicking here). Sir George Downing, who by all accounts was a miserly and thoroughly unpleasant man, acquired leases for the property in 1682, and set about pulling down the existing buildings in order to erect a cul-de-sac of terraced houses. Interested in maximum profits, the houses were shoddily constructed; Winston Churchill would later write that Number 10 was "Shaky and lightly built by the profiteering contractor whose name they bear."

Over the decades, however, Number 10 has been improved upon and renovated numerous times, sporadically serving as the Prime Minister's home since 1735 and continuously since 1902. However, even as late as 2006, surveys questioned whether or not the building was fit for purpose in its current state, with a leaky exterior, dodgy heating and regular power outages cited as major problems. Tony Blair therefore authorised a wide-ranging programme of improvements for the building, work on which continues to this very day.

Have you ever been to Number 10?

Do please leave your most parliamentary comments in the box below.


  1. Very British, isn't it, making the most famous government building in the country look a lot smaller than it is.
    Can't stand swank.

    1. Ha! That's very true, Sally! I'd never thought of it like that.

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