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The Cabinet Room
In Kent's design for the enlarged
Number 10, the Cabinet Room was a simple rectangular space with enormous
windows. As part of the renovations begun in 1783, the Cabinet Room
was extended, giving the space its modern appearance. Probably not completed
until 1796, this alteration was achieved by removing the east wall and
rebuilding it several feet inside the adjoining secretaries' room. At
the entrance, a screen of two pairs of Corinthian columns was erected
(to carry the extra span of the ceiling) supporting a moulded entablature
that wraps around the room. The resulting small space, framed by the
pillars, serves as an anteroom to the larger area. Hendrick Danckerts'
painting "The Palace of Whitehall (shown at the beginning of this
article) usually hangs in the ante-room. Robert Taylor, the architect
who executed this concept, was knighted on its completion.
Although Kent intended the
First Lord to use this space as his study, it has rarely served that
purpose; it has almost always been the Cabinet room. Painted off-white
with large floor to ceiling windows along one of the long walls, the
room is light and airy. Three brass chandeliers hang from the high ceiling.
The Cabinet table, purchased during the Gladstone era, dominates the
room. The modern boat-shaped top, introduced by Harold MacMillan in
the late 1950s, is supported by huge original oak legs. The table is
usually surrounded by twenty-three carved, solid mahogany chairs that
also date from the Gladstone era. The Prime Minister's chair, the only
one with arms, is situated midway along one side in front of the marble
fireplace, facing the windows; when not in use, it is positioned at
an angle for easy access. The only picture in the room is a copy of
a portrait of Sir Robert Walpole by Jean-Baptiste van Loo hanging over
the fireplace. Each Cabinet member is allocated a chair based on order
of seniority. Blotters inscribed with their titles mark their places.
Former US President Ronald Reagan was the first non-Cabinet member to
sit at the table during a Cabinet meeting. The Cabinet Room also acts
as a library; outgoing Prime Ministers traditionally donate to the collection.
The First Lord has no designated
space in Number 10; each has chosen one of the adjoining rooms as his
Prime Minister Gordon Brown and US President Barack Obama in the Pillared
The Pillared State Drawing
Number 10 has three inter-linked
State Drawing rooms: the Pillared Room, the Terracotta Room and the
White Drawing Room.
The largest is the Pillared
Room thought to have been created in 1796 by Taylor. Measuring 37 feet
(11 m) long by 28 feet (8.5 m) wide, it takes its name from the twin
Ionic pilasters with straight pediments at one end. Today, there is
a portrait of Queen Elizabeth I over the fireplace; during the Thatcher
Ministry (1979–1990), a portrait of William Pitt by Romney was hung
A Persian carpet covers almost
the entire floor. A copy of a 16th century original now kept in the
Victoria and Albert Museum, there is an inscription woven into it that
reads: "I have no refuge in the world other than thy threshold.
My head has no protection other than this porchway. The work of a slave
of the holy place, Maqsud of Kashan in the year 926" (the Moslem
year corresponding to 1520).
In the restoration conducted
in the late 1980s, Quinlan Terry restored the fireplace. Executed in
the Kentian style, the small Ionic pilasters in the overmantle are miniature
duplicates of the large ones in the room. He also added ornate Baroque-style
central ceiling mouldings and corner mouldings of the four national
flowers of the United Kingdom: rose (England), thistle (Scotland), daffodil
(Wales) and shamrock (Northern Ireland).
Sparsely furnished with a few
chairs and sofas around the walls, the Pillared Room is usually used
to receive guests before they go into the State Dining Room. However,
it is sometimes used for other purposes that require a large open space.
International agreements have been signed in this room. Tony Blair entertained
the England Rugby Union team in the Pillared Room after they won the
World Cup in 2003. And, John Logie Baird gave Ramsey MacDonald a demonstration
of his invention, the television, in this room. (See The Pillared Drawing
The Terracotta Room
The modern Terracotta Room
was used as the dining room when Sir Robert Walpole was Prime Minister.
The name of this room changes according to the colour it is painted.
When Margaret Thatcher came to power it was the Blue Room and she had
it re-decorated and re-named the Green Room. It is now painted terracotta.
There are many famous works of art in this room, on loan from the Government
An ornate gilded ceiling was
added during the 1989 renovation by Quinlan Terry to give the rooms
a more stately look. Carved into in the plasterwork above the door leading
to the Pillared Room is a tribute to Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher:
a straw-carrying 'thatcher'.
The White Drawing Room
The White Drawing room was,
until the 1940s, used by Prime Ministers and their wives for their private
use. It was here that Edward Heath kept his grand piano. The room contains
works by one of the most important English landscape painters of the
nineteenth century, J M W Turner. Now it is often used as the backdrop
for television interviews and is in regular use as a meeting room for
Downing Street staff. The room links through to the Terracotta Room
A notable feature of the room
is the bronze statuette of Florence Nightingale (on loan from the Silver
Trust). It is a reduced version of the Crimean Memorial in Waterloo
Place in London, erected in 1915, commemorating the nurse's heroic work
during the British victory in the Crimean War.
The State Dining Room
When Frederick Robinson (later
Lord Goderich), became Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1823, he decided
to leave a personal legacy to the nation. To this end, he employed Sir
John Soane, the distinguished architect who had designed the Bank of
England and many other famous buildings, to build a State Dining Room
for Number 10. Begun in 1825 and completed in 1826 at a cost of £2,000,
the result is a spacious room with oak panelling and reeded mouldings.
Accessed through the first floor, its vaulted, arched ceiling rises
up through the next so that it actually occupies two floors. Measuring
42 feet (13 m) by 26 feet (7.9 m), it is the largest room in Number
10. First used on 4 April 1826, Soane was the guest of honour.
The room is usually furnished
with a table surrounded by 20 reproduction Adam style chairs originally
made for the British Embassy in Rio de Janeiro. For larger gatherings,
a horseshoe-shaped table is brought in that will accommodate up to 65
guests. On these occasions, the table is set with the Silver Trust Silver
set given to Downing Street in the 1990s. (See the State Dining room
with the Silver Trust Silver in use for a luncheon) Above the fireplace,
overlooking the room, is a massive portrait by John Shackleton of George
II, the king who originally gave the building to the First Lord of the
Treasury in 1732. Celebrity chefs such as Nigella Lawson have cooked
for Prime Ministers' guests using the small kitchen next door. Entering
through the Small Dining Room, Blair used this room for his monthly
press conferences.(See Simon Schama's Tour of Downing Street. Pt 3:
The Dining Room See also The State Dining Room c1930: View toward the
entrance and View from the entrance)
The Great Kitchen
The great kitchen located in
the basement was another part of the renovations begun in 1783, probably
also under the direction of Robert Taylor. Seldom seen by anyone other
than staff, the space is two storeys high with a huge arched window
and vaulted ceiling. Traditionally, it has always had a chopping block
work table in the centre that is 14 feet (4.3 m) long, 3 feet (0.91
m) wide and 5 inches (130 mm) thick. (See The Kitchen c1930 View showing
the table, window and ceiling)
The Small Dining or Breakfast
Above Taylor's vaulted kitchen, between the Pillared Room and the State Dining room, Soane created a Smaller Dining Room (sometimes called the Breakfast Room) that still exists. To build it, Soane removed the chimney from the kitchen to put a door in the room. He then moved the chimney to the east side, running a Y-shaped split flue inside the walls up either side of one of the windows above. The room therefore has a unique architectural feature: over the fireplace there is a window instead of the usual chimney breast.
During the 1990s, Prime Minister Thatcher used this room as a gallery for British scientists. There was a bust of Sir Isaac Newton on the window sill above the fireplace and on the walls portraits of Joseph Priestley, Humphrey Davy and Edmund Halley.
With its flat unadorned ceiling,
simple mouldings and deep window seats, the Small Dining Room is intimate
and comfortable. Usually furnished with a mahogany table seating only
eight, Prime Ministers have often used this room when dining with family
or when entertaining special guests on more personal state occasions.(See
the Small Dining or Breakfast Room c1927. The double doors behind the
table lead to the State Dining Room.)
The Terrace and Garden
The terrace and garden were
constructed in 1736 shortly after Walpole moved into Number 10. The
terrace, extending across the back, provides a full view of St James's
Park. The garden is dominated by an open lawn of 0.5 acres (2,000 m2)
that wraps around Numbers 10 and 11 in an L-shape. No longer "fitted
with variety Walle fruit and diverse fruit trees" as it was in
the 17th century, there is now a centrally located flower bed around
a holly tree surrounded by seats. Tubs of flowers line the steps from
the terrace; around the walls are rose beds with flowering and evergreen
shrubs. (See North elevation of Number Ten with steps leading to the
garden) The terrace and garden have provided a casual setting for many
gatherings of First Lords with foreign dignitaries, Cabinet ministers,
guests, and staff. Prime Minister Tony Blair, for example, hosted a
farewell reception in 2007 for his staff on the terrace. John Major
announced his 1995 resignation as leader of the Conservative Party in
the 'rose garden'. Churchill called his secretaries the "garden
girls" because their offices overlook the garden. The rose garden
was also the location of the first press conference announcing the Coalition
Government between David Cameron's Conservatives and Nick Clegg's Liberal
Until the late 19th century,
Prime Ministers were required to furnish Number 10 at their own expense.
This arrangement began to change when Benjamin Disraeli took up residency
in November 1877. The house had not been used as the Prime Minister's
home for thirty years. Although the Treasury paid for the cost of repairs,
as it had done in the past, Disraeli now insisted it should also bear
the cost of furnishings at least in the public areas. He pointed out
that this had been the practice at Number 11, the official residence
of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, for twenty five years. The Treasury
agreed and a practice similar to the one used for the tenant of Number
11 was developed for the tenant of Number 10. A memo dated 30 May 1878
defined as public places the entrance hall, staircase and first floor
rooms (including the Cabinet room), and specified that these should
be furnished at the state's expense. All other areas were defined as
private, and the furnishings in them purchased by the prime minister.
When a new prime minister moved in, an inventory would be taken of the
furniture, together with an estimate of its value. To this list would
be added the cost of additional furnishings requested by the new occupant
and the cost of repairs made to furniture during his occupancy. On leaving,
the outgoing Prime Minister would then pay for wear and tear, determined
by subtracting the value of the furniture at that time from the initial
This complex procedure was
used until November 1897. Since then, the state has purchased and maintained
all furnishings in Number 10, even in the private residency. Prime Ministers
bring only their personal belongings.
10 Downing Street
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