“ Downing Street is the famous street in central London which contains the buildings that have been, for over two hundred years, the official residences of two of the most senior British cabinet ministers, the First Lord of the Treasury, an office held by the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, and the Second Lord of the Treasury, an office held by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The most famous address in Downing Street is 10 Downing Street, the official residence of the First Lord of the Treasuryand thus, in modern times, the residence of the Prime Minister, since the two roles have been filled by the same person. As a result of this "Downing Street" or "Number 10" is often used as short-hand for the Prime Minister or their office, whilst "Number 11" is likewise a term for the Chancellor of the Exchequer or their office. Downing Street is located in Whitehall in central London, a few minutes' walk from the Houses of Parliament and on the edge of the grounds of Buckingham Palace. The street was built by and named after Sir George Downing, 1st Baronet (16321689). Downing was a soldier and diplomat who served under Oliver Cromwell and King Charles II. In the service of the King he was rewarded with the plot of land adjoining St. James's Park upon which Downing Street now stands. The Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and the Chief Whip all officially live in houses on one side of the street. The houses on the other side were all replaced by the massive Foreign Office in the nineteenth century. In the 1950s and 1960s, plans were considered to demolish both the Foreign Office and the rest of Downing Street and build "something more modern". However the plans were never implemented and have long since been abandoned. „
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Number Ten Downing Street is like fish 'n chips, an icon of Britishness, which I'm sure must count as one of our best-known landmarks among tourists. After all, it is the official residence of the Prime Minister and contains the Cabinet Room, where the rules that govern our country are decided.
Unfortunately, despite its significance it is one that you cannot visit in the usual sense of the word, like any other attraction in London. Unlike Buckingham Palace, there isn't a shop nearby where you can buy a souvenir bookmark!
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There is a replica of its famous façade at Granada Studios in Manchester which they use as a film or TV backdrop.
- WHAT CAN YOU SEE? -
The first thing you'll notice are a pair of heavy black iron gates and policemen standing by. Jostle with a few tourists and you can take a snap to remind you of your visit.
You will see Number 10 (side on) in the distance in a quiet, quaint and unassuming Georgian street that in many ways, I think, sums up the British political system - anachronistic and grey. From time to time you may see cars enter, the police check the undersides of them for hidden explosives, and bollards in the street raise to allow them to leave. But that's about all. Occasionally there are organised demonstrations in the nearby street.
When I was on a school trip in the eighties we were lucky to be allowed to go through the iron gates and see the famous door from a few metres away. We weren't there to hand in a petition or anything like that, just visiting it along with other attractions like St Paul's Cathedral and Trafalgar Square.
Soon after, it seems, the place was declared of bounds to all but those you have special permission to do so. With security a top priority at the moment it seems sure to stay that way for the foreseeable future.
- TRAVEL TIPS -
I would suggest that Number 10 is of momentary interest to most tourists; somewhere you can stop off for a few minutes to say you've visited it. You can play the waiting game to see if any famous politicians turn up, but you'll soon get bored.
A suggested walk is from Trafalgar Square (Charing Cross Underground station) down Whitehall. Along the way you will pass by other Governmental offices including the Ministry of Defence, Foreign and Commonwealth Office and The Treasury.
You could stop off at Horse Guards parade, where you can have your photo taken with one of the horse guards or go to the Cabinet War Rooms. From there you are about half way to the House of Parliament (near to Westminster Underground) where you see Big Ben and visit Westminster Abbey (opposite). If you wish, you can queue to get visitor's ticket to sit in on a House of Commons debate, from the Strangers' Gallery - but be prepared to wait a couple of hours. You could, of course, do the walk in reverse.
- USEFUL INFO -
Downing Street is near Westminster Underground Station and is not open to the public.
*This review was previously published by myself at Ciao under the name simoncjones*