History and Tour

Pelham to Pitt

After Walpole left in 1742, it was over 20 years before another First Lord of the Treasury moved in.

Walpole’s successors saw the house as a perk of the job, which they could hand over to fellow politicians, family and friends. And prime ministers Henry Pelham (1743-54) and the Duke of Newcastle (1754-56 and 1757-62) preferred to live in their own residences.

A house under siege

The Gordon Riots of 1780, with the grenadier guards inspecting the protesting mobIt wasn’t until 1763 that the next prime minister took up residence. George Grenville was there for only two years, as he was sacked by George III in 1765 for imposing stamp duty on the American colonies.

The next prime minister to move in was Lord North, who became First Lord in 1770. A home-loving figure, he became very fond of the house and often entertained there.

Visitors included writer Samuel Johnson and Thomas Hansard, founder of the Parliamentary reporting system that still exists today. Clive of India was such a popular guest that furniture was made especially for him; it still exists in the first-floor Ante Room and Terracotta Room.

During one memorable dinner party held by North uproar broke out in the street outside. On 7 June 1780 disgruntled Protestants unhappy with North’s policy towards Roman Catholics rioted all over London in an event known as the Gordon Riots. Grenadier guards faced a large mob of protestors in Downing Street.

It might have ended in bloodshed, as it did elsewhere in the city, but North went outside to warn the protestors of the dangers of being shot, and the crowd went away. North’s dinner guests climbed to the top of the house to watch the fires all over London.

Home improvements

The elaborate lamp above the front door is thought to date from the 1770s. Picture: Mark FiennesDuring Lord North’s time, more improvements were made to the house. In 1766 a major series of repairs began, which dragged on for nearly eight years.

Some of the house’s most distinctive features were added around this time - the black and white chequerboard floor in the entrance hall, the lamp above the door and the famous lion’s head door knocker.

Towards the end of Lord North’s occupation, work began again under architect Sir Robert Taylor on further repairs and the addition of a new vaulted kitchen next to Treasury Green.

Lord North resigned as prime minister in 1782, following the loss of the American colonies. The Duke of Portland, prime minister for only nine months, lived in the house briefly, before 24-year-old William Pitt the Younger moved in.

Socialising and surgery

William Pitt was the longest-serving tenant of Number 10. Picture: UK Government Art CollectionBritain’s youngest ever prime minister, Pitt was resident at Number 10 1783-1801 and 1804-1806, and made it more his home than any one else.

The house was a hive of political activity. Pitt planned some of his greatest projects in his office there, including Parliamentary reform, free trade and the improvement of national finances.

It was also a social hub. A keen entertainer and port drinker, Pitt invited guests including William Wilberforce, who was working on the abolition of slavery, and George Canning, a future foreign secretary and prime minister.

One of the stranger events in Number 10’s history occurred in September 1786, when William Pitt underwent an operation in the house for the removal of a facial cyst - without anaesthetic. Once the operation was over, he reportedly told the surgeon off for taking 30 seconds longer than promised.

Building work continued during Pitt’s occupation. Soon after moving in, Pitt had to justify the ¬£20,000 cost of recent work on the house to Parliament, which caused much grumbling in the press.

The biggest change during his occupation was the creation in 1796 of the Cabinet Room as it exists today. The room was extended by knocking a wall down and inserting columns to carry the extra span.

Pitt died in 1806, aged only 46. Living in Downing Street for over 20 years, he remains the longest tenant in Number 10’s history.

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