History and Tour

Number 10 Today

Number 10 Downing Street has never been busier than it is today. It is an office for the Prime Minister, a meeting place for the Cabinet, a venue for state events and a home for the Prime Minister’s family.

‘Living above the shop’

Edward Heath at home in Number 10While in office, prime ministers traditionally live with their families in Downing Street in the private flat on the second floor.

‘Living above the shop’, as Margaret Thatcher described it, has sometimes made it difficult for prime ministers to separate family life and work, but it does allow him or her to keep fully in touch with events as they develop.

Fortunately, prime ministers no longer have to furnish the whole house themselves. Until the twentieth century, prime ministers who lived in Downing Street used to bring their own households with them - bedding, crockery and furniture. They would arrange their possessions in the state rooms on arrival and move them out when they left office.

Prime ministers today have an opportunity to select the art that hangs on the walls of Number 10. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries prime ministers brought their own paintings to display in the house.

Ramsay MacDonald was the first prime minister not to have a personal art collection and began the convention of borrowing from national collections to make the prime minister’s residence into a showcase for traditional and modern British art and craftsmanship.

Number 10 as Office

Gordon Brown during a meeting inside 10 Downing Street; copyright: ReutersNumber 10 is a busy office and workplace for the Prime Minister and the staff employed to support him.

The Prime Minister has his own room where he works and reads. There, or in other rooms in the house, he may meet colleagues, receive important guests, make phone calls or give interviews.

Number 10 is also the venue for the regular Cabinet meeting. The Cabinet meets every Tuesday while Parliament is in session in the Cabinet Room, which has used by successive Cabinets since 1856.

The house is also a workplace for the people who support the Prime Minister, mostly civil servants. The staff includes the secretaries of the basement Garden Room, a busy press office, switchboard clerks and a unit to handle correspondence.

As Number 10 was built as a private house, the offices are spread across many rooms on different floors.

Entertaining at Number 10

Gordon Brown at a reception; copyright: ReutersNearly every week Number 10 is the venue for official functions including meetings, receptions, lunches and dinners.

It isn’t only heads of state and official dignitaries who visit - functions are held for people from all areas of UK society, including notable achievers, public service employees and charity workers.

Receptions tend to be informal gatherings. Drinks and canap├ęs are served, as guests wander through the historic state rooms enjoying the art and historic objects on display. The Prime Minister and other hosts circulate to meet as many people as possible.

Lunches and dinners are more formal events. The Small Dining Room will sit a maximum of 12, and the State Dining Room up to 65 around a large, U-shaped table.

The dining table is laid with items from the state silver collection - a range of modern silverware pieces commissioned by the Silver Trust to promote modern British craftsmanship.

Before the Government Hospitality Fund was set up in 1908, prime ministers employed their own servants for entertaining at Number 10.

Nowadays members of Government Hospitality work together with the Prime Minister’s social team to arrange functions, checking guest lists, printing invitation cards and menus, working out the seating plans, and plan the meal.

All the attention to detail ensures that guests enjoy a memorable visit to a remarkable house.

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