VISITING THE BRITISH STATE’S POWER-HOUSE
My wife and I were lucky enough to be invited to a private tour of 10 Downing Street. It turned out to be a very interesting visit.
Although of course I am interested in politics and history and, in particular, anything that relates to England, I have never really thought about wanting to go to see around 10 Downing Street. That might be lack of imagination on my part. From the front door it looks very much like the sort of 18th Century house that you can see in many of the more expensive parts of Central London.
It may also be that I am old enough to have often walked through Downing Street before it was cordoned off by a ring of steel security fences and armed police. I also delivered a 25,000 signature petition calling for an English Parliament to door of 10 Downing Street on the 300th anniversary of the Act of Union. I therefore thought that it was a nice, fairly grand Georgian terraced Townhouse. One of the things that was interesting was to find that that wasn’t really true.
Although at the front it looks like it is, the fact is that there is a very substantial house behind that façade, with a sizeable high-walled garden set out in such a way to make you feel the impression of a very spacious garden. Indeed if you are on the terrace of No. 10 looking out over the garden you also are going to be able to look out over St James’ Park and it seems like you are almost in a parklike setting.
The other thing about No. 10 is that there are a series of very nice and very grand rooms which would be worth visiting even it was simply a National Trust country house.
But what makes No. 10 particularly interesting is the fact that it has been the power-house of British politics ever since the idea of a Prime or First Minister came into existence under Sir Robert Walpole whose portrait hangs in many of the rooms.
What this means is that in going around No. 10 Downing Street you are in the very space occupied by some of the most famous political figures in British history, almost ever since the Act of Union in 1707 itself.
So by having the opportunity to sit in the Prime Minister’s chair in the Cabinet Room, I wasn’t only sitting in the chair given by Queen Victoria to Disraeli and which has been occupied by every Prime Minister since, but I was also, for example, in the space where William Pitt the Younger was sitting when he got the news that Nelson had destroyed the French and Spanish fleets off Cape Trafalgar!