Looking for a neolithic burial mound in my local (Cassiobury) Park

It’s reached the time of year that I’ve gone a bit doolally  and I mean more doolally than I generally am from the 1st of January until around the 31st December each year.

I’ve not had a day off for years and been out on tour every day for months.  I also feel that I’ve been on the computer far too much as because despite being out for 7-10 hours a day, I also do Admin work for up to 7-10 hours each day too.

Due to a triple whammy of last minute cancellations today, I had the day off.  Well not really off as I worked from 5am-10am on the computer and was back at it from about 2pm.  The eagle-eyed of my readers will notice however that 4 hours of my day-time were entirely unaccounted for which is a rare thing indeed for me.

I really didn’t want to spend all day on the computer even if I were writing on my next book.  Instead I set myself a challenge of seeing if I could find any really old and unusual historic sights not far from home but easily accessible by public transport.  So I missed out the obvious Roman St Albans and various other historic and pre-historic that would involve trampling through mud (London has just had almost 2 months of rain in 36 hours).  I also decided not to include mental asylums or ancient pubs which I felt would have been cheating.

As it happened I found quite a few and so though I would visit 3 of them which I managed to do quite easily in less than 3 hours.

My first escapade took me to Cassiobury Park in Watford.  I have mentioned it in passing before in as Troy McClure might have said such hit blog posts as A walk along the Grand Union Canal  or  London – The first National Park City in the World .  Outside my blog the park has even been the setting for a planet on Star Wars.

I knew of various historical spots in and around the park but on Monday I became aware that right in the middle of this park I know so well there may be a pre-historic mound or barrow.

Finding this mound was to be no easy task in a park bigger than Londons Hyde Park and with an almost totally undocumented and not very pronounced mound too.   I managed to find a glimpse of it on Google Maps at a favourable time of year.

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I’m always one for going out on a wild-goose chase (might I shamelessly plug my book on idioms Straight From The Horse’s Mouth).  As soon as I arrived within half a mile of the supposed mound or barrow I realised I had forgotten one of the most basic tenants of British archaeology and that is don’t go looking for something hidden in the middle of summer when grass and everything else can grow inches in a week let alone over months.  I couldn’t see any of the marker trees that I had in my head as they were all obscured by other trees and I had deliberately left my phone at home, not that it has maps on it being from the 1990’s.

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Beautiful, huge, green and very lush Cassiobury Park

Surprisingly I found the mound rather quickly though it was even less pronounced than I’d been told it was… and it was about 100 yards from where I thought it might be.  Oh and it ended up not being a mound at all but only some natural feature bothered by a dense nest of brambles.  I did though take a photo just incase I didn’t find a more suitable candidate.

I needn’t have worried as a minute later I had found a very subtle but definitely looking mound a little way on.  You have to be used to looking for mounds to even spot this one and two ladies walked by it without giving it a second thought.

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It is a circular mount about 15 metres (45 feet) in diameter and only reaching a prominence of 1 metre around the surrounding area.

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The centre of the mound is marked by a rough wood carving of a prehistoric dead body or perhaps more likely of a sleeping figure.

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In fact I realise now that I had actually walked over the barrow about 10 years ago and joked that it might be a burial mound but I had no idea that I had all but discovered it.

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You can just make out the curvature of the mound on the photo above amongst the long grass.  It might not look much but this mound might just be 5-6,000 years old and back then it would have been altogether something more spectacular.  The ground slopes further away near the camera as it heads down to a river, something that would have been even more attractive to neolithic people than to joggers in the park today.

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Apparently it is easier to define when the grass is cut, though only slightly so.  There has been no archeology on the mound to discover what if anything might lay deep underground but it was identified as a possible neolithic earthworks monument in a 2013 document.  But you can just about see it on the photo above.

There are many better defined mounds and barrows even within a few miles of this one but if you’d like to see my favourite then check out my post West Kennet Long Barrow – A 6,000 year old burial tomb which has a fantastic video I filmed too which goes inside one of the best preserved barrows in the world.

I’m glad I found it and I also forgive myself for not really knowing about it before this week.  Given that if it is an authentic mound, it is thousands of years old then it may well not be excavated until long after we are all gone.

One of the things I wanted to prove today is that there is weird and secret history wherever we live, we just have to keep our eyes open, question everything and do a little research.  This was only the first stop off of the morning however and I had two more to make.

 

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The Knollys Rose Ceremony – Paying off a 619 year old rent

London and Britain is full of obscure ancient traditions and on Monday I bore witness to a ceremony that I did know about but never expected to see and it all has its foundations in events 619 years ago.  As sometimes dirty as London is these days, in almost every way (except perhaps for air), it was infinitely more filthy in days gone by.

The Knollys Rose Ceremony is held in June each year and is organised by the Company of Watermen and Lightermen of the River Thames. On that day one red rose will be plucked from the garden in Seething Lane and taken to the Mansion House on the altar cushion of All Hallows by the Tower, where it will be presented to the Lord Mayor.

The ceremony commemorates an ancient City judgement dating from 1381. Sir Robert Knollys owned a house on Seething Lane. He was sent abroad to fight alongside John of Gaunt. While he was away, his wife, Constance,  is reputed to have become annoyed with the chaff dust blowing from the property opposite their house which was being used as threshing ground. As anyone super-rich would do, Constance bought the offending property and turned it into a rose garden.

All Hallows By The Tower Church

All Hallows By The Tower Church

Constance also built a footbridge over the lane to avoid the mud, but without the equivalent of planning permission. The penalty was that a red rose ‘rent’ from the garden had to be paid annually to the Lord Mayor. The rose payment was no more than a peppercorn rent, a symbolic fine upon Sir Robert, a leading citizen and a successful and respected soldier.

For this payment permission was given “to make an haut pas of the height of 14 feet” across the lane. The footbridge has long since disappeared, but the legal requirement for the payment of this quit-rent has been established as one of the City’s traditions.

This year’s Ceremony took place on Monday 17 June at 11am where I just happened to be with two tourists on my Sacred Secret Gardens and Ruins Walk The ceremony begins in Seething Lane Gardens, when one red rose is plucked and carried on the All Hallows By The Tower church altar cushion to Mansion House to be presented to the Lord Mayor.

Due to a small fire in the kitchen of Mansion House a few days earlier, a last minute change was made for the entire ceremony to take place in All Hallows Church.

I took the opportunity to put together a very hasty video, sitting as we politely did at the very rear of the church though in truth, we could have sat right at the front.  That’s what good manners gets you!

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100 years ago Aviators Alcock and Brown made their pioneering trans-Atlantic flight

Today, millions of people cross the Atlantic every year thanks to commercial air travel, but it’s easy to forget that it had never been done less than a century ago.

Glasgow born Arthur Brown was shot down over Germany during World War One, surviving only to be captured by the Germans and imprisoned. (Read about my relation Reuel Dunn who fought The Red Baron)

Manchester native John Alcock also became a prisoner of war, after his aircraft’s engine failed over Turkey’s Gulf of Xeros.

Undeterred by their experiences in the skies during the war, both men sought to continue their aviation careers regardless.

In April 1913 the London newspaper the Daily Mail offered a prize of £10,000 to “the aviator who shall first cross the Atlantic in an aeroplane in flight.”

Daily Mail Atlantic Flight Competition

Daily Mail Atlantic Flight Competition

The outbreak of World War One delayed the competition until 1918, precisely when a newly-released Alcock and Brown found they had a lot more time on their hands.

Unemployed in the wake of the war, Alcock employed Brown as his navigator after being impressed by his know-how.

Alcock and Brown weren’t the only flight team ready to take off from St John’s, Newfoundland on the morning of June 14. Several other teams had also entered the competition.

Fearing they might have lost their chance, the British pair quickly assembled their plane and took off at around 1.45pm, whilst their competitors were busy conducting a test.

Their hasty take off almost resulted in disaster when their Vickers Vimy plane barely cleared the trees at the end of the runway.

Alcock and Brown survived continuous cloud, snow and ice and a near-fatal stall in their open-cockpit Vickers Vimy, as well as a thick fog that meant they had to blind-fly almost the entire way.

The overloaded aircraft’s exhaust pipe burst, creating a noise so loud it made conversation impossible without intercom – which also failed.

Browns original Calculus notes made during flight in an attempt to keep their navigation on track.

If that wasn’t enough, their wind-driven generator also gave up, causing the pair to lose both radio contact and much-needed heating.

 

Alcock and Brown made landfall in County Galway at 8.40am on 15 June 1919, after just less than 16 hours in the skies.

Their aircraft suffered severe damage because of an attempt to land on what appeared from the air to be a suitable green field, but which turned out to be a bog near the town of Clifden.

Neither of the men were injured, with both being received as heroes by the local population of Galway.

 

Their plane sunk nose first into the Irish bog.

Their plane sunk nose first into the Irish bog.

Despite the cloud only lifting three times during their journey, Brown had managed to navigate them to within 20 miles of their original target destination using just a sextant and calculus.

After the engine stalled and they spiralled, they would not even have known which direction they were supposed to be going in, but being such a good pilot Alcock corrected the plane.  If they had come down in the sea they would never have been seen or heard of again, no-one would have known where they died.

They were enterprising, knowledgeable and confident men. It was pure skill, not luck, that saw them through.

Monuments around the world remember their success, from three statues in Newfoundland, Canada, to a memorial statue located at London Heathrow Airport erected in 1954.

The site where they landed in Galway, Ireland

The site where they landed in Galway, Ireland

After their incredible achievement, Alcock and Brown were received by then-Secretary of State for Air, Winston Churchill, who presented them with the Daily Mail prize for their crossing of the Atlantic in “less than 72 consecutive hours.”

But despite their incredible feat of survival, tragedy was only just around the corner.

John Alcock was killed on December 18, 1919 when he crashed in France on his way to the Paris Airshow.

Arthur Brown did however survive until relative old age despite his daredevil lifestyle, dying on October 4, 1948 at the age of 62.

Like many other modest figures, their achievements have been almost totally overlooked and for eight years, no-one repeated this amazing feat.

Then, in 1927, an American, Charles Lindbergh, caused a sensation after making the flight from New York to Paris without stopping, and alone.  Lindbergh caught people’s attention and made him a star whilst the true transatlantic pioneers are all but forgotten.

The skill of what they achieved was akin to the moon landing; it had never been done and was almost impossible.There are several possible explanations for the speed with which their achievement faded from the collective memory. In one way they were a victim of their time, according to Doug Millard, of the Science Museum in London.

The early 20th Century was awash with aeronautical achievements and, no sooner was one completed, someone else came along and set a new record. New speeds, heights and distances were constantly being reached with the UK at the time “really world-leading”, Mr Millard said.

Another possible reason was Australian pilot Harry Hawker, the “Ayrton Senna or Lewis Hamilton of his day”, had attempted the crossing but failed. Everyone thought he was dead and there were so many articles in the paper about him, the country mourned him.

Then it transpired he was still alive and there was so much more about that. A week later Alcock and Brown did what they did – I think there was a certain media fatigue by that point about aviation. Then on 21 June, the Germans scuppered their fleet at Scapa Flow which dominated the global news.   Charles Lindbergh by good fortune made his crossing in a quiet news period.

Alcock and Brown Statue at Heathrow Airport

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Winston Churchill style icon? Siren Suits – the precursor to Onesies.

It was only 2 or 3 years ago where much of the world, or at least those perhaps lacking in sartorial elegance, was obsessed with an item of clothing known as a Onesie.  Usually made for people who want a comfortable, cosy evening on the sofa or perhaps for those not going out on a quiet weekend.

Hard as it might be to believe, these outfits of teddy bears, bunny rabbits, stormtroopers and the rest were all influenced by none other than wartime Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill.

In the late 19th century, at the height of the Victorian steam era, a new item of clothing appeared in the workplace for men who worked in heavy industry. Coal-fired boilers were powering industry all over Britain and the Empire but they needed regular cleaning and inspecting to maximise their output and for simple reasons of safety. This was a dirty job, and the men who undertook such maintenance adopted a long-sleeved, high-necked one-piece protective garment to stop grime and dust from entering. This all-in-one overall became known, therefore, as a ‘boiler suit’. Almost like a 19th century space suit without the astronaut helmet.

Soon their use spread not just to steam trains but by the 1930’s to racing drivers, factory workers, mechanics, sportsmen, flyers, motorcyclists… and bricklayers. They were in some circles fashionable, depending on who was wearing them.   This was what was behind Churchills inspiration for what he called a Romper Suit though which most others labelled as Siren Suits.

Churchill of course amongst his many other talents played his part with the invention of military tanks and floating Mulberry Harbours.

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Churchill in one of his more military-like Siren Suit with General Montgomery (Monty)

The ‘siren suit’, which bears resemblance to the infamous ‘onesie’, is a practical one-piece item of clothing originally designed by Sir Winston Churchill during the Second World War to be quickly slipped over his clothes in the event of an air raid. The great statesman had a variety of siren suits, which he referred to as ‘romper suits,’ including sombre, military style suits, as well as more extravagant pin-striped and velvet versions.

With the endorsement of Churchill, the wartime appeal of the siren suit spreads far and wide and they were particularly popular with women keen to protect their modesty.   The air raid sirens would sound out and if you were gambling on sleeping in your house rather than a sheet then you could jump out of bed and into your siren suit, zip it up and be running to safety in seconds.

Of course, his were a cut above, being tailor-made by his very distinguished shirtmaker Turnbull & Asser in a variety of colours and materials, including pinstripe, blue serge and, perhaps most famously, green velvet. Turnbull & Asser were often called upon to repair the garments, which Churchill wore them when off-duty and during the Battle of Britain, in Washington for his visit with Roosevelt, planning D-Day with Eisenhower and at the Yalta Conference with Stalin. The repairs, though, were never due to hostile action – it was cigars that took their toll.

Only three original Churchill siren suits are known to still exist, including the famous green velvet one, which is in the Turnbull & Asser collection. Velvet is hardly a practical material for manual work or suitable for formal meetings, so perhaps this leisure version – a sort of one-piece smoking jacket – can be seen as the ancestor of what became the ‘onesie’.  Either way, these suits have inspired work, leisure and fashion wear for over 80 years.

You can see some Churchills surviving Siren suits on my Ye Olde England Tours Churchill Walking Tour and War Rooms tour where we can visit his Turnbull and Asser or to his home at Chartwell House.

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John Donne – A forgotten poet and his discovered manuscript.

In the long and rich history of English literature, John Donne is almost forgotten about by many today but in his time he was pioneering.  Born into a Catholic family at a time when it was illegal to practice the religion in England, Donne wrote often biting satire on legal corruption, mediocre writers, pig-headed officials and every day less glamorous subjects such as the plague, vomit and animal manure.  He was a writer entirely different to William Blake.

It is said that he was the very first to write poetry on some subjects.  He was as Dr Samuel Johnson labelled, a Metaphysical Poet and on top of all this he became a Member of Parliament, a Royal Chaplain.

His legacy though is less than it might be, perhaps because his works weren’t largely distributed during his life-time and what tomes there are were scattered to the winds and forgotten about after his death.

Last year however a previously unrecorded handwritten manuscript of John Donne’s poetry was been found in a box at an English country house in Suffolk.  The 17th-century manuscript is described as being ‘one of the largest and earliest surviving groups’ of the celebrated English poet’s verse.

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Dating back 400 years, the bound collection was kept for at least the last two centuries at Melford Hall in Suffolk. Sotheby’s expert Dr Gabriel Heaton was on a “standard checking visit” to the property when he found it in a box with other papers.

“Nobody knew about it … It was tucked away in a corner, collected with loose archival material around the house and not identified as being by Donne,” said Heaton. “I opened the box and came across this astonishing manuscript, opened it up and thought, ‘Hang on, that poem’s by John Donne … hang on, that’s also John Donne,’ and quite quickly realised it was a very very special and significant manuscript. It was a wonderful and exciting moment.”

The 400-year-old bound volume, which contains 139 works by Donne, was sold at auction to an online bidder last December.  The Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport has stepped in and put an export bar on the manuscript. However, this lasts only until the end of August – meaning potential saviours have just months to raise the cash to keep it in its country of origin.

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The manuscript, pictured above, includes a range of his most celebrated works, including The Storm, The Calm, The Breake of Daye and Sunn Risinge. One of his largest collections to be discovered, it was found last year in a box at Melford Hall in Suffolk, where it is thought to have been for the last 200 years.

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Peter Barber, a member of the panel which recommended the export ban, said: ‘John Donne is one of the greatest English poets of all time. This volume contains one of the largest and earliest surviving groups of his verse – all lovingly transcribed by hand. The volume also contains the work of later poets with at least one unknown poem, making it a testimony to British literary taste over 200 years.’

He added: ‘It is crying out for detailed investigation, not least because it also contains clues to the identity of its original, possibly female, compiler who would have been a contemporary of Donne.

‘So further research might perhaps shed fresh light on Donne himself and his world.I do hope the volume can be kept in this country so that its potential can be realised.’

The committee said the export ban could be extended until November if a serious effort to raise the funds is made.

Whilst most people are aware that London (and many other western cities) hosts a whole load treasures from around the world, brought here by a variety of sometimes questionable means, less people are aware even in the U.K. of our national treasures also being lost usually to wealthy American or Asian buyers or in the case of older objects, being housed overseas in countries such as Italy as noted in my post on the recent Anglo-Saxon treasures exhibition.

This isn’t the first time there has been a recent discovery of John Donne’s work at Westminster Abbey what is ostensibly a library catalogue in Latin: the numbered book titles are all invented, and Donne’s list is in fact a string of savage and frequently smutty jokes, many about named contemporary figures including judges which if it had fallen into the wrong hands may well have seen him forfeiting his life.

For other relatively recent posts on similarly interesting writer then you might to read about one of my favourite philosophical writers, John Milton.  Also Christopher Smart and his famed feline musings.  None quite however match the incredible Jeremy Bentham who you can still go and meet today.

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When two (spaces) are better than one

I don’t know about you but there are countless things that annoy me about modern life and one of them is the slow decline into the use of a single space after a full stop or period.

Until the early twentieth century, guidelines were numerous and often contradictory.   There were a variety of space sizes, such as the large ‘em-quad’ (traditionally the width of a capital ‘M’), the smaller ‘en-quad’ (the width of a capital ‘N’) and the even smaller 1/3 em (one third of the width of a capital ‘M’).

Typesetters followed various, sometimes complex, rules of style.  Generally, the em-quad was used after full stops, while the en-quad was used after all other punctuation.

I can’t be the only who learned to write at school and were instructed that even with handwriting there should be a finger’s space between words or after a comma and two (or indeed a thumb) following a full-stop and the capital letter of the next sentence.

When typewriters were invented in the 1860s, the practice of having a longer space between sentences was carried over.  But instead of an em-space, typists simply used two normal spaces.

Following the end of WW2, most institutes in the USA and even a few in the U.K. were dropping the second spaced and advocating the use of a single space for all punctuation but that doesn’t mean it is right.

Personally, I can’t abide it!  In fact even in my Tweets with characters at a premium, I always try to make sure there are two spaces after a full-stop.  I’m not the only one thankfully with the single-spacing practice being slated by American journalist Farhad Manjoo, writing on Slate.com. In London Telegraph columnist Damian Thompson, it’s a ‘typographical atrocity’.

Is the use of a single space actually an issue of grammar or an issue of style?  If the whole point of writing is to put forward your text in an easy to understand fashion then again I would say two spaces is more clear than one.

Those on the other side of the argument might state that the use of double spaces might be old-fashioned, like that is a bad thing!   I remember in the 1980’s the BBC actually using three spaces after a full-stop. In fact in some areas of life such as academia.

I know there is no real wrong or right answer but though I try not to think that way, I can’t hide the fact that people who use only one space after full-stops are heathens!!  Like those who talk loudly on their phones whilst on public transport or who can’t eat using a knife and fork AND keeping their mouth shut when chewing.

What do you think?  I will do my best not to edit comments that disagree with me.  🙂

 

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The history of 10 Downing Street and a peek behind its famous black door.

A few weeks ago I posted about a ‘fake’ Number 10 Downing Street and so I thought it would be timely to write about the actual Number 10 Downing Street especially as having written about historic and political situations for 6 years that not having yet done so is something of an aberration.  After all, there are few addresses that have influenced the world more.

In the Middle Ages, the ground underneath Downing Street and the Houses of Parliament was known as Thorney Island. It lay between two branches of the River Tyburn (which today flows directly under the Treasury in Parliament Street). The earliest known building on the site of Downing Street was the Axe brewery owned by the Abbey of Abingdon but by the early 16th Century it has fallen into disrepair.

Why is Downing Street called Downing Street?  It is named after Sir George Downing, who was born in Ireland and brought up in New England and was one of the earliest graduates of Harvard. He came to England during the Civil War and by 1650 had become Cromwell’s intelligence chief, known as the Scoutmaster General. In 1657 he became British Ambassador to The Hague. The next year Cromwell died and Downing cannily offered his services to King Charles II. In 1682, Downing secured the lease on a piece of land close to Westminster and set about building the street that bears his name. Samuel Pepys described him as a “perfidious rogue”.

Perhaps Pepys was onto something as it appears that George Downing didn’t do  a particularly good job when it came to building on the marshy ground. He constructed 15 houses on shallow foundations. Winston Churchill wrote that Number 10 was “shaky and lightly built by the profiteering contractor whose name they bear”. The house numbering was different too: No 10 was originally No 5 and did not acquire its present number until 1779.

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Horseguards with Downing Street to the right

Interestingly what is now No 10 is made up of two connected houses; Sir George Downing’s cheap terraced house at the front and a much grander one at the back, overlooking Horse Guards Parade. This was built in 1677, and was the home of Charles II’s daughter, the Countess of Lichfield. She was very cross about Downing’s development, as his houses looked into hers.

The last private resident of No 10 Downing Street was called Mr Chicken. Nobody knows anything about him other than his name. He moved out in 1732, after which King George II presented both houses to our very first modern-styled Prime Minister,  Sir Robert Walpole. Sir Robert refused to accept the property as a personal gift and asked that the king make it available to him and all future First Lords of the Treasury in their official capacity (the title “Prime Minister” wasn’t used until 1905). The brass letterbox on the black front door is still engraved with this title.

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Downing Street from the far end, number 10 being the second door on the left.

In the early days of Downing Street the area was much livelier, in fact the now rather splendid Parliament Square was a slum just 200 or so years ago. There were lots of pubs nearby, such as the Cat and Bagpipes and the Rose and Crown. Some of them traced their origins back to medieval hostels set up for pilgrims seeking the shrine of Edward the Confessor at Westminster Abbey. Alongside the pubs were livery stables, dressmakers, lodging for MPs and hawkers selling their wares.

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The famous Number 10 staircase with photos and paintings of centuries of previous Prime Ministers.

The building itself is made up of over 100 hundred rooms – only part of which is actually residential.  There is a private residence on the third floor and a private kitchen in the basement. Everything in between is offices, conference rooms, reception halls, sitting rooms, dining rooms, etc.  These rooms are all in constant usage – Foreign dignitaries are entertained here and the Prime Minister and his government base the majority of their work at Number 10.

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The Cabinet Meeting Room

In the 20th century alone, the First and Second World Wars were directed from within it, as were the key decisions about the end of the empire, the building of the British nuclear bomb, the handling of economic crises from the Great Depression in 1929 to the great recession, and the building up of the welfare state.

Some of the most famous political figures of modern history have lived and worked in Number 10, including Robert Walpole, Pitt the Younger, Benjamin Disraeli, William Gladstone, David Lloyd George, Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher.

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Number 10 has 3 overlapping functions. It is the official residence of the British Prime Minister: it is their office, and it is also the place where the Prime Minister entertains guests from Her Majesty The Queen to presidents of the United States and other world leaders. The Prime Minister hosts countless receptions and events for a whole range of British and overseas guests, with charitable receptions high up the list.

The building is much larger than it appears from its frontage. The hall with the chequered floor immediately behind the front door lets on to a warren of rooms and staircases. The house in Downing Street was joined to a more spacious and elegant building behind it in the early 18th century. Number 10 has also spread itself out to the left of the front door, and has taken over much of 12 Downing Street, which is accessed by a corridor that runs through 11 Downing Street – the official residence of the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

It is only since Arthur Balfour became prime minister in 1902 that the prime minister has been expected to live at No 10. Only one former prime minister has ever died there: Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, who resigned on April 3 1908 but was too ill to move and died 19 days later. His last words were: “This is not the end of me.”

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Behind the famous front door.

No 10 Downing Street is one of the most heavily guarded buildings in Britain. The front door cannot be opened from the outside because it has no handle, and no one can enter the building without passing through a scanner and a set of security gates manned by armed guards. However, in the first five years after Tony Blair became prime minister, 37 computers, four mobile phones, two cameras, a mini-disc player, a video recorder, four printers, two projectors and a bicycle were stolen from the building.

Up until around 25 years ago, one could walk up Downing Street and even pose for a photo on the front step of number 10 but terrorist attacks by the IRA resulted in the road being closed off to the general public.  Any chance of them being removed after peace was achieved in Northern Ireland was fleeting as it wasn’t long before current waves of Islamic inspired terrorism have come to the fore.

Out of all of this, perhaps the thing that most piqued my interest was the fact that in the decades after WW2 when Downing Street was repaired and upgraded, it was discovered that the famous black bricks of Downing Street weren’t black at all but were in fact red/brown in colour.  Over centuries of smoke fires in London, the soot had simply turned them entirely black.  This all proved too much and the decision was taken to permanently paint the bricks black to match the colour everyone thought that they knew them to be.

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Downing Street during the brief red-brick period!

If you want, you can even explore some of 10 Downing Street for yourself on Google Maps, from where I nabbed some of the photos above. It’s a huge building and even though not all of it is mapped, who knows what you will find!  Just click below and you’ll find yourself by the front door.

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