|No.10 Downing Street Garden||Westminster|
Downing Street was built in 1682-3 by Sir George Downing in an area that soon came to be dominated by government buildings. Of the original layout as a cul-de-sac Nos.10 and 11 Downing Street remain on the north side, albeit much altered and now interconnected, the remainder to the south largely replaced by the Foreign Office. No.10 was converted in 1732-35 for Sir Robert Walpole, Chancellor of the Exchequer, and since 1735 has been the official London residence and office of over 30 British Prime Ministers, as First Lord of the Treasury. The first mention of the garden of No.10 occurs in 1736, when it was described as adjacent to the residence of Sir Robert Walpole. Used to entertain official visitors, while details of No.10’s garden have changed with its occupants and events of war and peace, the shape of the garden plot, confirmed by plans, maps, paintings, drawings and photographs, has remained substantially the same.
The information shown above was correct at the time of the last update 05/04/2013
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The information below is taken from the relevant Local Authority's planning legislation, which was correct at the time of research but may have been amended in the interim. Please check with the Local Authority for latest planning information.
Garden of No.10 Downing Street, Photo: Robin Saklatvala
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The early history of this area has been revealed through discovery by archaeologists of prehistoric flints, a Roman pit containing decorated pottery and an Anglo-Saxon farm, giving a glimpse of life before the streets of Westminster were laid out. Downing Street was built in 1682-3 by Sir George Downing. At that time to the south were the streets of Westminster while to the north the land was largely held by the crown and government, where building had commenced from the C12th onwards and gradually covered most of the area. The origins of a residential complex in what became Whitehall Palace date from the C12th; from 1240 this was owned by the Archbishop of York and became known as York Palace, where Edward I is known to have stayed. A period of expansion began in the late C15th, and was continued after 1514 by Cardinal Wolsey, who had become Archbishop of York. His much-expanded palace became known as Whitehall Palace. It was seized by Henry VIII when Wolsey fell from grace in 1529. Henry VIII purchased c.73ha of land south and west of Charing Cross in 1531 and began building his palace at Whitehall. While the main palace was on the east side of Whitehall, the west side contained buildings provided for sports, including tennis courts, a bowling alley and a cockpit. Later, in 1754, William Kent’s new Treasury building was to cover the site of Henry VIII’s Cockpit. The king also laid out his great park for hunting, later to be called St James’s Park (q.v.). Part of the park wall at its full height of 3m was found embedded in the dining room wall of No.10 Downing Street. The Keeper of the Palace, Thomas Alvard, lived in a small lodging in the park and several lengths of walls belonging to this were found by archaeologists in the garden of No.10.
The first mention of the garden of No.10 Downing Street occurs in 1736 as ‘a piece of garden ground scituate in his Majestys park of St. James's, & belonging & adjoining to the house now inhabited by the Right Honourable the Chancellour of his Majestys Exchequer’, who was by then Sir Robert Walpole. Samuel Milward was appointed as the first gardener at No. 10 at a salary of £40 a year, with George Lowe taking over on Milward’s death in 1753. The figure seen clipping a hedge by the north wall of No.10’s garden in George Lambert’s 1736-40 oil painting may well have been Milward. The painting shows two figures viewing the long canal in St James’s Park from the railed terrace. In 1826 the canal became, and remains, a lake. The garden wall, terrace and railings today occupy the same L-shaped garden, situated at the southern end of Henry’s Tiltyard (now Horse Guards Parade).
While details of No.10 Downing Street’s garden, used to entertain official visitors, changes with its occupants and events of war and peace, the shape of the garden plot, confirmed by plans, maps, paintings, drawings and photographs, has remained the same. Surrounded by mature trees and mostly laid to lawn, with some rose beds and flowering evergreen shrubs, the garden remained relatively unchanged for many years. On 7 February 1991 an IRA mortar bomb launched from a van parked in Whitehall exploded only metres away from the cabinet room where John Major was chairing a meeting. Fortunately, no-one was hurt although many windows were blown out, a flowering cherry tree was blasted out of the ground and a large crater left in the lawn.
Around the turn of the C21st growing awareness of environmental issues led to a reappraisal of the garden and a radical transformation took place with the introduction of curved paths, enlarged box-edged borders and beds, and a rose walk. In 2000 a wildlife pond was installed and in 2009 a large underground rainwater tank, which provides a sustainable source of water for the garden. Inspired by Michelle Obama, Gordon Brown’s wife Sarah had two large planters placed on the terrace, where she successfully grew a wide variety of vegetables and herbs, and recently a play area with climbing frame and slide was built for the Cameron children. The garden has provided a casual setting for a number of significant gatherings, including the press launch for the announcement of the coalition government in May 2010 and, in 2011, a barbeque for military personnel hosted by the Camerons and Obamas. The London 2012 school games competitors used the garden for activities in March.
M. H. Cox and G Topham Forrest (eds), 1931, 'Downing Street', Survey of London: volume 14: St Margaret, Westminster, part III: Whitehall II, pp.105-141; Peter Whitfield, 'London, A Life in Maps' (London. The British Library. 2006) p.38; Simon Bradley and Nikolaus Pevsner, 'The Buildings of England London 6: Westminster', (Yale University Press, 2003).
LPGT Volunteer Research by Carrie Cowan, Clare Fullerton, Marilyn Carter, Jan Anderson, Annette James, Alyson Wilson, April 2013.