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You are here: home > downing street > history of the building > 1945 to the present

1945 to the present

After the damage of the Second World War, drastic action was required to make Number 10 fit for prime ministers again, and to bring it up to date with modern technology.

Number 10 is falling down

People walking into Downing StreetFrom 1945 to 1950, war damage in the house was repaired. The attic was converted into a flat, and Prime Minister Clement Attlee and his wife moved into it instead of the first-floor rooms where earlier prime ministers had lived. The flat included a sitting room, dining room, a study, and a number of bedrooms.

By the 1950s the state of the fabric of 10 Downing Street had reached crisis point. Bomb damage had made existing structural problems worse - the building was suffering from subsidence, sloping walls, twisting door frames and an enormous annual repair bill.

The Ministry of Works carried out a survey in 1954 into the state of the structure. The report bounced from Winston Churchill to Anthony Eden to Harold Macmillan as one followed the other. Finally, a committee set up by Macmillan concluded that drastic action was required before the building fell or burnt down.

They put forward a range of options, including the complete demolition of Number 10, 11 and 12 and their replacement with a new building. That idea was rejected and instead it was decided that Number 12 should be rebuilt; Number 10 and 11 should be strengthened and their historic features preserved.

Gutting the house

Gutting Number 10The architect Raymond Erith was selected to supervise the work. The work was expected to take two years and cost £500,000. It ended up taking a year longer than planned, and costing double the original estimate. The foundations proved to be so rotten that concrete underpinning was required on a massive scale.

Number 10 was completely gutted. Walls, floors and even the columns in the Cabinet Room and Pillared Room proved to be rotten and had to be replaced. New features were added too, including a room facing onto Downing Street and a verandah at Number 11 for the Chancellor.

It was also discovered that the familiar exterior façade was not black at all but yellow. The blackened colour was a product of two centuries of severe pollution. To keep the familiar appearance, the newly cleaned yellow bricks were painted black to match their previous colour.

Erith's work was completed in 1963, but not long afterwards dry rot became apparent and further repairs had to be undertaken.

Personal PM touches

Harold Wilson at the boat-shaped Cabinet tableAs prime ministers came and went over the following decades, they all left their mark on Number 10.

Harold Macmillan replaced the rectangular Cabinet Room table with a curved one, which enabled the Prime Minister to see everyone around the table without anyone leaning forward.

In the 1970s, Edward Heath redecorated and added furniture to the state rooms, which changed from being the day-to-day living space of the prime minister to rooms set aside for official business.

He adored Number 10 and used it not only as his office and town house, but also as a showcase for music, painting and sculpture. He installed his own grand piano in the White Drawing Room.

Margaret Thatcher appointed architect Quinlan Terry to refurbish the state drawing rooms at the end of the 1980s. Two of the rooms, the White Drawing Room and Terracotta Room gained ornate plasterwork ceilings. In the White Drawing Room this included adding the national emblems of England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.

Shell shock

All the building work of the past few decades could have been ruined when a terrorist bomb exploded in 1991. An IRA mortar bomb was fired from a white transit van in Whitehall and exploded in the garden of Number 10, only a few metres away from where John Major was chairing a Cabinet meeting to discuss the imminent Gulf War.

Although no one was killed, it left a crater in the Number 10 gardens and blew in the windows of neighbouring houses. John Major and some of his staff moved into Admiralty Arch while damage caused by the bomb was repaired.

Other renovations in the 1990s included replastering the Cabinet Room ceiling, which seemed to be in danger of falling in, and the installation of vast amounts of IT cabling and other modern technology to ensure that the prime minister would be fully up to date with events as they happened.

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