This is the tenth week our village has been divided by the closure of our bridge, so continuing the numeric theme of late here are a few thoughts on the number 10. Ten is the base of the decimal numeral system, by far the most common system of denoting numbers in both spoken and written language. The reason for the choice of ten is assumed to be that humans have ten fingers.
Ten is the sum of the first four numerals:
1+2+3+4 = 10
If you ask many British people what they understand about ‘Number 10’ they immediately think of the house in Downing Street, London.
Number 10 Downing Street was originally three properties: a mansion overlooking St. James’s Park called “the House at the Back”, a townhouse behind it and a cottage. The townhouse, from which the modern building gets its name, was one of several built by Sir George Downing between 1682 and 1684.
Downing, a notorious spy for Oliver Cromwell and later Charles II, invested in property and acquired considerable wealth. In 1654, he purchased the lease on land south of St James’s Park, adjacent to the House at the Back within walking distance of parliament. Downing planned to build a row of townhouses
“for persons of good quality to inhabit in …”
The street on which he built them now bears his name, and the largest became part of Number 10 Downing Street. Given the various personalities who have inhabited these houses over the years, many would I’m sure argue that his original plan regarding the suitability of those who should occupy has fallen somewhat short of the mark!
When Lord Salisbury retired in 1902, his nephew, Arthur James Balfour, became Prime Minister. It was an easy transition: he was already First Lord of the Treasury and Leader of the House of Commons, and he was already living in Number 10. Balfour revived the custom that Number 10 is the First Lord and Prime Minister’s official residence. It has remained the custom since. However, there have been numerous times when prime ministers have unofficially lived elsewhere out of necessity or preference. Winston Churchill for example had a great affection for Number 10, but he grudgingly slept in the bunkered Annex of Number 10 for his safety during World War II. He rarely slept in his underground bedroom in the Cabinet War Rooms. To reassure the people that his government was functioning normally, he insisted on being seen entering and leaving Number 10 occasionally. Harold Wilson, during his second ministry from 1974 to 1976, lived in his home in Lord North Street because Mrs. Wilson wanted “a proper home”. However, recognising the symbolic importance of Number 10, he worked and held meetings there and entertained guests in the State Dining Room.
For most of his Premiership, Tony Blair lived in the more spacious residence above Number 11 to accommodate his large family. In May 2010, it was reported that David Cameron would also take up actual residence above Number 11, and his Chancellor, George Osborne, above Number 10. For a massive amount of information about Number 10, Downing Street check out the Wikipedia page here
The tenth week of our bridge closure has seen the repair work to the collapsed section near completion, and I have heard that there is a good chance the bridge might reopen next week, possibly as soon as Wednesday. It will be a great relief to all in the village if this in fact prove to be the case, and should that happen of course I will tell you here as soon as I know.