As the country prepares for the 2015 General Election on 7th May, all of the party leaders will be dreaming of having their photo taken in front of 10 Downing Street’s iconic black front door once the votes have been counted.
While the photos will rightly focus on the victorious Prime Minister, here we take a deeper look into the fascinating history of what will be the inevitable backdrop – the most famous front door in the world.
The property was offered to Sir Robert Walpole by King George II.
Walpole refused the offer as a personal gift but accepted on the basis that it would from then onwards be the official residency of First Lord of the Treasury, the position which he held at the time.
To this day 10 Downing Street is the official residence of the First Lord of the Treasury and not the Prime Minister, although since 1905 these have always been the same person.
After three years of renovations, Walpole took up residency on 22 September 1735 to begin a tradition which has lasted 280 years.
Chancellor of the Exchequer Charles Townshend orders extensive repairs to the property. The front door was redesigned by architect Kenton Couse in a six-panelled Georgian style and was made from black oak.
Installed in the 1770’s, the door featured a centre door knob, lion head door knocker and brass letter plate which bore the inscription ‘First Lord of the Treasury’.
Soldiers heading to off to the trenches during the First World War used to touch the lion head door knocker for good luck. Then it was made of cast iron, whereas today it is brass and painted black to replicate the original.
Downing Street is renumbered and the property is given the number 10.
Previously the numbers 2, 3, 4 and 5 stood where the present day 10, 11 and 12 are, with popular belief that number 10 used to be number 5.
Herbert Asquith becomes Prime Minister and has the front door repainted dark green for a brief time.
Political historian Dr. Anthony Seldon writes in his book 10 Downing Street: An Illustrated History that the Prime Minister’s wife Margot Asquith complained that the building was ‘liver-coloured and squalid and lacked the landmark qualities of Marble Arch or the Albert Memorial.’
Why green? Historical Paint Consultant Patrick Baty advises that “Brunswick Green or Bronze Green were fairly standard on front doors during this time, with black on external surfaces comparatively rare until the 1930s and more generally in the 1960s.”
Major works take place to renovate No.10 & 11 Downing Street and rebuild No.12 as designed by architect Raymond Erith.
The works last three years costing £1,000,000 – one year and £500,000 over budget.
As part of these renovations the front door of No. 10 is repainted along with new white numerals.
The ‘0’ numeral is painted at a 37° degree angle sloping to the left.
A Wonky Zero? A commonly given reason for this angled numeral is that it is a nod to the original door which featured a poorly fixed ‘0’. However, Professor James Mosley from the Department of Typography & Graphic Communication at the University of Reading has a far more plausible theory in that the ‘0’ is in fact a capital ‘O’ as found in the Roman’s ‘Trajan’ alphabet that was used by the Ministry of Works at the time.
The door from this period is on display in the Churchill Museum in London.
The black oak door is replaced by a blast-proof steel door following an IRA mortar attack on Downing Street.
There are two doors which are alternated approximately every two years to be repainted.
The door cannot be opened from the outside and the letter plate is purely decorative.
Instead, a security guard is situated inside the door at all times to view people approaching the door via a camera and grant access.
The rarely seen inside of the door is white and features a polished brass door handle on a backplate.