Downing Street is named after Sir George Downing who built houses here in the 17th century. Sir George, 1623-84, spent part of his youth in the American colonies, he was the second graduate from the newly founded Harvard College, before returning to England to fight for the Parliamentarians in the Civil War.
In 1680 he purchased a piece of land near Whitehall Palace and built a street of houses.
Four of these houses have survived, and in 1732 George II gave No.10 Downing Street to Sir Robert Walpole and since that time the building has been the official residence of the Prime Minister.
As well at the Prime Minister’s private apartment, No.10 Downing Street houses the Cabinet Room, the State Dining Room, where official guests are entertained, and government offices. The black front door of No.10 Downing Street, guarded by a single policeman, is one of the most famous sights in England.
Other buildings in Downing Street also have government functions. No.11 is the official residence of the Chancellor of the Exchequer and No.12 houses the Whips’ Office, where Party campaigns are organized.
Until recently Downing Street was open to the public but in 1989 Margaret Thatcher had iron gates erected at the Whitehall end for security purposes.
Although visible from Whitehall, Downing Street is not open to the public