Chancellors, whips, and Wellington: Numbers 11, 12 and…. 14 Downing Street?

Image credit: U.S. Embassy in U.K., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

11 Downing Street

Image credit: U.S. Embassy in U.K., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

Everyone has heard of 10 Downing Street. But what about its neighbours. You have probably heard of Number 11, but what about 12, and what of the lost buildings – 13, 14, 15?

In 1682, George Downing decided to build some houses on a lease of land he had been gifted for his loyalty to the Stuart dynasty. He built five or six houses in this area, creating a cul-de-sac. Of these buildings, only 10, 11, and 12 remain.

Number 11

11 Downing Street
Image credit: U.S. Embassy in U.K., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons. 11 Downing Street.

One of the quirks of Downing Street is that it is the home of not only the Prime Minister, but also the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the government’s chief financial minister.

11 Downing Street has been the residence of the Chancellor of the Exchequer since 1828.  It echoes much of Number 10’s history. It was built by Downing at the same time, and in the same haphazard manner. It too has had its fair share of structural problems. However, until the early 1800s, Number 11 was in private hands, and consequently was repaired and decorated differently to Number 10. Today, 11 Downing Street has a very different appearance to Number 10, with a white wall around the door.

The lease on 11 Downing Street was purchased by the Treasury on the 30 September 1805. The original intention was that it would be used by the Home Secretary, but the Treasury, who had bought the building, took control quickly. Chancellors and Secretaries to the Treasury would inhabit the building for several years, whilst other parts were used as government offices. (Survey, pp. 142-53.)

During the 1840s, the Numbers 10, 11, and 12 buildings were combined as a single building. Despite the separate addresses, today they remain effectively one complex, and it is possible to walk between them without going outside. A corridor takes you straight from the entrance of Number 10 to the entrance of Number 11 and the staircase.  (Survey, pp. 142-53.)

Between 1855 and 1870, Number 11 was largely abandoned by Chancellors. This coincided with the period of the construction of the Foreign Office building, perhaps helping to explain the absence. Henceforth, the Foreign Office now loomed over the house, leaving it dark and cold.

For the rest of the 19th Century, the occupation of Number 11 would be occasional. However,  a turning point came in 1892 when Sir William Harcourt moved into Number 11. Relations with his neighbour, Lord Rosebery, were icy, but he certainly set a precedent in living in Number 11. (Survey, pp. 142-53.)

The next three Chancellors would live in Number 11, until Herbert Gladstone (the Home Secretary) lived there from 1905-08. After him, David Lloyd George began a long stay at the property from 1908-16, when Andrew Bonar Law moved in. Even when Lloyd George was replaced as Chancellor by Reginald McKenna in 1915, he remained in Number 11. (Survey, pp. 142-53.)

During the 1920s, many Chancellors chose not to live at Number 11. Labour’s first Chancellor, Philip Snowden, wrote about the building’s dismal condition, calling it ‘…a waste howling wilderness – one of the old type of houses which cost a fortune to run, and which modern servants will not work’.

Like the rest of Downing Street, Number 11 was heavily restored during the early 1960s. This featured a strengthening of the building, and a reconstruction of the adjacent Number 12. Just as with Number 10, architect Raymond Erith largely left the grand rooms unchanged, but did much to strengthen the building and improve the accommodation. He also added a lift.

Number 11 does not have the grand state rooms of Number 10, but it does have a couple of notable rooms.

There is a staircase with pictures of the ‘most memorable holders of the office’ around the first flight of steps. However, about halfway up to the first floor, the dignified historic prints give way to caricatures, and every Chancellor chooses a cartoon that will represent them on this wall.  This is a more light-hearted counterpart to the more formal staircase in Number 10, with pictures of every former Prime Minister.

There is also an elegant wood panelled State Dining Room, which, like the Number 10 dining rooms, was designed by Sir John Soane. This has been the scene of many dinners and meetings between Chancellors and advisers.

Further reading

The Chancellor

The Chancellor of the Exchequer is the ‘Second Lord of the Treasury’ and widely seen as the ‘Second Amongst Equals’ – the second in command to the Prime Minister (and sometimes, ‘the next in line’).

Though they live at Number 11, they do not often work there. Offices for the Chancellor are available in the Treasury Building, and today that is where the Chancellor is most commonly found.

The office of Chancellor is one of the oldest in the British system, with the first Chancellors being recorded during the 13th Century. In Medieval and Tudor times, the Lord High Treasurer looked after the royal accounts in coordination with the Exchequer. The modern Chancellor’s position derives from that of the clerk of the Lord Chancellor, who could affix the King’s seal to writs if the King and Lord Chancellor were absent. By 1230, a permanent Treasury office had been created. (Kynaston, p. 2.)

Further reading

A Gold Standard

It was in the State Dining Room, on 17 March 1925 that Chancellor Winston Churchill hosted a dinner with former Chancellor Sir Regina McKenna, Treasury advisers Sir Otto Niemeyer and Sir John Bradbury, and the economist John Maynard Keynes. The purpose was to decide whether Britain would return to the Gold Standard.

The Gold Standard linked the amount of money in circulation to the amount of gold in the economy. All paper money was fixed to a value of gold and could be exchanged for gold (indeed, British paper money still bears the words ‘I promise to pay the bearer on demand the sum…’ is a relic of these times).

Life in Number 11

Life in Number 11 is not as vibrant as in Number 10. There are fewer receptions and far less obligation to act as host. However, many Chancellors have looked back on their life in Number 11 as a somewhat strange experience.

One quirk of Number 11 is that the flat is far larger than the Number 10 flat, and it has therefore been used by many recent Prime Ministers as their own. In recent years, Prime Ministers Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, David Cameron, and Boris Johnson, who all had families, chose to live in Number 11. Meanwhile, the Chancellor has used the less spacious Number 10 flat.

Norman Lamont, who lived in the Number 11 flat during the 1990s was impressed:

Norman Lamont:
‘The accommodation, on two floors, is often described as a flat, but it is more like a house, and it is spacious. My son James…and my daughter Sophie…were delighted to have much bigger bedrooms than in our Notting Hill home. James and I were also delighted there was a table for table tennis on the top floor…”
(Lamont, p. 47-48.)

Over a century later, evidence of Gladstone’s spendthrift Victorian state remained. In 1983, Nigel Lawson was shocked to find that one man at Number 11 was the doorman, switchboard operator, liaison with Treasury messenger, and tea maker. He eventually found the funds for somebody else to help. (Lawson, p. 257.)

His wife, Thérése Lawson described life at Number 11:

Thérése Lawson:
“…between midnight and 8 am., there is never a quiet moment. There is constant activity, a constant stream of people coming in and out, and phones are always ringing…. ‘The average day is from 6am to 1am… Sundays aren’t free either. The telephones never stop ringing. The pressures seem endless. Even my diary has to be planned months ahead – Nigel’s is a year in advance. Yet… we both thrive, and so I think do the children. I don’t know why, and I can’t explain. Our life at Number 11 is positively unhealthy by normal rules. But we are very lucky to have this challenge’.”
(Lawson, p.259-60.)

Labour Chancellor Alistair Darling found what he described as the ‘parallel universe’ of Number 11 something of a relief at times:

Alistair Darling:
“…an impromptu bagpipe performance in the kitchen for my private office staff just before my last Budget. They watched rapt – or perhaps stunned – as the piper, a guest borrowed from a charity reception, marched around the flat playing a Hebridean lament. How appropriate. The neighbours did not complain, despite the unintended provocation.”
(Darling, pp. 82-3.)

Number 12

Number 12 was one of Downing’s original houses. It was also formerly Number 13 and was still numbered as 13 until the late 19th Century when the ordering was changed (with old 12 effectively annexed to 11).

Prime Minister Gordon Brown leaves Number 10 to visit The Queen at Buckingham Palace.
Taken from the end of Downing Street, this photograph shows Prime Minister Gordon Brown departing Number 10 to visit The Queen at Buckingham Palace in April 2010. Number 12 Downing Street is the redbrick building in the background. Image credit: ‘Gordon Brown departs for Palace’ Downing Street Flickr, Crown Copyright, licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 DEED.

This house was in private hands during the 18th Century, but the lease was sold to the Crown in 1803. For a while, the house was used by the Judge-Advocate-General, but in 1827 the Colonial Office moved in. The buildings seem to have blended together, with parts of 13 being used for Colonial Office purposes. (Survey, pp. 154-59.)

However, the original Number 12 was destroyed in a dramatic fire in 1879.

The Sheffield & Rotherham Independent, 29 January 1879


A serious fire broke out on Monday night at the Government offices in Downing Street, and for a time threatened the official residences of the Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer. Unfortunately, no water could be obtained from the park side, as there were no hydrants, and a great delay was occasioned thereby, as men were obliged to lay down hose to the lake within the enclosure. When water had thus been obtained the men worked with a will, and by eleven o’clock the fire was extinguished. The lower part of the building is completely wrecked, while the upper part is damaged by heat and water.

The building would be replaced by a single storey building called ‘the stump’, consisting of part of the old Number 12 that was salvageable. It was used for extra office space and was demolished as part of the 1960s renovation.

During the 1960s, seeking to create extra space for Downing Street, architect Raymond Erith proposed rebuilding Number 12. Consequently, an entirely new building (roughly in the same place as the original 12/13 was constructed). Because it was a new building, it was given a redbrick exterior, and it has never been painted black, like the historic Downing Street addresses.

Like all of Downing Street, the space in Number 12 is at the Prime Minister’s disposal. However, the upper floors tend to be used by the Chancellor and other 10 Downing Street staff.

The Whips’ office used the building for many decades after the 1960s – a reminder that a Prime Minister is only as strong as their majority in the Commons. During the 1980s, the Whips used the ground floor and basement of Number 12. Tim Renton was Chief Whip over 1989-90, and later wrote about the advantages of using Number 12.

Tim Renton:
“Like the Delphic oracle, much is made of the obscurity of the whips. The hidden access from No 12 to No 10, out of the view of the press waiting with the cameras in Downing Street, was one of those carefully nurtured mysteries. But speed of access was very important. At our first meeting, the Prime Minister [Margaret Thatcher] said that I could ask to see her at any time and, in moments of pressure, this might happen two or three times a day, with the demand coming either way……I saw more of the Prime Minister in my first week at No 12 than I had in all the previous five years as a minister.”
(Renton, p. 22.)

He described Number 12 as ‘like a tiny embassy’, a place where ‘Champagne was served at around 11.30 am in small silver mugs’, albeit ‘in modest quantities.’ (Renton, pp. 15-16.)

During the 1990s, Number 12 was used by Labour’s ‘spin doctor’ Alastair Campbell for media management. Since then, it has often housed offices for the Prime Minister’s communications.

Gordon Brown made considerable use of Number 12. During a trip to New York in April 2008, he had been impressed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s open plan office and decided to implement a similar system in Downing Street. He used the large room in Number 12 as an office, with a ‘horseshoe’ desk where he worked alongside key officials and aides. He found this to be a much more effective space to work than any of the alternatives in Number 10. It was in this place that he worked until the final hours of his premiership in May 2010. (Seldon, Brown, pp. 184-87.)

Further reading

Number 9

If you have got this far, you might be wondering why this article is written with 11 and 12 first. That is because 11 and 12 are more significant historically and in our own times. They are clearly defined buildings and lots of interesting things have happened in them. None of this can really be said about Number 9. So, it gets a less substantial billing.

9 Downing Street did exist during the 18th Century, but it was not one of the George Downing houses. Little is known about it, and it was demolished during the 1850s, when the Treasury building (which became the Cabinet Office building and is today adjacent to Whitehall) was built.

Further reading

The lost Downing Street

What of the other Downing Street buildings? George Downing originally constructed a cul-de-sac. What became of it?

During the early 1800s, all of these buildings became government offices. By the 1820s, the Treasury used Numbers 11 and 12, the War and Colonial Office was based in Number 14 and part of 13, the Foreign Office used Numbers 15 and 16. (Foreman, p. 82.)

For buildings that served a crucial government purpose they were not well cared for. Just like 10 Downing Street, they all suffered from the same problems. Unlike 10 Downing Street, there was rarely any money available to fix them, and consequently the problems mounted. These matters were exacerbated by heavy use. In the Foreign Office, for example, heavy printers were kept in the upper floors, with the vibrations from their work causing constant damage.

Further reading

Nelson and Wellington

One interesting occurrence that took place in the War and Colonial Office on 13/14 Downing Street was the only meeting of Britian’s greatest military leaders of the Napoleonic Wars, Admiral Lord (Horatio) Nelson and Major-General Arthur Wellesley (later the Duke of Wellington) on 12 September 1805.

Both were visiting Downing Street to meet Lord Castlereagh, the Secretary for War and the Colonies. At this time, Nelson was a recognisable national hero and celebrity, having won many great victories including Copenhagen and the Nile. But Wellesley, though he had distinguished himself during the Fourth Mysore War in India, was far less well known. The epic exploits of his Peninsular campaign and Waterloo were years in the future.


National Archives

WORK 12/682


Liaquat Ahamed, Lords of Finance: 1929, the Great Depression, and the Bankers who broke the world, (London, 2010).

Lucy Archer, Raymond Erith: Architect (London, 1985).

Colin Brown, Whitehall: The Street that Shaped a Nation (London, 2009).

Jack Brown, No.10: The Geography of Power at Downing Street (London, 2019).

Earl of Crawford et al, Report of the Committee on the Preservation of Downing Street, (London, 1958).

John Wilson Croker, The Croker Papers, Volume II, (London, 1885).

Alistair Darling, Back from the Brink: 1,000 Days at Number 11, (London, 2011).

Howard Davies (ed.) The Chancellors’ Tales: Managing the British Economy, (London, 2006).

‘The FCO: Policy, People and Places (1782-1995)’, History Notes, Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Issue 2, April 1991.

Susan Foreman, From Palace to Power: Illustrated History of Whitehall: An Illustrated History of Whitehall (Liverpool, 1995).

Richard Holmes, Wellington: The Iron Duke (London, 2003).

Lord (Geoffrey) Howe ‘Can 364 Economists all be Wrong’ pp. 76-99, in Howard Davies (ed.) The Chancellors’ Tales: Managing the British Economy, (London, 2006).

Roy Jenkins, Churchill (London, 2001).

Roy Jenkins, The Chancellors (London, 1999).

David Kynaston, Chancellor of the Exchequer (Suffolk, 1980).

Norman Lamont, In Office, (London, 1999).

Nigel Lawson, The View from Number 11: Memoirs of a Tory Radical (London, 1992). 

Lord (Nigel) Lawson, ‘Changing the Consensus’, pp. 113-133 in Howard Davies (ed.) The Chancellors’ Tales: Managing the British Economy, (London, 2006).

Tim Renton, The Chief Whip: The Role, History and Black Arts of Parliamentary Whipping (London, 2004).

Anthony Seldon, 10 Downing Street: The Illustrated History (London, 1999).

Anthony Seldon & Guy Lodge, Brown at 10 (London, 2010).

Robert Shepherd, Westminster: A Biography (London, 2012).

Henry B. Wheatley, London Past and Present: Its History, Associations and Traditions (London, 1891).


Aubrey Allegretti, ‘First pictures released of Boris Johnson’s new £2.6m briefing room’, Guardian, 15 March 2021, <>, accessed 16 January 2024.

‘Banknotes Frequently Asked Questions’, Bank of England, <>, accessed 16 January 2024.

‘Downing Street staff shown joking in leaked recording about Christmas party they later denied’, Guardian, 10 December 2021, <>, accessed 16 January 2024.

‘Small change: Britain and Gold Standard’, Parliament, <>, accessed 16 January 2024.

Survey of London: Volume 14, St Margaret, Westminster, Part III: Whitehall II, ed. Montagu H Cox and G Topham Forrest (London, 1931), British History Online <>, accessed 16 January 2024.

‘Treasury Buildings (Cabinet Office and Privy Council Office)’, Historic England, <>, accessed 16 January 2024.

Michael White, ‘Who lives at No 9 Downing Street?’, Guardian, 22 August 2016, <>, accessed 16 January 2024.

Stay updated...

Sign up to our newsletter to stay updated on the latest news, research and upcoming events.