No. 12, Downing Street

Survey of London: Volume 14, St Margaret, Westminster, Part III: Whitehall II. Originally published by London County Council, London, 1931.

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'No. 12, Downing Street', in Survey of London: Volume 14, St Margaret, Westminster, Part III: Whitehall II, (London, 1931) pp. 154-159. British History Online [accessed 18 April 2024]

In this section


Ground Landlord.

The premises are the freehold of the Crown, and are used as the office for the Government Whips.

History and Description of the Building.

On 17th April, 1723, Charles Downing demised (fn. n1) to James Steadman, for a term of 37¼ years from Lady Day following, a messuage situated "in a place heretofore called Hampden Garden near Kingstreet … at the West end of … Downing Street … containing in length on the East part thereof Fifty eight Foot eight Inches, on the West part thereof Fifty eight Foot eight Inches, on the North part thereof Forty Four Foot nine Inches, and on the South part thereof Forty Four Foot nine Inches, being the Corner house, and abutting in part upon Downing Street … on the East, and in other part on the East on one other house of the said Charles Downings late in the Tenure of Thomas Fredrick, Esquire, deceased, upon the Terras Adjoyning to Saint James's Park Wall on the West and North parts, and upon a Messuage … now under Repaire and lett to the Lord Harcourt on the South." The premises are obviously those marked 2 on the plan of 1749, and correspond with the present No. 12, Downing Street. The house was included in the sale on 24th November, 1772, by the Downing Trustees to William Maseres (see p. 142), who on 25th May, 1775, leased the premises for 30 years to Henry Hunt. They are described as "theretofore in the tenure of Sir John Cust, Bart., since of Dame Elthreda Cust his Widow, & then in the tenure of Simon Frazer, Esqr., Major General of his Majestys Forces." Three weeks later (15th June) Fraser bought the lease from Hunt, and on 17th May, 1777, acquired the interest of Maseres. Fraser died on 8th February, 1782, and his executors in April, 1783, disposed of the premises to James Martin, of Whitehall. On 8th June, 1803, Martin sold the property to the East India Company (fn. n2) under the description of the messuage "theretofore in the Tenure of the Duke of Bolton, afterwds of Elthreda Cust and since in the Tenure of … Simon Fraser and late of … James Martin and then of the said United Company or their Agent." (fn. n3) In July, 1803, the residue of the Downing lease (due to expire in 1820) was purchased by the Crown for £9,000 plus £433 for fixtures. At first the house was used as the official residence of the Judge-Advocate-General, but in 1827 it was appropriated for the use of the Colonial Office, already housed in the premises immediately adjoining to the south, and communications on the first and second floors were made between the two houses. (fn. n4) A view of the premises in the same year is contained in Plate 142.

Figure 31:

PLAN. OF GROUND FLOOR (Before alterations carried out in 1879)

In 1879, after the removal of the Colonial Office to their new quarters, the premises were reduced to one storey above the terrace. Plate 141 shows the north and west elevations of the house before this alteration.

As regards the date of the existing portion, the historical evidence is similar to that of No. 11 (see p. 145). The assessable value was considerably increased after 1772, (fn. n5) and yet the case for historical continuity seems even more clear. (fn. n6)

As in the case of No. 11, the Downing Street front may be assigned to 1772, but the western front may well date back to the original building in 1682. When the premises were reduced to their present height, internal alterations to the remaining storey were made, including the removal of a geometraical staircase and entrance porch, and the formation of a new entrance hall, while extensions were carried out on the north. Another staircase has since been formed leading to the first floor of No. 11. The windows on the west side of the premises have red brick dressings with gauged arches.

Condition of Repair.


Historical Notes.

The following is a list of occupants of No. 12, Downing Street, from 1723 until its use by the Colonial Office in 1827:—

1724–1743 Archbishop of York
1744–46 Earl of Huntingdon
1749–50 Duke of Bolton
1751–57 Lord Petersham (Earl of Harrington)
1757–62 Earl of Halifax
1763–70 Sir John Cust
1770–71 Lady Cust
1774–75 Sir John Eden
1775–82 General Simon Fraser
1784–1800 James Martin
1804–06 Sir Chas. Morgan
1806–07 Sir Chas. Morgan (junr.)
1807–09 R. Dundas.
1809–17 Chas. Manners-Sutton
1817–27 John Beckett (Sir John Beckett)

Lancelot Blackburne was born in 1658, ordained in 1681, and shortly afterwards went to the West Indies. After his return he attached himself to the Bishop of Exeter, becoming a prebendary in 1691 and sub-dean in 1695. In 1696 he obtained the rectory of Calstock in Cornwall. He became successively Dean of Exeter (1705), Archdeacon of Cornwall (1715), Bishop of Exeter (1717), and Archbishop of York (1724). Blackburne was witty and gay, though it seems likely that these characteristics have been exaggerated. Horace Walpole refers (fn. n7) to him as "the jolly old Archbishop of York, who had all the manners of a man of quality, though he had been a Buccaneer and was a Clergyman." The latter allusion is to the story that Blackburne in his West Indian journey had acted as chaplain on one of the ships engaged in buccaneering, and shared the booty, "the joke running that one of the buccaneers on his arrival in England asked what had become of his old chum Blackburne, and was answered that he was Archbishop of York." (fn. n8) His residence in Downing Street is mentioned by both Horace Walpole (fn. n9) and Hervey. (fn. n10) He died in 1743 and was buried at St. Margaret's, Westminster. His residence at No. 12, Downing Street, is shown by the ratebooks to have lasted from 1724 to his death.

The ratebooks from 1744 to 1747 show the Earl of Huntingdon in respect of the house. This was Theophilus, the 9th earl, who was born in 1696 and succeeded to the title in 1705. His wife, who presumably lived with him for a time in Downing Street, was the well-known Selina, Countess of Huntingdon, the friend of the Wesleys and Whitefield, who founded the still existing "Lady Huntingdon's connexion." The earl died in 1746 "at his house in Downing-street," (fn. n11) and the countess in 1791.

According to the ratebooks the Duke of Bolton occupied the house during 1749–50, and the residence is confirmed by the plan of Downing Street in 1749 (see Plate 106).

Charles Paulet, 3rd Duke of Bolton, was born in 1685. On completing his education he travelled on the Continent. He was in the House of Commons (save for an interval of 5 years) from 1705 to 1717, and in the latter year was summoned to the House of Lords as Lord Basing. In 1722 he succeeded to the dukedom. He was an opponent of Walpole, who in 1733 deprived him of his offices. Until 1728 he was a notorious rake, but in that year fell a victim to the charms of Lavinia Fenton, with whom he formed a constant connection which culminated in marriage on the death of the duchess in 1751. He died three years later.

The ratebooks from 1751 to 1757 show that he was succeeded at No. 12, Downing Street, by Lord Petersham, afterwards Earl of Harrington.

William Stanhope, Viscount Petersham, was born in 1719, and succeeded his father as Earl of Harrington in 1756. "He was a somewhat eccentric personage, and from a peculiarity in his gait was nicknamed Peter Shambles." (fn. n12) He entered the army in 1741, distinguished himself at Fontenoy (1745), and became general in 1770. He died in 1779.

The next occupant of the house is given by the ratebooks from 1757 to 1762 as the Earl of Halifax.

George Montagu Dunk, 2nd Earl of Halifax, was born in 1716, and took the name of Dunk on his marriage with Anne Richards, who inherited the property of Sir Thomas Dunk. He succeeded to the earldom in 1739. From 1748 to 1761 he was President of the Board of Trade. Under his supervision the British mercantile interests were greatly promoted, and the commerce of the American colonies so much extended that he obtained the title of Father of the Colonies. The name of Halifax in Nova Scotia still attests his energy in aiding the foundation of that colony. In 1761 he was appointed Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland, in 1762 First Lord of the Admiralty, and in the same year and 1763 was made Secretary of State for North and South respectively. In this capacity he signed the general warrant against Wilkes, for which damages were afterwards awarded against him. Halifax retained his office until 1765, and again became Secretary of State in 1771. He died the same year.

The ratebooks for 1763 to 1770 show the house in the occupation of Sir John Cust (fn. n13) and, for the following year, of Lady Cust.

Sir John Cust, Bt., the eldest son of Sir Richard Cust, was born in 1718 and succeeded his father in the baronetcy in 1734. In 1742 he was called to the Bar at the Middle Temple, and in the following year entered Parliament as member for Grantham. In 1761 he was elected Speaker of the House of Commons, a position which he held until a few days before his death in January, 1770. In 1743 he had married Etheldred, daughter and co-heiress of Thomas Payne, of Hough-on-the-Hill, Lincolnshire. She died in 1775.

Sir John Cust.

According to the ratebooks the house, after Lady Cust had left, remained empty until 1774, when it was occupied by Sir John Eden, who removed in the following year to the house adjoining on the south side, where he lived for many years. (fn. n14)

In 1775 the name of Sir John Eden is crossed through, and that of General Simon Fraster substituted as from Christmas.

Simon Fraser, sometime Master of Lovat, eldest son of the 12th Baron Lovat, who was executed for high treason in 1747, was born in 1726. In the 1745 rebellion he headed the clan in the Jacobite interest, and was included in the general act of attainder, but in 1750 received a full pardon. In 1752 he entered as an advocate, but subsequently abandoned the law for a military career. In 1756 on the outbreak of the Seven Years War he raised a corps of Highlanders (78th or Fraser Highlanders), with whom he did good service in America. In 1762 he was sent to Portugal as brigadier-general and held the temporary rank of major-general (afterwards lieutenant-general) in the Portuguese army. At the Peace of 1763 his regiment was disbanded, and he was put on halfpay. In 1774 he obtained the restoration of the family estates on payment of a capital sum. On the outbreak of the American War of Independence, Fraser, then a major-general, raised another regiment (the 71st or Fraser Highlanders) but did not accompany them to America. From 1761 until his death he was M.P. for Inverness-shire. "He died in Downing Street, London, 8 Feb., 1782." (fn. n15)

Simon Fraser.

The ratebooks from 1784 to 1800 show James Martin at No. 12.

In 1803 (see p. 155) the Government purchased the house for the residence of the JudgeAdvocate-General, and the ratebooks from 1804 to 1807, and Boyle's Court Guide for 1805 to 1807 show Sir Charles Morgan residing there.

Sir Charles Gould, who assumed the name of Morgan in 1792, was a son of King Gould, Deputy-Judge-Advocate, and was born in 1726. He was called to the Bar in 1750, and in 1771 was appointed Judge-Advocate-General. He was knighted in 1779 and made a baronet in 1792. He died at Tredegar in December, 1806. For a short time Sir Charles Morgan's son (also Sir Charles) was allowed to reside at No. 12. (fn. n16)

In August, 1807, Robert Dundas, then President of the India Board, asked the Treasury "to make over the house … to him as his official residence. From a Treasury minute of May, 1809, it appears that he was thereupon permitted to occupy the premises, though without any formal assignment of them." (fn. n17)

Robert Saunders Dundas (2nd Viscount Melville) was the only son of Henry Dundas, 1st Viscount Melville, the friend of Pitt. He was born in 1771, and entered Parliament in 1794 as member for Hastings. The two chief offices which he held were those of President of the Board of Control (1807–9 and again 1809–12), and First Lord of the Admiralty (1812–27 and again 1828–30). In 1811 he succeeded his father as Viscount Melville, and died in 1851.

Dundas's residence at No. 12 lasted about two years. The ratebooks show him as entering at Christmas, 1807, (fn. n18) and leaving at Midsummer, 1809. The house then passed again into the hands of the Judge-Advocate-General in the person of Charles Manners-Sutton.

Charles Manners-Sutton (1st Viscount Canterbury), son of Charles Manners-Sutton, Archbishop of Canterbury, was born in 1780, and was called to the Bar in 1806. In the same year he entered Parliament as member for Scarborough. In 1809 he was appointed Judge-AdvocateGeneral, and held that position until 1817 when he was elected Speaker of the House of Commons. He lost the chair in 1835, and was created Baron Bottesford and Viscount Canterbury. He died in 1845.

The ratebooks show Manners-Sutton in 1817 succeeded by John Beckett. (fn. n19) Beckett was the eldest son of Sir John Beckett, who became a baronet in 1813. He was born in 1776 and was educated at Cambridge. In 1803 he was called to the Bar of the Inner Temple. In 1817, when Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, he was appointed Judge-Advocate-General, and held the post for ten years. (fn. n20) In 1826 he had succeeded his father in the baronetcy. He died at Brighton in 1847. (fn. n21)

In the Council's Collection Are:—

Basement and ground-floor plans showing proposed alterations in 1879 (copy of plans in the possession of H.M. Office of Works).
(fn. n22) North and west elevations before 1879 (copy of drawing in the possession of H. M. Office of Works).


  • n1. Middx. Memls., 1723, IV, 26.
  • n2. In Sir Wm. Foster's John Company (pp. 259 ff.) an account is given of how the East India Company came to purchase the house, which they did not want. "In August, 1800, Dundas [Henry Dundas, afterwards 1st Viscount Melville] had written to the Chairman to say that the quarters of the India Board had always been inadequate, and were now, owing to the increase of business, intolerably cramped. 'The room where the Board meet is small, noisy, and uncomfortable, and in fact I have not a room to myself in the whole office.' He suggested, therefore, that the Company should buy two commodious houses which then closed in the western end of Downing Street; one of these would make excellent premises for the Board, while the other might be allotted as an official residence for the President. This was rather a cool proposal, seeing that the Company had never been expected to find quarters for the Board, much less to provide a house for its chief, but the Directors made no objection. To further the scheme, Pitt himself wrote to the Chairman, assuring him that the Crown would prolong the lease on the existing terms, providing that the houses were still appropriated to public purposes. Thereupon (November 26th) the Directors authorised the purchase of the two houses, at a cost of £6, 650 for the one on the northern side, belonging to Mr. James Martin, and £6, 300 for its neighbour, which was the property of Mr. Eliot. By the end of March, 1801, Martin's house had been bought [thought, as above pointed out, the conveyance was not signed until 8th June, 1803] and was being fitted up for Dundas's use; but the situation was suddenly changed by his retirement from the post of President, and he announced that he did not wish the proposal pressed. The matter was debated at a General Court held early in April. Some suggested that the house and furniture should be placed at Dundas's disposal for the rest of his life; others thought that it should be made available for the new President; in the end the consideration of the matter was postponed sine die."
  • n3. The above information is derived from the "Abstract of title of the United Company of Merchants of England trading to the East Indies." (P.R.O., T. 64/135.)
  • n4. See Report by B. C. Stephenson, dated 9th August, 1827. (P.R.O., Works, 1/15, pp. 363–4.)
  • n5. From £165 to £225, reduced two years later to £207.
  • n6. When General Fraser mortgaged it in 1775 (Middx. Memls., 1775, IV, 358), it was described as "theretofore in the Tenure of Sir John Cust Bart., deced, and since of Dame Elthrida Cust, his Widow, and then in the Tenure of the said Simon Frazer," a description which is hardly compatible with the suggestion that it had been rebuilt only three years before, and that Fraser's house was, therefore, quite a different structure from that in which the Custs had lived. Moreover, when in 1777 the Downing trustees parted with their interest (Ibid., 1777, V, 60) to Fraser, the house is described as "theretofore in the Tenure of his Grace the Duke of Bolton and afterwards of Dame Etheralda Cust, and then in the Tenure of the said Simon Frazer."
  • n7. Memoirs of the reign ofGeorge II, I, p. 87.
  • n8. Dict. Nat. Biog.
  • n9. "I was much better acquainted with Archbishop Blackburne. He lived within two doors of my father in Downing Street, and took much notice of me when I was near man … I often dined with him,— his mistress (Mrs Cruwys) sat at the head of the table, and Hayter, his natural son by another woman, and very like him, at the bottom, as chaplain: he was afterwards Bishop of London." (Letters, Vol. XI, p. 334.) The statement as to his relationship to Hayter has been refuted, and it is probable that the other suggestion is equally unfounded. In a codicil to his will (P.C.C., 144, Boycott) the archbishop devised "unto my very worthy and faithfull Friend, Dorothy Cruwys, Spinster," his English books and jewellery, "as also all my Household Stuff and Furniture of what nature or kind soever in my House in Dow[n]ing Street."
  • n10. Hervey's Memoris of the reign of George II, ed. by Croker, 1848 edn., II, p. 89.
  • n11. Life and Times of Selina, Countess of Huntingdon, I. p. 74.
  • n12. Dict. Nat. Biog.
  • n13. "On Saturday Sir John Cust, Bart., Speaker of the House of Commons, came to town from his seat at Grantham in Lincolnshire to his house in Downing-street, Westminster." (London Chronicle, 29th August-1st September, 1767.)
  • n14. In spite of the fact that experience shows that ratebook evidence which suggests a removal from one house to the next is frequently suspect, and the further fact that, as both houses were empty at the same time and were equally assessed, a mistake might easily be made, it is probable that the entry is correct, for there is evidence that Eden did not take the next-door house until May, 1775 (see p. 164).
  • n15. Dict. Nat. Biog.
  • n16. A few days after his father's death Sir Charles Morgan wrote to Lord Grenville asking permission, in view of his wife's bad state of health, to remain for six months at a rent, which was afterwards fixed at 300 guineas a year, free of taxes. (Crown Lands Entry Book, H. 5, p. 4.) The last reference to his residence here which has been found is on 15th August, 1807. ("Sir Charles Morgan and family yesterday evening left their town-house in Downing-street for Brighton."—Morning Chronicle.)
  • n17. Sir Wm. Foster's John Company, p. 261.
  • n18. "Mr. Robert Dundas is to reside in the house lately occupied by Sir Charles Morgan." (Morning Chronicle, 20th October, 1807.)
  • n19. "By command of the Lords Commissioners of His Majesty's Treasury, I transmit herewith a Letter from Mr Beckett of the 10th Instant, requesting that directions may be given for preparing his Official House in Downing Street as Judge Advocate General." (17th September, 1817, P.R.O., Works, 1/8, p. 247.)
  • n20. April, 1827: "The following official personages have also sent in their resignations. … Sir John Beckett, Judge Advocate General." (Gentleman's Magazine.)
  • n21. Annual Register.
  • n22. Reproduced here.