Most of us know the White House is at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, though there’s no particular significance to the number: it’s right where 16th Street would intersect Pennsylvania, except that it doesn’t. (H Street is the terminus for this segment of 16th.) There’s nothing else of significance on the 1600 block anyway except Blair House, which is 1651. (The adjacent Lee House, at 1653, and two other townhouses have been subsumed by Blair.) And anyway, this is technically Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest; the street extends into the southeast quadrant of Washington. The address itself is not exactly iconic: in conversation or oratory, it’s always “The White House,” never “Sixteen Hundred.”
In Britain, things are different: “Number Ten” invariably refers to 10 Downing Street in the city of Westminster, the traditional residence of the Prime Minister. Over the years, Number Ten has been more fluid than the number suggests; at some point before 1787, 10 was actually 5 (though 6 probably did not turn out to be 9, pace Mr Hendrix). As is my wont, I got to wondering what else was on this street, specifically at 1 through 8.
No such addresses exist anymore: HM Government demolished everything east of Number Ten in the 1820s for the construction of government offices along Whitehall, though the westernmost section of that complex has an entrance along Downing Street and in 2001 was designated 9 Downing Street. It is the office of the Chief Whip, whose official residence remains at 12 Downing Street. (The original 9 shared a wall with 10; this is not the case today.)
Number 11 is the official residence of the Chancellor of the Exchequer; there’s an access door between 10 and 11, and indeed they can be considered one house with two entrances. In recent years, this has led to some minor dust-ups:
…there is no constitutional rule obliging the PM to move there and no one seems to much enjoy actually living there. The trouble is the upstairs layout, which includes one very nice four-room apartment with a large kitchen and airy dining room. Alas, it is located above No 11 and was the cause of a stand-off when Tony Blair invoked his primus inter pares status (and large family) to swipe it off the then childless Gordon Brown. David Cameron is continuing in the same tradition.
Then again, Cameron wasn’t actually screwing around with George Osborne, who at the time had chosen to remain in his home in Notting Hill, though a year after the 2010 elections Osborne moved to Downing Street — to Number 10.
Beyond 12 lies … nothing. The original 13 is now 12; 14 through 20 have long since been removed, and offices fronting on Whitehall and/or Parliament Street have taken the place of the higher numbers.
Still, wherever David Cameron or his successors may actually dwell, they’ll always be referred to in terms of Number 10. Her Majesty’s Government continues the tradition in cyberspace: the Web site for the PM’s office is Number10.gov.uk, complete with a reproduction of the actual digits on the door, an icon in their own right. (Those digits, in fact, deserve a discussion of their own.) And there’s the inevitable Twitter account @number10gov.
One thing I suppose I’ll never know: whether John Lennon might have been fuming about something that had happened at Number Ten while he was intoning “Number nine… number nine… number nine…”