10 DOWNING STREET
With acknowledgement and thanks to the BBC News Magazine at BBC online from which this article, of May 2010, is extracted.
It is the
only way in - and out - of the Prime
Minister's residence - a black Georgian door flanked by a dutiful police officer. But avid viewers of recent events at the centre of government may have noticed the door's almost unnatural sheen. The door is made of bomb-proof metal with high-quality gloss paint as a coating.
Originally made of black oak, the high-security replacement was installed after 1991's IRA attack, in which a mortar launched from a van parked in nearby Whitehall exploded in Number 10's back garden. The wooden original - thought to be Robert Walpole's door from 1735 - was replaced with an identical-looking high security door with a solid letter box. "At that point they realised a solid wooden door just wasn't strong enough and replaced it with a metal-backed version," says Cressida Finch, exhibitions manager of the Cabinet War Rooms, where the original now takes pride of place in the Churchill Museum.
Despite the nicks and bumps that give an old wooden door its character, even that is "incredibly shiny", she says. "Somebody comes down from Downing St, an official Number 10 cleaner, to polish the brass every couple of weeks. They don't like us touching it."
Nor has the front door always been black. During the early 20th Century it was painted green - dark green, in fact, from 1908 to 1916, when Herbert Asquith was in power. And as an April Fool joke in 2006, the Daily Mail reported that the famous black door had been replaced with a red version (see above).
As 10 Downing Street is a period building with many original features, the heavy high-security front door retains the Georgian panelled look of the wooden original. And the Downing Street website notes that the "0" in the number 10 is at an angle as a nod to the original, which had a badly-fixed zero.
When the door itself is in need of maintenance - perhaps a new lick of high-gloss paint - it is removed and replaced with a replica which is kept in storage, says Anthony Seldon, author of 10 Downing Street: The Illustrated History, which charts the architectural and human history of the building. These refurbishment works often take place during the summer recess, when the prime minister is out of town, on holiday. "Ever since it was replaced, there has been a spare door for when it needs repainting," says Mr Seldon. Being metal, the door is so heavy it takes several workmen to lift it off its hinges and away for a fresh lick of paint.
While the iron knocker in the shape of a lion's head still knocks, there is no point in ringing the brass doorbell to the right - it does not work. "The door just opens," says Mr Seldon. "They've got someone watching on a screen inside so they can see what's happening and when to open the door."
On the other side of that famous
exterior, there is a brass handle while the paintwork is off-white to blend in
with the muted tones of the entrance lobby.
CASTLE CHURCH, WITTENBERG, GERMANY
October 31st 1517 theology professor Martin Luther wrote to the Archbishop of
Mainz protesting against the sale of indulgences by the Pope. On the same day he
promoted his case against what he saw as the corrupt practices of the
established church by nailing his famous 95 Theses to the door of the Castle
Church in Wittenberg. Church doors were used at the time as community notice
boards. Luther's protest was the spark for the Protestant Reformation, which
spread rapidly with the help of the recently invented printing press.
HOUSE OF COMMONS
The heavy wooden internal doors that lead into the House of Commons have their moment of glory at every state opening of Parliament. The Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod is responsible for summoning the members of the House of Commons to the chamber of the House of Lords to hear the Queen's speech. As he approaches the doors of the House of Commons they are, improbably, slammed in his face. He then strikes the door three times with his staff, after which he is admitted. This show of reluctance to admit the monarch's representative dates back to 1642, when Charles I issued a warrant for the arrest of five Members of Parliament: John Hampden, Denzil Holles, Williams Strode and Sir Arthur Haselrig. He suspected, correctly, that they had colluded with the invading Scots. Charles I entered the House of Commons with an armed guard on 4th January 1642, intending to effect the arrest personally. However news of the warrant reach Parliament ahead of the King, and his five targets had slipped away.
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