In 1654, Downing purchased the lease on land south of Saint James’s Park, adjacent to the House at the Back, and within walking distance of Parliament. The Hampden family had a lease which prevented construction of the houses for thirty years. When the Hampden lease expired, Downing received permission to build further west to take advantage of recent real estate developments.
Between 1682 and 1684, Downing built a dead-end street of two-storey town homes complete with coach houses, stables and views of St James’s Park. The addresses changed several times; Number 10 was ‘Number 5′ for a while and did not become ’10’ until 1787. Downing employed Sir Christopher Wren to design his houses. Although large, they were put up quickly and cheaply on soft soil with shallow foundations. The fronts, for example, were façades with lines painted on the surface imitating brick mortar.
Downing probably never lived in his townhouses. In 1675, he retired to Cambridge where he died a few months after they were completed. His portrait hangs in the entrance foyer of the modern Number 10 Downing Street.
The houses between Number 10 and Whitehall were taken over by the government and demolished in 1824 to allow the construction of the Privy Council Office, Board of Trade and Treasury offices. In 1861 the houses on the west side of Downing Street gave way to new purpose-built government offices for the Foreign Office, India Office, Colonial Office, and the Home Office.
The first barriers in Downing Street were erected at the St James’s Park end of the street for the unveiling of the Cenotaph on 11 November 1920. They were a public safety measure intended to prevent the crowds in Whitehall from becoming too dense.
With the movement for Irish independence increasing in violence, it was decided that these barriers would be retained, raised and strengthened. In addition, substantial wooden barricade at the end of the streets were erected. Vehicle gates were included in the barrier. The barriers were taken down in 1922 with the creation of the Irish Free State, but vehicle access has been curtailed since 1973 when metal barriers were placed across the entrance to the street.
In 1974, the Metropolitan Police proposed erecting a semi-permanent barrier between the pavement and carriageway on the Foreign Office side of the street, to keep pedestrians off the main part of the street. The proposal came with assurances that tourists would still be permitted to take photographs at the door of Number 10. However then Prime Minister, Harold Wilson rejected the proposal, feeling that it would appear to be an unacceptable restriction of the freedom of the public.
In 1982 access was more fully restricted with railings and a demountable gate. This was replaced by the current black steel gates in 1989. The increase in security was again due to an increase in violence, particularly by the IRA.
The museum’s famous tapestry collection includes the 15th-century cycle “La Dame à la Licorne”. Five pieces of the cycle are interpreted as depicting five senses, while the meaning of the sixth one remains ambiguous. Other notable items are sculptures from the 7th and 8th centuries, works of gold, ivory, furnishings and illuminated manuscripts.
The Hôtel de Cluny was partially constructed on the remains of Gallo-Roman baths dating from the 3rd century (known as the Thermes de Cluny). In fact, the museum itself consists of two buildings: the frigidarium (‘cooling room’), where the remains of the Thermes de Cluny are, and the Hôtel de Cluny itself, which houses its impressive collections.
The Hôtel de Cluny was built in the 14th century as the town house of the abbots of Cluny. In 1833 Alexandre du Sommerard moved there and installed his large collection of medieval and Renaissance objects. Upon his death in 1842 the collection was purchased by the state. The building was opened as a museum in 1843.
In front of me the six tapestries lay: “À Mon Seul Désir”, “The Sight,” “The Hearing”, “The Taste”, “The Smell”, “The Touch”; in each tapestry there is at least one lady and a unicorn.
They have been given plenty of meanings; a lot of books have been written in the quest of other lost tapestries. The first interpretation is that the set of tapestries ends with the lady’s renouncing: after having enjoyed pleasures, she gives up the passion and the reason wins, symbolically depicted through the gesture of taking off the jewelry. If “À Mon Seul Désir” is the first and not last tapestry in the set, then passion is the one winning over reason, as she is actually putting on the jewelry and not taking them off. Both versions are perfectly possible. In the second case, some writers say that there should be a seventh tapestry to show us the destiny the character has had in the context of an austere Middle Ages where reason was gloriously winning over emotions.
After plunging in the heart of the Middle Ages I get back in the middle of town in the Luxembourg Gardens. History and art intertwine here: the center is of the ancient statues, all eyes staring at Goddess Diana, then writers and queens, all dressed in flowers and scents of summer.