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    A furniture removal lorry is seen parked at the rear of number 10 Downing Street, in central London, Britain July 12, 2016

    Secret Files: Mandarins Fretted About Cost of Repairing Furniture in Downing Street

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    On 23 July Theresa May will leave 10 Downing Street, handing over to her successor as Prime Minister. Sputnik has been examining files in the National Archives from 1964 which go into great detail about what Downing Street bills were the responsibility of the then prime minister.

    On 16 October 1964 Harold Wilson entered 10 Downing Street the day after his Labour Party defeated the Conservatives in a General Election.

    Wilson, who replaced Sir Alec Douglas-Home, was given a memo by his appointments secretary, John Hewitt, “concerning the occupancy of 10 Downing Street and of Chequers and Dorneywood.”

    The note, in a file released on Thursday 18 July by the National Archives, says the Ministry of Public Buildings and Works was responsible for the cost of maintaining the furniture, cleaning the carpets and replacing broken crockery and glass and worn out table cloths, as well as the electricity, gas and water bills.

    ​But the memo goes on to remind Mr Wilson the Prime Minister was responsible for “the cost of repairs and renewals (to furniture) where this deficiency or damage is not due to fair wear and tear”, “the cost of cleaning and washing all bed and table linen” and the “insurance of private property in Number 10,” the latter one presumably being in case of light-fingered foreign leaders pinching Mr Wilson’s belongings.

    WILSON BREZHNEV GROMYKO
    © RIA Novosti . V. Malyshev
    Harold Wilson on visit to the USSR

    The memo goes on to explain that “official entertainment of overseas visitors is provided and paid for by the Government Hospitality Fund” but any entertainment provided for party political purposes had to be reimbursed.

    As for booze, Mr Wilson - who was fond of brandy - was reminded “Arrangments can be made for the cost of drinks consumed in the Cabinet Room, when the Prime Minister receives guests officially, to be met by the Treasury Departmental Fund.”

    Mr Wilson was then giving a brief history lesson.

    “Before the 1939-1945 war it was usual for the prime minister’s wife to provide her own secretary or secretaries. Mrs (Neville) Chamberlain had two,” reads the memo.

    ​Mr Hewitt then goes on to explain that recent prime ministers - Harold Macmillan and Alec Douglas-Home - had retained one secretary, whose salary was partly paid for by the Treasury because her job largely involved keeping up with official correspondence to the prime minister’s wife which included appeals from members of the public about “housing, charitable cases and so forth.”

    Harold Wilson was told his wife, Mary, would be expected to pay a third of the secretary’s £600 a year salary and if she wanted a “more highly qualified person” on a bigger salary she would have to pay the extra.

    When Mary Wilson died last year aged 102, Gordon Brown described her as a “role model….as a writer, a mother and as a woman who carried out her public role with determination and dignity, always offering support”

    ​Wilson’s own secretary was the domineering Marcia Williams, later to be made Baroness Falkender. When she died in February this year several obituaries referred to rumours that she and Wilson had been having an affair during his time in Downing Street.

    The files go on to list the cars Mr Wilson and his entourage would be provided with at public expense - three Humber Super Snipes, equipped with wireless receivers and transmitters.

    ​In the 1960s there was no terrorist threat from the Provisional IRA or Islamist groups and prime ministers did not need bombproof or bulletproof vehicles.

    Mr Hewitt goes on to explain “there is no objection to the official cars being used by the Prime Minister or his wife for private purposes such as private lunches or dinners, shopping or for purely political engagements” but would have to pay for the petrol at a rate of nine pence per mile.

    Mr Wilson was also provided with an “ivory pass” which allowed him to drive through the Horse Guards Arch as a shortcut on his way to and from Buckingham Palace.

    In 1964 the Prime Minister’s salary was £10,000 a year, the first £4,000 of which was tax-free, and Mr Wilson could also claim up to £750 a year in expenses.  

    The National Archives also contains a similar note which was sent to the Conservative leader, Harold Macmillan, when he entered 10 Downing Street in 1957. Macmillan’s wife, Lady Dorothy, had a tendency to use her official driver to take her between London and her family home in Sussex.

    An earlier file refers to the Downing Street chauffeur, called Tribe, who had driven both wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill and his successor Clement Attlee. When Churchill returned to power in 1951 Tribe stayed on but as driver to the Prime Minister’s wife, Clementine.

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    Chequers, Prime Minister, Downing Street
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