Ray, Custodian at 10 Downing Street

May 21, 2015, 02:08 PM

My name is Ray Penny and I worked at Number 10 as a Custodian. I worked at Number 10 for approximately 27 years in total and when I started there the Prime Minister in office was Margaret Thatcher or now, who ended up Baroness Margaret Thatcher. I had the privilege of working with 5 British Prime Ministers: Margaret Thatcher, John Major, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and the present Prime Minister David Cameron.

There is always a custodian 24/7 on the door at Number 10. When I started working here they had like a permanent doorman; he would be on there most of the day. I think he just took about half an hour for his lunch and occasionally if he wanted to go to the toilet we would relieve him. He normally done Monday to Friday working late into the evening, just covering the receptions. However a few years ago a decision was made that the door duties would transfer over to the guards so which as there were 15 guards at the time so literally on a rota system, and we done an hour each on the door, rotation. The doorman’s post ceased after the retirement of the permanent doorman Bob Jordan. They used to call him Bob the door, in fact every person who's been on the door, if they’re Bob the door or Jim the door, or whatever.

My job as custodian was varied and interesting and my primary responsibilities were assisting the Prime Minister and his family in their home whenever required. Becoming the face of Number 10 for all those who come through the door. Meet and greet Heads of State and visitors to Number 10 when on front door duty. Check all invitations were valid for receptions and other functions being held within Number 10. Ensuring no one gained unauthorised admission to Number 10, performing other security checks around the building. It was always a busy job 24/7, however with the increasing staffing levels it got busier, particularly after the IRA attack on Downing Street as security levels went up and there was a requirement for a larger press office present at the time. Being that the media coverage literally went to 24 hour coverage, in fact, lots of televisions were all put round the building so we could all follow at the present time the main sky news 24 hour channel. Sometimes you didn’t even get time doing the job to even have a break, sometimes it was that busy, people coming and going in Number 10.

There are far too many changes which have happened in Number 10 to list them all but the major ones that affected myself and other custodians were the Prime Minister and his family moved from Number 10 to Number 11 Downing Street because the Number 11 flat was a slightly bigger flat. This was as a result of the next major change in Number 10, babies being born to serving Prime Ministers who had already other young children.

The press office staff increased from a small office with approximately 6 staff to a very much larger press office which I think was roughly between 25 and sort of 30 people: that was the outcome of the 24-hour news channels and whatever.

I have many favourite memories of Number 10; the first is being invited to my very first Christmas party in 1985 where Mrs Thatcher, well what it was I wasn’t actually posted to Number 10, but Mrs Thatcher, when I attended the party I was surprised because I got the invitation sent to my home. I attended the party and what really surprised me most of all, I had only been a couple of weeks at Number 10, is that the Prime Minister Mrs Thatcher she, it was quite a friendly, very friendly, very friendly close knit place in that time and it surprised me because she was walking around assisting the ladies in the kitchen and she put out the sausages on a plate to me and I took a sausage and I was absolutely shocked because being the, well the reputation of the Iron Lady here was the Prime Minister giving me a sausage on a stick, and that’s what really really surprised me and puts you at ease straight away doesn’t it, you know, work at Number 10, what a f...