The row over who paid for the redecoration of the Downing Street flat which Boris Johnson shares with Carrie Symonds led Alistair Lexden to explain, in a letter in The Times on April 29, how trouble would have been avoided if Gladstone had behaved differently in 1885.
Sir, A larger role for the state in the maintenance of official buildings is long overdue (leading article, Apr 28). No controversy would have arisen today in relation to the prime minister’s official residence if a plan proposed by the Treasury in 1885 had been agreed. A new use was needed for Dover House, the grand mansion in Whitehall where Lord Melbourne, Queen Victoria’s first prime minister, had once lived. The Treasury offered to refurbish it and keep it thereafter in a style worthy of all prime ministers in perpetuity. The cabinet as a whole approved, but Gladstone, in power at the time, refused to move because his wife could not be expected to entertain on the lavish scale that would be required. Mrs Gladstone was indeed a lamentable hostess, but Carrie Symonds would surely have been in her element in a large elegant house decorated to her specifications at the state’s expense.
Conservative Party historian