On Tuesday night the Culture24 team travelled up to London for a celebration of the Museums at Night festival at Number 11 Downing Street.
We didn’t want this to be a traditional reception, but an example of how a Museums at Night event can show a space differently and bring a venue to life in a new light.
Our idea for ‘Number 11 at Night’ was inspired by the fact that Downing Street was built in the 1680s – so we put together a music playlist from the era, and suggested to caterers Mesdames Green and Graham that they look at recipe books from the period for inspiration.
Based on recipes from ‘The Closet of the Eminently Learned Sir Kenelme Digby Kt’, ‘A delightfull daily exercise for Ladies and Gentlewomen’ and ‘The English and French cook’, the delicious food options included potage, salted duck with juniper and boiled onion, herb ‘sallat’ and chicken ‘fricasie’.
Afterwards we drank Stepony raisin-and-ginger cordial, and sampled rosewater macarons and Leach lumbar-gingerbread (made with red wine and aniseed) – a tasty way to round off the evening!
We were keen to showcase the expertise of the arts and heritage sector, so invited historians and curators to act as storytellers to give some background on the building and its collections.
We’re very grateful to historians and archivists from the History of Parliament Trust and the Parliamentary Archives for sharing their knowledge about Downing Street, the people who’d lived there, and Chancellors from the past.
Each new Chancellor gets to select artworks from the Government Art Collection to display on the Downing Street walls, so two of their curators explained more about the paintings we were surrounded by.
Finally, there’s a tradition of displaying political cartoons of former Chancellors on the main staircase at Number 11 – and who better to interpret these pictures than experts from the Cartoon Museum and Lord Kenneth Baker, the museum’s chair?
We also wanted to explain to our guests and the media what our Connect10 competition for venues to win an artist involved – and were pleased that photographer Simon Roberts and jellymongers Bompas & Parr came along to talk about their plans.
Bompas & Parr also brought a south coast flavour to the capital by serving jellies in the shape of Brighton Pavilion’s domes.
It was a great opportunity to meet lots of museum and gallery people, and compare notes on what we’re all doing for Museums at Night weekend.
Several guests spotted David Cameron (whose family actually live at Number 11 Downing Street, rather than Number 10) – and I think most people stepped up for a photo in front of the famous front door!