York's Mansion House and Minster were the focal points for mourners following the death of Diana, Princess of Wales on August 31, 1997. To mark the 20th anniversary of her death, MAXINE GORDON looks back at how the city grieved for the People's Princess

MICK and Cath Bradley were just settling down in the Mansion House kitchen to make a cup of tea after a late night engagement when their chauffeur came charging into the room.

It was the early hours of Sunday, August 31, 1997, and Mick was Lord Mayor of York at the time. He recalls: "We were sitting in the kitchen in the basement of the Mansion House when Paul came bursting in saying: 'We will have to put the flag at half mast'. I asked why and he told me Diana had died. It was an utter shock.

"The following day we were out at the official opening of the Holiday Inn at Hopgrove when we got a message from my secretary that we had to get back to the Mansion House because there was lots of press waiting for us.

"The Lord Mayor of York is the second most important Lord Mayor after London and the press wanted to speak to me. We went back and were inundated. There was all the local media as well as journalists from Sky, Channel 4 and Yorkshire TV."

One of his first acts was to sign a book of condolence. The Mansion House opened its doors for anyone wishing to leave a heart-felt message in the Princess's memory. Mick recalls: "TV cameras were following me down the hallway and when I went to sign the book I couldn't think what to say. The Sky TV camera was focussed on my hand. I remember writing: 'Diana, always in our thoughts'. I had to write something quickly, and that seemed respectable."

York Press:

Mick Bradley, the then Lord Mayor of York, with a book of condolence for Diana, Princess of Wales, following her death

That simple message would be the first of thousands written by people in York in memory of the much-loved royal.

Mourners queued all the way down Coney Street for their chance to sign the book of condolence. Flowers and soft toys began amassing there too. When Mick realised the scale of the outpouring of grief he knew one book would not be enough. "We laid out the books in the dining room for people to sign. We had people ringing the Mansion House bell at night saying they wanted to come in and sign and had been at work all day."

Some 30 books of condolence were filled by mourners in York. They were later sent to London along with others from across the country.

When children returned to school after the summer holidays at the beginning of September, many remembered Diana in their own way. At some schools, candles were lit in the princess's honour. At others, pupils were given paper on which to write their own messages of condolence. Elsewhere, children observed a minute's silence.

Many of the flowers left at the Mansion House were moved to York Minster ahead of special thanksgiving service held the day after Diana's funeral at Westminster Abbey.

The Minster became a focal point for mourners on the funeral day itself. TVs were installed in the Minster and at the Guildhall to ensure people without access to television, such as visitors to the city, were able to watch the funeral service. York came to a standstill that day – Saturday, September 6. Leisure centres, libraries and cinemas as well as the Jorvik Viking Centre and many city stores stayed closed until the mid afternoon, while the NRM shut for the entire day. Extra trains ran on the East Coast route from York to London in anticipation of the extra passengers heading south for the funeral.

A special Park and Ride service ran on Sunday, September 7, to bring mourners into York for the commemoration service at the Minster. The one-hour service, led by the then Archbishop of York, Dr David Hope, was also relayed to overspill crowds in St Michael-le-Belfrey Church next door and to neighbouring Dean's Park.

Mick and Cath Bradley led the civic party at the ceremony. Cath recalls panicking throughout because the expensive black hat she had hired for the occasion had been bombed by a pigeon and Minster staff had tried to mask it by covering the unsightly stain in black boot polish. She said: "As I walked down the central aisle of the Minster everyone was sniffing the air because of the boot polish. It is funny now, but wasn't funny at the time.I was having kittens and had a sleepless night worrying about taking the hat back to the shop." Happily, the store didn't charge for the damage and returned the Lady Mayoress's deposit.

A week after the funeral, the big clean-up began to remove the masses of flowers in York. Tractors from Askham Bryan Agricultural College removed the 4,000-plus bouquets from York Minster alone. They were to be taken to the college and turned into compost, later to be scattered in Dean's Park and the gardens surrounding the Minster.

Toys recovered were sent to St Martin House Children's Hospice – which Diana had visited in 1988.

Looking back, Mick Bradley, who is now 80 and lives in Spain, is proud of the way the city honoured the princess, and how he and Cath led the people of York in their mourning. He said: "It was very important to us. I felt the royals, the Queen and others, had washed their hands of her. We felt that was wrong."

Cath said Diana's lasting legacy lives on through her sons, who are continuing her charity work, often for taboo subjects, such as mental illness. Diana raised the profile of people with AIDS and work against landmines. "That is what everyone remembers her for. Her two sons are now taking up where she left off."

Remembering Diana in York

York Press:

TWENTY years ago, residents in Foxwood, Acomb, built the city's first memorial to Diana, Princess of Wales.

They created a memorial garden from a once derelict courtyard in Morrell Court, a quiet residential square in Acomb (pictured above in 1998).

It was paid for in a £10,000 neighbourhood initiative by the city council with the aim of transforming the area which had become a magnet for vandals.

The Lord Mayor of York came to the dedication of the memorial garden and a commemorative plaque was made by neighbour Paul Martin.

The council planted 12 trees and a mix of shrubs but resident Peter Hardy added a personal touch – four rose bushes, two red and two white. "That was my personal tribute," he told The Yorkshire Evening Press at the time. "I like roses and after all Elton John sang about Diana being an English Rose."

Sadly, today, the garden – and plaque – are no more, after the area was vandalised about five years ago.

Shirley Gumley, chairperson of Foxwood Residents Association, said: "The garden was wrecked about five or six years ago and we were really upset. Now it is just grass and trees, someone took down the plaque – we should have it somewhere. It was saved when the place was vandalised. It really upset us."

Shirley admired Diana. "She was a great ambassador for the country," she said. Watching a recent documentary on the late Princess brought the memories back. "It made me fill up," she said. "I was upset how she was treated by the Royal family. They just wanted to get new blood and that upset me."

York Press:

IN the year following Diana's death, a memorial flower bed was also planted in the grounds at Bishopthorpe Palace.

It was initially planted with roses – the varieties included ‘Remember Me’ and the ‘Princess Diana Rose’.

The design shape of the garden was modified around seven years ago and is still visible today in the front garden of the Palace (see above). It now has an annual border planted with winter and summer bedding, giving a lovely display of colour throughout the year.