BRITAIN’S second woman Prime Minister, Theresa May, is having a fairly rough time of it at the moment. So, in the end, did Britain’s first - the inimitable Margaret Thatcher. But she had a good, long spell in office first - 11 years, from 1979 to 1990.

It was ultimately the poll tax which brought Mrs Thatcher down. That, and a character trait she seems to share in abundance with Mrs May: a refusal to budge.

The imposition of the tax - which many regarded as a way of getting poorer people to shoulder more of the tax burden - sparked rioting in London. The Iron Lady, used to getting her own way, refused to back down. With the economy weakening and Conservative support falling, Tory grandees decided it was time to act. On November 14, Michael Heseltine mounted a challenge for the leadership of the Conservative Party. Although Mrs Thatcher led after the first ballot of 204 Conservative MPs, she was four votes short of the required 15 per cent majority. That triggered a second ballot. The Iron Lady at first declared her intention to fight on, but after consulting with her Cabinet colleagues was persuaded to resign. She famously left Downing Street in tears. Well, as Enoch Powell famously said, all political careers ultimately end in failure.

In 1984, when the Prime Minister visited York, however, she was riding high. A couple of years earlier, Britain had defeated Argentina in the Falklands War. Mrs Thatcher surfed a wave of popular support as a result (even though, later, questions were to be asked about the sinking of the Argentine warship the General Belgrano). By 1984, she was presiding over another war - this time, an economic and political civil war between miners and the Government (represented by the National Coal Board). It was the kind of conflict on which she seemed to thrive.

Her visit to York, in the teeth of striking miners, took in York Minster, so recently damaged by fire, and the National Railway Museum: where she couldn’t resist indulging in a joke at the miners’ expense. Pointing to a pile of coal in an engine tender, she remarked: “I see you have some... and very good coal it looks too.”

We have three photographs taken during that visit. One shows her getting a close-up view of the Rose Window: the other two were taken during her visit to the NRM. Memories...

Other photographs today have been chosen from our archive for no other reason than that we liked them. They include a 1980 view of a new bell being hoisted 150 feet up the west face of York Minster, and a 1969 photograph of York’s ‘new’ GPO sorting office. There are also two photographs from 1970: one showing the demolition of St George’s Hall in Castlegate; and the other repair work on York’s city walls near Kings Manor.


Stephen Lewis