Cornwall remembers Margaret Thatcher

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Media captionFormer MPs in South West England recall their dealings with Margaret Thatcher

Being the first woman Prime Minister of Great Britain ensured Margaret Thatcher was rarely out of the public eye.

On the limited occasions she was able to relax from her political duties, she and her husband, Denis, found solace in Cornwall, where the couple regularly took holidays.

The prime minister fell in love with Constantine Bay and, during her years in power, she and Denis were often seen on the beach and in the surrounding area.

During one such stay, Mrs Thatcher visited Prideaux Place, an Elizabethan manor house in Padstow.

As owner Peter Prideaux Brune recalls, a visit to the historic home left Mrs Thatcher firmly behind closed doors.

'Cold welcome'

He said: "I welcomed her in and started the tour talking about the original Elizabethan door, with the original lock and key and it's still working.

"I shut the door, turned the lock and that's where it all went really wrong as I couldn't unlock it.

"So it was a wonderful moment in the history of Prideaux Place where we had the prime minister of Great Britain locked in the house with her armed officers outside.

"She thought it was so funny. She absolutely roared with laughter. She was absolutely charming."

Image copyright PA
Image caption Margaret Thatcher often holidayed in Cornwall during her years as Prime Minister

At Number 10, Mrs Thatcher's abrasive style and unshakeable convictions sharply divided voters and proved an acquired taste among many of her own MPs.

David Mudd, Conservative MP for Falmouth and Camborne from 1970 until 1992, remembers: "I was invited along to Margaret Thatcher's private room. Unlike other prime ministers where you were given a cold gin and a warm welcome, with Margaret, it was always a cold welcome and warm gin. But she listened to what I had to say."

Three years into her premiership, in 1982, the South West played a major role in one of the defining moments of her premiership, the Falklands War.

Former St Ives MP Sir John Nott was the defence secretary during the conflict.

He said: "I am a great admirer of Margaret Thatcher. I think she was an excellent prime minister. I think she changed the way the country saw itself. I am full of admiration for what she achieved."

But there was little rejoicing in subsequent years of her administration at Plymouth's Devonport Dockyard, which had played a vital part in preparing the navy task force in 1982.

By 1987, it had felt the full impact of the Thatcherite industrial revolution as the unions fought in vain to halt the tide of privatisation.

As the district officer for the AEEU engineering union in Plymouth, Bill Goffin was one of those fighting the privatisation in the 1980s.

"Here was somebody who was good at destroying things. I am not so sure she was as good at creating or mending things and I think that was her downfall," he said.

Margaret Thatcher's swansong in the South West came a decade later when she addressed a 2001 general election rally in Plymouth.

Mr Mudd said: "In my lifetime, there have only been three women I have really admired for their leadership, and their strength.

"One, of course, is the Queen, the second is Mother Theresa and the third Margaret Thatcher."

South East Cornwall Conservative MP Sheryll Murray said the former Prime Minister was a major British statesperson and an "absolute icon".

She said: "I think she gave as much to the country as [Winston] Churchill did."

The former Conservative MP for St Ives, David Harris, who held the seat between 1983 and 1997, said she was "a remarkable, remarkable lady."

He said: "She could be awkward, my goodness she could; and she could be determined.

"But we needed that determination and I believe she will go down in history as one of our greatest prime ministers, along with Winston Churchill and Clement Attlee."