Special feature: Bells ring for Baroness Thatcher’s funeral at the Vale church she treated as her local

Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher attends Ellesborough parish church for the last time whilst in office - Taken November 1990
Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher attends Ellesborough parish church for the last time whilst in office - Taken November 1990
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More than any other Prime Minister, Baroness Thatcher became a true member of the local community while visiting Chequers during her 11 years in office.

She used the Prime Minister’s official country home at every opportunity and while there she attended the parish church of St Peter and St Paul in Ellesborough.

Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher attends Ellesborough parish church for the last time whilst in office - Taken November 1990

Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher attends Ellesborough parish church for the last time whilst in office - Taken November 1990

She was a frequent and much valued member of the congregation.

There was never any fanfare, but as parishioners walked to church they would know she was coming if the police car was at Butlers Cross crossroads.

She and her husband Denis sat quietly in the fourth pew from the front, on a piece of carpet to soften the hard wood and her security men mingled with the congregation.

Today (Wednesday) , the day of her funeral at St Paul’s Cathedral in London, she will be fondly remembered and honoured by the bellringers of her former parish church.

Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher attends Ellesborough parish church for the last time whilst in office - Taken November 1990

Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher attends Ellesborough parish church for the last time whilst in office - Taken November 1990

Tower master Les Floyd said the fifth bell, traditionally used for a woman, will ring out at Ellesborough at the same time as the bell of St Paul’s will ring. The bell will be half muffled to signify the sadness at her death but will then ring open to celebrate her life.

Mr Floyd said: “Lady Thatcher was probably the only Prime Minister to use the church on a very regular basis attending services often twice a day often accompanied by her husband.

“I have been tower master for over 40 years at Ellesborough and have seen many Prime Ministers but only Mrs Thatcher could be called a true parishioner.

“It was to Ellesborough that she came after the bombing at Brighton and as she sat quietly in the church the sun shone through the stained glass casting a deep blue colour across the area where she sat.

“This she said gave her hope for the future as she was so deeply upset at the bombing, more so than anyone could imagine.”

Tony Young, who was a church warden said: “She blended in and people became very familiar and comfortable with her. There was never an edge. She would chat and stay around after the service.”

Aylesbury MP David Lidington recalled talking to one of the former vicars, the late Rev Frank Heyward. “He told me about an occasion when Mrs Thatcher asked him why an elderly lady was missing from the congregation and he said she was unwell. Later that same day he caught sight of the Prime Minister striding down the path to visit this lady.

“On another occasion he gave a sermon that involved using an executive toy, a cradle with balls clicking against one another.

“And after the service he saw the Prime Minister crouched down on her knees in the chancel explaining to an audience of children the science behind how this toy worked.”

Mr Lidington said despite being a formidable politician and often tough on her own cabinet, Baroness Thatcher never forgot her Methodist upbringing and her belief that if you do well in life you have a responsibility to help those less fortunate.

Thirty years ago when he was working for an MP, Mr Lidington was sorting out old casework files and found evidence that Baroness Thatcher had even paid for the holiday of one of the MP’s constituents, because he was seriously ill and had not had a holiday for years.

Mr Lidington said: “The letter was from a doctor, and it said Margaret Thatcher had personally paid for this man’s holiday on the strict instructions that it must be kept completely secret.”

Church warden Mr Young said: “I remember her with a great deal of affection. I don’t think politics came into it here at Ellesborough, it was not an issue. She was a very famous lady but she was also a member of the congregation. After she was first elected she came to Ellesborough church the following Sunday and she waved as she arrived. We were all astounded to see her.”