The Prime Minister’s Dispatch Box
MRS THATCHER - PRIME MINISTER (1979-1990)
On 4 May 1979 Margaret Thatcher was elected as the United Kingdom’s first female Prime Minister. The Conservatives came to power with a parliamentary majority of forty-three seats. The result was officially announced at 2:45 pm that day shortly after which Mrs. Thatcher departed for Buckingham Palace, where she was received by HM Queen Elisabeth II and given the authority to form a new government.
Mrs. Thatcher’s term as Prime Minister saw a period of immense social and economic change both at home and abroad as well as many significant events in the United Kingdom’s recent history such as the Falklands conflict, the negotiations for the transfer of Hong Kong to China and the ending of the Cold War. Mrs. Thatcher’s eleven and a half year tenure was the longest of any 20th century Prime Minister, with the Conservative Party being re-elected in 1983 and again in 1987; she left office on 28 November 1990 and remains Britain’s only female Prime Minister to date.
THE PRIME MINISTERIAL RED DISPATCH BOX
Embossed with the Royal Cypher and the title ‘Prime Minister’, this dispatch box would have been amongst those delivered to Mrs. Thatcher on a daily basis containing a wealth of Cabinet, Foreign and Commonwealth documents requiring the Prime Minister’s attention. Renowned for her rigorous working practices, Mrs. Thatcher went through her Prime Ministerial dispatch box each evening into the early hours of the morning making it her policy not to retire until all in the box had been dealt with. The Queen also owns several of these boxes, some inherited from her father, King George VI; these are delivered to her on a daily basis (except Christmas Day and Easter Sunday) via a Page of the Presence.
The British Government continues to order several new boxes each year. Handmade in pine, grown in a cool climate for greater durability, the boxes are covered with red-stained rams’ leather and were traditionally lead lined to ensure the box sank when thrown overboard in the event of capture. The design and function of the red ministerial box has remained virtually unchanged since the 1860s when it is thought the first one was made for William Ewart Gladstone. Supplied by the London-based company, Barrow and Gale (Barrow, Hepburn and Gale), it was introduced by Queen Victoria’s consort, Prince Albert; the colour red being the dominant colour of his family, the Saxe-Coburg-Gotha’s coat-of-arms.