The Frugal Lady: Newly Released Files Show Margaret Thatcher’s Thrifty Side

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REUTERS/Jonathan Evans

Former Prime Minister Lady Margaret Thatcher takes her seat at the Conservative Party Conference in Bournemouth on October 3, 2000

Her tough rhetoric against the Soviet Union and her hardline stance against trade unions earned Margaret Thatcher the nickname “the Iron Lady.” Recently revealed documents show that she was just as firm when it came to managing the household budget.

Britain’s National Archives released a series of documents last night that have been sealed for thirty years. They include a memo detailing the costs of refurbishing Thatcher’s living quarters at No. 10 Downing Street. In 1979 she and an aide were less than impressed when cleaning the carpets, repolishing the furniture and carrying out other cosmetic fixes totaled £1,836 (around $2,800 today). The aide wrote to the Prime Minister to say she found the figures simply “impossible to believe.”

“So do I!” Thatcher replied. “I could use my own crockery. Bearing in mind we use only one bedroom — can the rest go back into stock. I will pay for the ironing board.” That set her back £19 ($30).

She didn’t put down the calculator when her senior staff was redecorating, either. In 1981, Nicholas Edwards, the Secretary of State for Wales, wrote to Thatcher requesting “some small improvements” to his office that would cost up to £20,000 ($31,000) including a £6,000 ($9,200) bathroom.

“It is a good idea but not at that price,” Thatcher responded. “I just don’t believe that a one-room + bathroom + kitchenette can cost £26,000. Get some other estimates.”

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William Lee Adams is a staff writer at the London bureau of TIME. Find him on Twitter at @willyleeadams or on Facebook. You can also continue the discussion on TIME’s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.

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