Prime Ministerial Firsts

Margaret Thatcher became Britain's first female Prime Minister on May 4th, 1979. Some other firsts claimed by those occupying the country's highest office.

Downing Street, c. 1947. Nationaal Archief, The Hague.

On May 4th, 1979 Margaret Thatcher entered No 10 Downing Street as the first woman prime minister of the United Kingdom. Here are some other firsts claimed by those occupying Britain’s highest political office.

  • The first prime minister of Great Britain is generally considered to be Sir Robert Walpole (1676-1745). He was also Britain’s longest serving, holding the office for nearly 21 years from April 3rd, 1721 until February 12th, 1742.
  • The first Scottish prime minister was John Stuart, 3rd Earl of Bute (1713-92), who was also the first Tory prime minister. Unpopular with the English, who were uneasy about Scots in the wake of the Jacobite Rebellions, he resigned in April 1763 having lasted just 317 days.
  • The first premier to live at No. 10 Downing Street was Lord North (1732-92), the prime minister who lost the American colonies. Until 1779 the official residence was No. 5 Downing Street.
  • The first and only prime minister to be assassinated was Spencer Perceval (b. 1762), shot dead in the lobby of the House of Commons in 1812 by a disgruntled merchant, John Bellingham. Perceval is buried in St Luke’s Church in Charlton, south-east London.
  • The first and only prime minister to serve four terms was William Gladstone (1809-98), who was also Britain’s oldest, retiring from office for the last time at the age of 84.
  • The first and only Jewish prime minister was Benjamin Disraeli (1804-81). His birth was registered at the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue in London but he was later baptised at St Andrew’s Church, Holborn and this enabled him to follow a career in British politics – Jews were excluded from Parliament until 1858.
  • The first middle-class prime minister was Henry Addington (1757-84), a doctor who had treated George III during one of his bouts of madness. A pub named after Addington in London’s Canary Wharf claims to have the longest bar in Britain.
  • The first prime minister to bear the title officially was Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman (1836-1908). Before him the leader of the Government was referred to as the First Lord of the Treasury, which is the title that still appears on the brass plate on the door of No. 10.


Christopher Winn is the author of the I Never Knew That series