Pontificating on the merits or demerits of Margaret Thatcher’s time as prime minister is far beyond the bailiwick of this humble travel feature, but we can all of us agree, left and right, rich and poor, northerner and southerner, school milk drinker or brittle-boned urchin, that discussions of her legacy are pretty boring.
So you’ve got to feel bad for Grantham, Thatcher’s hometown, which in kicking around the idea of hosting a statue of her has been suffering endless rehashes of that same old debate. Here’s where we’re at with that statue: having been funded by £300,000 of anonymous private cash, it was put forward for a site in Westminster, before being rejected as a result of concerns that included “civil disobedience and vandalism”. This is despite its designers including a smooth plinth without protester-friendly ledges and handholds.
The statue was then offered to the south Lincolnshire town of Grantham, which if nothing else is a nice example of trickle-down economics. Council officials are currently working out the terms of an agreement with the local heritage association and the Public Memorials Appeal.
Matthew Lee, the leader of the local council, said semi-dispassionately that “no one can dispute she was a very divisive character… but we are honouring her as a person and her links to this town, whatever you think of her politics.”
There was some vigorous debate in the local paper, but as yet there’s no statue, apart from the existing one of Isaac Newton. He went to school here and for centuries was unchallenged in his status as Grantham’s most famous child. His monument, which stands in front of the Guildhall Arts Centre, has a number of climber-friendly ledges, but if there are anti-gravity protesters out there they presumably wouldn’t need them.
There’s really not much of a “Maggie” trail here, at least for the time being. Thatcher was the daughter of a grocer and was born above his shop, which sits on the intersection of Broad Street and North Parade and is now a chiropractic clinic. I am sure you could live on either of those streets for years without realising the building’s significance: there’s a sober grey plaque, but it’s 6ft above eye level. The clinic’s staff are amenable to Maggie tourists and point out the unchanged fireplace and bread oven. We will never know whether Mrs T would have approved of the “Soothing September” massage that her bedroom is currently being used for.
Head back into town for the museum, which has the checked woollen suit she wore to meet Soviet Union leader Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987, one of her handbags, and an exhibit of a living room as it would have appeared on the eve of her election victory back in May 1979. Speaking of handbags, one of the various Thatcher memorial ideas to have been mooted in Grantham over the years was a handbag water feature in the town centre. A weird memorial for someone who was known to disdain wetness. Maybe it was a Thatcher detractor who put the idea forward as a sly attempt to present the PM as an old bag.
That’s mostly it on the Thatcher tourist route. If you’ve taken a car, there’s a clutch of historic homes to see, including Woolsthorpe Manor, where Newton grew up, and Harlaxton Manor, an uber-ornate early Victorian mélange of Tudor, Jacobean and baroque styles. Harlaxton is now the British campus for the University of Evansville, but you can arrange tours if you book in advance.
There’s also Belton House, another stately home, but one that’s more accessible to visitors in that you can visit home and grounds uninvited. Its 1300-acre-plus park is roamed by magnificent herds of deer.
If you haven’t got a car, you’ll probably have to go home via the London North Eastern Railway, which, like the Great North Road before it, runs through Grantham. If there’s anywhere better than Grantham for focusing the mind on Thatcher and Thatcherism, it’s a cramped Virgin Trains seat.
It’s not all Maggie! Grantham was the wartime home of Bomber Command and the museum is currently hosting an exhibition on Sir Barnes Wallis, who invented the bouncing bomb. The exhibition ends today.
Grantham House is a historic riverside town house that is open, by appointment only, on Wednesdays and Thursdays between April and October.
The slightly grander house
Belton House, which is a short drive away, is a large and elegant country house run by the National Trust. Family tickets £41.40.
Take in Belton House’s enormous parkland, where you’re very likely to see some of the many magnificent deer. We’re coming up to rutting season, so for God’s sake keep your dog on a lead.
St Wulfram’s is known for its mighty spire, towering above Grantham’s Victorian red-brick terraces. It’s also known for hosting the Land of Hops and Glory beer festival that falls this year on Oct 11-13.
The coaching inn
The Angel and Royal Hotel has a long history of hosting travelling monarchs, and you too can dine in its restaurant, drink at its bar and sleep under its roof. Don’t know whether you can still tether your coach and horses there, though.