‘It’s very divisive’: Margaret Thatcher statue divides Grantham’s birthplace | Margaret Thatcher

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It may have been a week since residents of Grantham were surprised by the appearance of a long-awaited statue of Margaret Thatcher, but the dust shows no signs of settling yet.

After an arduous four-year process, the £300,000 statue was quietly placed on its 10ft plinth last Sunday morning when few people were present and was in place within hours.

The statue still elicits strong reactions from passers-by, with some stopping to take selfies and others stopping to lift a finger at it, despite its bronze likeness being eggless.

Mollie Topham next to the statue of Margaret Thatcher. Photograph: John Robertson/The Guardian

“It’s very controversial, I’ve read so many comments about it on social media,” Mollie Topham, 25, said as she passed the statue on her way to work. “I don’t think she deserved any encouragement, but everyone has to express their own feelings.

“I can understand why she is there, she was the first female Prime Minister and she is from Grantham. But could the money have gone to something better? That’s a lot of money when we’re desperate for other things like stores.

A local man, who asked to remain anonymous, said he strongly opposes the statue and expects it to be subject to more vandalism.

“I don’t like it and I don’t like the statue standing up. She shouldn’t be put on a pedestal,” he said. “I don’t expect him to be up there that long. I think someone will come and do what they want with it. There are such strong feelings about him, he’s such a divisive character.

But there were plenty of people in town who were happy the statue was finally in place and angry that it had been pushed.

Joy Brown poses for photos next to her statue in St Peter's Hill
Joy Brown, (who was campaigning for Margaret Thatcher), is pictured by her friend Katrina Glover next to the former Prime Minister’s statue in St Peter’s Hill. Photograph: John Robertson/The Guardian

“I have two teenagers and I’m glad the statue is there for them to see. It’s part of Grantham history,” said Katrina Glover, who was visiting the statue with her friend Joy Brown, a former Thatcher campaigner “I think it’s very beautiful up there, it’s where it should be and I hope that’s where it stays.”

“I think it’s right for Grantham to celebrate her,” said Les Large, 72, from nearby Stamford. “She’s the first female leader we’ve ever had, and the only one so far. I don’t think it should be vandalized.

There have been no further reports of eggs since day one, when Jeremy Webster, Deputy Head of Attenborough Center for the Arts at the University of Leicester, was identified as the egg thrower.

After being talked about for years, many had speculated that the statue might never see the light of day. “Until about a month ago, I thought there was a serious chance they would bottle it up because of the backlash they undoubtedly knew they were going to get,” Lee Steptoe said. , the Labor group leader of South Kevestan District Council. “Thatcher’s legacy still absolutely divides the city, especially among people in their 50s and older.”

The statue’s journey to its plinth in the heart of Grantham began in 2018, when Westminster Council rejected a proposal to place the statue in central London, fearing it would attract vandalism and protests.

It was quickly approved by the planning committee of his home town in Lincolnshire, but controversy and setbacks ensued. There was outrage when in 2020 the local council decided to underwrite a £100,000 unveiling ceremony for the statue, leading them to scrap the idea.

Visitors to the Thatcher Corner of the Grantham Museum
Visitors to the Thatcher Corner of the Grantham Museum, near the statue of the former Prime Minister in St Peter’s Hill. Photograph: John Robertson/The Guardian

Steptoe said he had no problem commemorating Thatcher, but believes the statue serves as a “shrine” to the late leader. “There is no attempt in this conservative city, where I have lived all my life, to present an equal record,” he said.

The statue is in St Peter’s Hill Park, a few yards from a statue of former Grantham pupils Sir Isaac Newton, but there have been calls for it to be relocated to the Grantham Museum.

The museum, a stone’s throw from the statue, has an exhibition dedicated to Thatcher, which attracts tourists from all over the world.

“The main attraction is Margaret,” said museum administrator Nick Jones. “I’d love to say it’s Isaac Newton’s show, but he’s not bringing them in. Last week we had people from Italy, Hong Kong, Singapore. It’s quite surprising for the people of Grantham, they have a hard time understanding that.

Steptoe said Thatcher’s legacy will always stir strong emotions in the city, but dwelling on the past distracts from current issues.

“It’s over now. It’s not going anywhere. Revisiting and combing through the division of the 1980s will do nothing for the local population,” he said.

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