As soon as news broke that Margaret Thatcher had died, Helen Goral hurried to the main street in Grantham, England, to open the town’s museum, which contains a small display honouring the former British prime minister.
Lady Thatcher was born in Grantham but the community has always had mixed feelings about her, with many townsfolk still angry over her decision to close many nearby mines in the 1980s. But on Monday, any ill will toward her was largely set aside as a steady stream of people arrived at the museum, which is normally only open Thursdays to Saturdays. Some people left flowers, many signed a makeshift book of condolences and others arrived just to hang out.
“We have had a lot of people come in just wanting to sort of be here as some sort of central point,” said Ms. Goral, the museum’s chair. “The reaction has been one of great sadness really.”
Throughout her political career, Lady Thatcher often spoke about her roots in Grantham, where her father ran a small grocery store. She left the town in the 1940s to study chemistry at Oxford University and went on to become Britain’s prime minister between 1979 and 1990.
Grantham has never fully embraced her. The town of roughly 40,000 people, located in the British Midlands, has no statue of Lady Thatcher, although there is a large one of Sir Isaac Newton, who went to a nearby primary school. The only official commemoration of her is a tiny plaque located high up on the building that used to house her father’s store. It simply says: “Birthplace of the Rt. Hon. Margaret Thatcher, MP/First Woman Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.” Even the display in the museum is modest, consisting of a collection of papers, some shoes and a couple of her ubiquitous handbags.
“She has been ignored by a number of people in Grantham for many years as they failed to recognize her achievements and her status in the world,” said Ray Wootten, a Conservative local councillor. “Mrs. Thatcher put the Great back into Britain.”
Last month, the museum launched a fundraising drive to collect £200,000, or about $300,000, to erect a statue of Lady Thatcher and pay for some new exhibits at the museum dedicated to her career. Local reports indicate donations have not been overwhelming, particularly among people in the area. Ms. Goral declined to say how much has been raised so far, but she said the fundraising has gone well and it is “in line with our expectations.” There is still debate about where the statue will be located.
Charmaine Morgan, a Labour local councillor, said Lady Thatcher evokes fierce passion in the community, which is equally divided politically between Conservative and Labour.
“There are those who still feel very strongly that a lot of what she did was divisive and had long-term consequences for our country,” Ms. Morgan said.
“I had somebody contact me from Derby, which is just west from us, and he was terribly upset even today about the impact that Margaret Thatcher had on his community. She destroyed it, totally.”