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World Margaret Thatcher’s hometown to put up statue of controversial former PM

The long-awaited memorial staute of former Conservative Prime Minister Baroness Thatcher is unveiled by the sculptor Neil Simmons February 1, 2002.

IAN WALDIE/REUTERS

After weeks of contentious debate, Margaret Thatcher's home town of Grantham has decided to put up a statue of the former prime minister.

The town's volunteer-run museum announced plans Saturday to raise $300,000 for the commissioning of a statue.

"Whether you agree with her politics or not, she remains one of Grantham's most famous exports, and one which we at Grantham Museum think should be recognised," the museum said in a statement announcing the campaign. "The Museum is confident that this project will be a huge success, and is hoping that endorsements and donations will come from not only the local community but also international support from those who loved and respected our Iron Lady."

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The small city in the eastern Midlands has been embroiled in a divisive debate about whether to commemorate Ms. Thatcher with a statue in the main square alongside one of Sir Isaac Newton. At present a visitor to Grantham would be hard-pressed to know she spent the first 18 years of her life here.

Ms. Thatcher left to attend Oxford University, worked as a chemist for a few years and then turned to politics, serving as prime minister from 1979 to 1990. The only visible presence of her is a small plaque on the building where Ms. Thatcher's father ran a grocery store while the family lived upstairs. The plaque simply says "Birthplace of the Rt. Hon. Margaret Thatcher MP First woman Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland." The building is now a chiropractor's office.

Proponents of a statue had argued that commemorating one of the town's best-known figures was long overdue. Others said Ms. Thatcher remained a controversial figure and that a statue would attract vandals.

Interest in a statue heated up last month when the manager of the museum, Jayne Robb, suggested that Grantham was on the verge of acquiring a statue of Ms. Thatcher from a London gallery. That replica was commissioned by the House of Commons and unveiled by the former prime minister in 1998. It was put on display at London's Guildhall Art Gallery where, in 2002, a theatre producer attacked it with a cricket bat and cut off the head with an iron bar. The $230,000 artwork was restored, put into storage at the House of Commons and eventually returned to the gallery.

When Ms. Robb told the local BBC radio station about the prospect of the statue's relocation, it prompted a sharp backlash from the museum's board. Ms. Robb was suspended and museum directors denied the statue was en route.

The museum now plans to commission its own statue, which will be put on display inside the museum building. It will also hold public consultation on the design.

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