Tuesday 25 November 2014

Tribune Of The Plebians

Margaret Hilda Roberts, otherwise Thatcher, now drafted in to help manage the Great Organising Deity's diary; it is very busy these days, must be having a quiet chuckle.  Her boss has decided that enough is enough for the Scottish Labour Party and it is now as dust.

If any group made it their business to demonise her, it was them.  During the 1980's and beyond they dominated affairs in Scotland and oblivious to the challenges and rapidity of economic and other change attempted to create a New East Germany on Scots soil.

It is undeniable that she was a first.  The first woman to be Prime Minister, the first research scientist to do so and there is something else.  The "posh" voice and appearance are deceptive.  Apart from Ramsay Macdonald she is arguably the most Plebian of our Prime Ministers in origins, although it is a close call with Jim Callaghan.

What is surprising is how English she was.  As you step back from generation to generation and the numbers in each increase you expect to see variations occurring in terms of origins, religion and class.  Sometimes more, sometimes less, also, there was mobility in many ways that gave rise to some variations that could be astonishing.

Having looked at her paternal side to discover generations engaged in the East Midland Shoe Trade with others, I managed to track back her maternal side with the advanced systems.  There appeared the Holy Grail of ancestry.  A great grandfather listed as Ag. Lab., or Agricultural Labourer in the first half of the 19th Century deep in rural Lincolnshire.

But it is from this line that the "posh" might come along with the ferocious attention to detail that so upset both colleagues and civil servants.  It is fashionable to suggest this is the product of something going on the head that differs from ordinary mortals, but it may come from upbringing.

Because the Ag. Lab. put his children through elementary school before compulsory attendance, a son, grandfather to MHR, was good enough to be taken on as a regular railway employee, a desirable occupation at the time for many reasons, not least the chance of advancement by performance.

From my own experience of the old railways and working with men who joined as boys before the First World War, I have a good idea of what this entailed in the late 19th Century.  Things had to be right and you were accountable.

Also, you had to be clean and smart, polite and careful. You had to be able to deal with the travelling public, be clear in speech and know what you were doing.  The interesting thing about MHR's maternal grandfather is just who he was dealing with on a regular basis.

Burgh le Marsh Station is a relic now of a once busy Lincolnshire railway line.  But it was a short distance from Gunby Hall, now National Trust, home of one of the leading families of the day.  So through that station would be Society and others of importance coming and going, and their servants, horses and valuable luggage.

This is where grandfather started and then he moved down to Grantham.  Although essentially, a modest market town with some small industrial activity and a busy Main East Coast Line junction, when it came to the Railway Station's customers then it was in the big time.

There were the Brownlow's of Belton House, at Court and moving at the highest levels of society and the Manners family, Duke's of Rutland from Belvoir Castle.  For the fox hunting world Grantham was slap in the middle of the Belvoir country, prime territory and the Meet was sometimes in the town centre.

During the season there would be almost a procession of the good and the great going through the station and MHR's grandfather would be on the platforms, smart as paint, polite and efficient to deal with them and all their kit.

So this is the way her Mum was brought up and never forgot, and this is the way Margaret was trained not just by her mother but perhaps her grandmother who died in 1934, grandfather having died in 1917, aged 66 and still at work.

It wasn't only the needs and business of her father's shop work that was instilled into her, it was something else as well.

It might be the reason why she could always look people in the eye and politely and succinctly tell them where to go.


  1. I have to disagree about who she works for now.

  2. I really appreciate that. Passing the 11+ changed my world completely. People, including my grandchildren (despite my efforts), do not really know what high standards some had, and the respect that was held of education. Mine have come through university (provincial) and I shudder even now at their lack of knowledge of history. Bring back the Grammar Schools.

  3. Interesting analysis. A formidable lady, I don't think we'll see her like again.