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Words: Melanie Burton
Photography: Mick Fox and Eyerise Photography, Painting by David Work
Featured in the February 2012 issue

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As the country continues to discuss the rights and wrongs of the new film The Iron Lady, about the life of former Prime Minister, Mrs Margaret Thatcher, her home town of Grantham is debating whether more should be done to honour its links with its most famous daughter.

Currently, all that there is in the town to mark its connection with Baroness Thatcher is a small plaque on the wall of the former grocery shop and post office in North Parade, where she was born and bred, and a collection of some of her outfits and accessories in Grantham Museum.

Many people feel this is not enough of a tribute to its world-famous politician and with 2012 set to be a year of celebrations for the South Lincolnshire market town, calls have been made for a bigger and better attraction which would help to put Grantham firmly on the tourism map.

South Kesteven District Council leader, Councillor Linda Neal, said: “Margaret Thatcher is an important historical figure for our generation and if you visit Grantham there are tributes to her that are available to see today.

“I am certain that there will be discussions in the future about further ways to commemorate Mrs Thatcher, as we look to encourage tourism and culture in South Kesteven.”

Sandra Good, who runs Living Health, a natural therapies and chiropractic centre, in Mrs Thatcher’s former family home, said visitors are always turning up to see where she was born.

“We do have a fair amount of tourists coming to see the building, taking photos and occasionally coming inside to check that they have the right place,” she said.

“There is a small slate plaque outside at first-floor level, but some people expect to find the blue memorial plaques which are found on many buildings with historical links. If time permits, and if the room we believe to be her bedroom is free, we do offer to show people around.

“We have had camera crews from Sky and the BBC and countries such as Denmark, Sweden and Germany inside and outside the building in the last few years and Carol Thatcher came, retracing her mother’s early life in Grantham.”

The desire to boost tourism and visitor numbers to the town has prompted the launch of a new project aimed at doing just that.

Caroline Sheppard set up Experience Grantham to help and support businesses and shops by encouraging people to shop locally - through a Shop Local discount card - and attracting more tourists to the town by promoting what is great in Grantham, across different sectors of the local economy, through a series of trade fairs.

“Grantham has some great heritage. We should be doing all we can to attract people to the area.The town’s links with Baroness Thatcher should be celebrated in some way,” she said.

“I think the film will help towards that and the town will celebrate the connection more. It will be good for the town and attract more people into the town.

“As a Grantham girl, I became frustrated by the amount of negativity around the town concerning roadworks, car parking, empty shops etc, and felt that enough wasn’t being done to promote what is great here.

“I have created Experience Grantham to promote Grantham’s products, people and places. My website www.experiencegrantham.co.uk is being well received.”

Fiona Hopper, of fourth generation family jewellers Hoppers, which has branches in Watergate and High Street and has been trading in the town since 1926, said not enough is being done to promote Grantham outside the area.

“I think it is a shame that the film wasn’t filmed here in Grantham. I am concerned there’s not enough to attract people into the town. A bigger tribute to Margaret Thatcher would help bring the tourists in and put Grantham on the tourism map.”

Celebrations are high on the agenda for Grantham this year. Not only is there the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee to honour, and the Olympics to enjoy, but in June the town will also mark the Jubilee with the reopening of its rescued and updated museum. The town will celebrate Grantham’s connection with Sir Isaac Newton, through a special science and arts festival taking place in September.

Newton was born in Woolsthorpe, just outside Grantham, but he was educated at Grantham’s King’s School from the age of twelve and is considered by many to be ‘the greatest and most influential scientist who ever lived’.

He is honoured in the town by a statue at St Peter’s Hill, which was inaugurated in 1858, and the new sculpture erected as part of the Market Place and Narrow Westgate improvements (last year) has direct links to the history of Grantham and its connections with Newton. 

The improvements included the introduction of a reduction in the speed of traffic, new paving, new pedestrian-friendly crossing points, revised parking arrangements, with specific provision for loading and taxis, and also public art.

Phase two of the improvements, involving Wide Westgate, are scheduled to be finished by the Summer. They will feature the design principles and type of materials already used in the Market Place.

But Mrs Hopper said something needs to be done in the High Street too.

“Grantham is a lovely town, very well placed geographically, and there are a lot of unique shops with professional people working in them. But the High Street could do with a bit of investment,” she said.

“What the council and landlords need to do is to offer cheaper rates and rents, to attract people into the High Street, and the council needs to sort out good parking. If the town is full of retailers, more people will come in. They have done a lovely job on the Market Place, but Grantham needs a bit more to attract people into the town”.

Alastair Hawken, owner of Panini in Westgate, brought back the town’s famous gingerbread biscuit last year to help put Grantham on the culinary heritage map and re-establish it as a tourist destination.

The gingerbread biscuit, first known as the Gingerbread Whetstone, a hard, flat biscuit, was said to have been invented by accident in the 1740s by local tradesman William Egglestone and proved popular with travellers journeying down the A1.

It was produced in Grantham for 200 years or more but hadn’t been made in the town for three decades, until last year. Alastair said the biscuit is going down well.

“The people of Grantham are really embracing it and it is doing well.  It’s been an exciting year for the business,” he said.

The Priory Business and Conference Centre in the Market Place is in one of the oldest buildings in Grantham, dating back to the 1700s. Until about five years ago, it was the town’s registrars’ building, so it is a well-known spot.

Now it also is doing its bit to attract ‘outsiders’ into the town, because last year it was transformed into a conference venue and in September it was granted a licence to host weddings.
Proprietor, Sue Hodgson said: “We have been running for a year and it has been an excellent year for us.

“We held our first wedding at the beginning of January so it was a nice way to start the New Year. We have wedding fayres and our conference side is growing too, so we have quite a lot happening to help put Grantham on the map.”

The Priory is a Grade ll listed Georgian house set in the heart of Grantham. The eighteenth-century building is set in its own secluded gardens, with the feature of its own medieval folly ruins.

Another new business helping to spread the word about Grantham is The Light House in Westgate. Launched at the start of November, by Grantham’s Sue Robinson and her partner Graham Ritchie, it stocks all sorts of lighting, but particularly ornate chandeliers, and sells traditional wood furniture and modern furniture from the Netherlands as well.

“They are selling brilliantly and we have had a busy few months. It’s going down really well. Word is getting around that we are here now,” said Sue, whose parents ran The Lighting Centre in the town twenty-five years ago.

She added that The Light House’s premises have helped attract trade and although improvements to the Market Place have caused a bit of an upheaval, they are paying off.

“This is a superb building and it has an old clock outside from the time when it was built. It’s being restored in the spring, back to a working state, by the person who maintains the Guildhall Clock. It’s a feature of the street and you can see it right down the street.

“The improvement works caused a bit of upheaval last year but it was well worth it. It looks so nice now.  It’s all good for attracting more visitors to the town.”

GRANTHAM MUSEUM
A victim of the Government’s council cuts in Grantham is about to start a new era in its history – and it even has the blessing of Prime Minister David Cameron!

Grantham Museum, which houses memorabilia from former PM Margaret Thatcher, was facing extinction in 2010 when Lincolnshire County Council was forced to trim its budget.

But locals launched a rescue campaign to ensure the Iron Lady’s collection and exhibits linked to Sir Isaac Newton and The Dambusters’ bouncing bomb raid would remain in the town and be saved from disappearing altogether.

The Grantham Community Heritage Association (GCHA) was formed and preparations are underway to ensure the St Peter’s Hill museum will be ready to reopen its doors in time for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in June.

Mr Cameron even wrote to GCHA chairman Graham Jeal just before Christmas congratulating the Association on the project and wishing it success.

The letter read: “I understand that the Grantham Community Heritage Association has successfully brought together representatives of business, heritage, education and residents in your community to take over responsibility for running the Grantham Museum from Lincolnshire County Council.

“The success of the Big Society - about which I am passionate - will depend on communities coming together to take responsibility and look for solutions to the problems they face, rather than turning to the Government for answers.

“I was delighted to hear about the successful steps you have taken to keep this local museum open to the benefit of the community. I wish you every success with your endeavours.”
GCHA director of PR and marketing, Lee Bruce said it is an exciting time for the people of Grantham.

“The best thing is the letter from the Prime Minister welcoming the project and offering his support. That was a real boost for everyone involved in the project. We are going to have a very modern looking museum. We want to make it as interactive and as tactile as possible, but some items are extremely valuable and have to be kept in glass cases.

“We intend to run a set of permanent exhibitions on Thatcher, Newton, the military heritage (Dambusters in particular), the industrial legacy and Medieval Grantham. In addition, there will be a number of temporary exhibitions from outside parties, like the Grantham Dramatics Society, who wish to display their own heritage in the museum.”

The GCHA has also launched a membership scheme with three different types of membership - concession, full and lifetime. Members will receive a ten per cent discount in the museum shop once it has reopened, post June, exclusive invitations to events/exhibitions and previews and the opportunity to directly support the running of the museum.

Full details are available on the museum’s website http://www.granthammuseum.org.uk.

GRANTHAM BYPASS
One thing Grantham residents are united on is the town’s long-awaited bypass which it is hoped will still come to fruition.

It was feared that when Lincoln got the go-ahead for its Eastern Bypass a few months ago, Grantham’s would be put on the back burner again. But progress is being made behind the scenes and hopes are high that it will happen sooner rather than later.

Councillor Adam Stokes, who represents Grantham South on Lincolnshire County Council and is South Kesteven District Councillor for Grantham St John’s ward, said the bypass issue is ongoing.

“The bypass is essential. This town has needed a bypass for fifteen to twenty years. For the town to grow and prosper it needs a bypass. And things are moving on. There are positive movements and we are very hopeful that things will be resolved quicker than expected. It hasn’t been affected by Lincoln’s Eastern Bypass go-ahead. It is definitely on the agenda and things are moving.”

Councillor Stokes, who is the second youngest county councillor at the age of twenty-seven, is also part of the Grantham Canal Partnership which,  when complete, will help to make Grantham a tourist destination.

He said there are a lot of things going on but they are very much localised projects.

“Grantham Canal is a long-term project. Things are moving along. The Grantham Canal Partnership and the Grantham Canal Society are clearing the canal, making it more accessible and getting the water to flow back in.

“Eventually, they are hoping to be able to navigate from Nottingham all the way to Grantham into a marina. There will be pubs and shops to attract people down there. It’s a working project but it is getting nearer.”

The canal is thirty-three miles long and runs through Lincolnshire, Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire.

CELEBRATION OF SIR ISAAC NEWTON
Grantham’s links with Sir Isaac Newton, described as the greatest scientist of his era, are being celebrated with a week-long science and arts festival in September.

Called the Gravity Fields Festival, the event starts 154 years to the day since the town’s statue of Newton received its inauguration in St Peter’s Hill.

Plans are still being finalised for the twenty-first-century celebrations, taking place from 21st to 28th September, but it is hoped the whole of the South Kesteven district will be involved.

The idea for the festival came from the council, just like the idea for the statue, before it was approved by the Royal Society and a group of private benefactors contributed to the cost and plans. The Queen even donated £100.

Its inauguration in 1858 was attended by the Master of Trinity College Cambridge, and the management committee representative, Mr T Winter who referred to Isaac Newton’s famous quote: “I do not know what I may appear to the world, but to myself I seem to have been only like a boy playing on the sea shore, and diverting myself in now and then finding a smoother pebble or a prettier shell than usual, whilst the vast oceans of truth lay all undiscovered before me.”

The next major celebration of Newton locally was in 1927, the bicentenary of his death. A visit by 150 to 200 eminent scientists and mathematicians to Woolsthorpe and Newton’s school, the King’s School, was arranged. Wreaths were placed by the visitors, residents and King’s School’s pupils at Newton’s statue.

Festival director, Rosemary Richards said: “Like earlier events we are delighted to be talking again with the Royal Society, and Trinity College Cambridge and many other science, arts and academic organisations about supporting the festival, which will have contributions from the academic world of science and mathematics, but will also feature outdoor events, a theatre programme, an education programme and science shows for families.”

Leader of the Council, Councillor Linda Neal, said: “This year’s festival aims to involve the whole district in a contemporary and creative celebration of Newton.”

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