Alfred Roberts

Alfred Roberts

Alfred Roberts (18 April, 1892 – 10 February, 1970) was a grocer, a lay preacher, an alderman and a Mayor of Grantham. He was the father of Margaret Thatcher, former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.

Roberts was born in Ringstead and grew up in Northamptonshire. He was the fifth of seven children born to Benjamin Ebenezer Roberts and Ellen Smith. His bad eyesight meant he could not enter the family trade of shoemaking. He left school at thirteen in order to help support his family and moved to Grantham, Lincolnshire, where he gained a job as an apprentice in a grocery store; he had originally wanted to become a teacher. When World War I broke out in 1914, Roberts, "a deeply patriotic man", [Margaret Thatcher, "The Path to Power" (HarperCollins, 1995), p. 4.] applied to enlist in the army six times but was rejected because of his poor eyesight.

Four years after moving to Grantham, Roberts met Beatrice Ethel Stephenson through the local Methodist church, which he attended every Sunday. They married in Grantham on May 28 1917 and had two daughters, both born in Grantham: Muriel (1921 - December 2004) [ [ Independent diary] ] and Margaret (born 1925). In 1919 they bought the grocery shop and in 1923 Roberts opened a second shop. He took one week off work every year to compete in the annual bowls tournament at Skegness. He was a religious man and also a routine lay preacher who met prominent Methodists such as Leslie Weatherhead and Donald Soper.

Roberts was an "old-fashioned liberal" [Ibid, p. 21.] who believed strongly in individual responsibility and sound finance. He had read and admired John Stuart Mill's "On Liberty". He came from a family that traditionally voted Liberal but he believed that the Liberal Party had embraced collectivism and that the Conservatives stood for the old liberalism. [Ibid, p. 65.] His daughter Muriel recalled that Roberts "was always a Liberal at heart". [John Campbell, "Margaret Thatcher: The Grocer's Daughter" (Jonathan Cape, 2000), p. 11.] In the 1935 general election, Roberts helped the local Conservative candidate Victor Warrender to win the seat.

In 1927 Roberts was elected to the Grantham town council as an independent. He was also a part-time Justice of the Peace, president of the Chamber of Trade, President of Rotary, a director of the Grantham Building Society, a director of the Trustee Savings Bank, chairman of the local National Savings Movement, a governor of the local boys and girls grammar schools and chairman of the Workers' Educational Association. During the Second World War he was Chief Welfare Officer, directing civil defence. [Ibid, p. 12.] He soon became Chairman of the Finance and Rating Committee, and in 1943 he was elected by the council as an Alderman and then served as the Mayor of Grantham from November 1945 to 1946, in which he presided over the town's victory celebrations. In his inaugural speech Roberts called for a large programme of expenditure to rebuild the roads, public transport, health and social services for children and to "build houses by the thousand." [Hugo Young, "One of Us" (Pan, 1990), p. 10.]

On May 21 1952 Roberts was voted out as Alderman by the first Labour majority on the council and as the vote was taken he proclaimed: "It is now almost nine years since I took up these robes in honour, and now I trust in honour they are laid down." [Thatcher, p. 21.] When his daughter Margaret recalled this event over thirty years later during an interview with Miriam Stoppard she said it was "very emotional" and wept on television. [Young, p. 308.]

Roberts retired and sold his business in 1958 but continued to preach and remained active in the Rotary Club. After Beatrice died in 1960 Roberts remarried in 1965 to Cecily Miriam Hubbard. Roberts died in 1970.



* Chris Ogden, "Maggie" (Simon and Schuster, 1990).
* Margaret Thatcher, "The Path to Power" (HarperCollins, 1995).
* Hugo Young, "One of Us" (Pan, 1990).

External links

* [ Photograph of Roberts laying down his robes as Alderman in 1952]
* [ Births and Marriages England and Wales 1837-1983]

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