Buying Thatcher’s family home for the working class

Thatcher Mrs. Thatcher was of course brought up in Grantham.   Her father, Alderman Alfred Roberts owned a grocers on the corner of North Parade and Broad Street,  and the family lived above the shop. corner shop Years later, sometime after she was appointed prime minister, the North Parade corner shop was sold.  It was bought by Rodney Cloke, an enterprising young local property developer,  who changed the former Thatcher family home into a 48 seat restaurant.   In a stroke of quite brilliant marketing he named the new eatery the “Premier Restaurant” He really ought to have copyrighted the Premier name.  Its use in entrepreneurial situations had the potential to be quite innovative and lucrative.   Premier Pipes springs to mind for the former home of Harold Wilson in Harrogate.   Premier Dossiers up in the Hexham home of Blair and perhaps an exclusive Premier underpants shop in John Major’s old gaff in Huntingdon   But I digress.   The Premier restaurant proved to be very popular.  It had a replica No: 10 Downing Street door and the bill would arrive at your table in a mini red despatch box.   Patrons were attracted from across the midlands, appreciative foodies, inquisitive political groupies, committed conservatives and bolshie Labourites who would always complain and walk out because the waiters were not unionised.   Grantham anti cuts demo Occasionally anti-thatcher demonstrations would hurl abuse at the North Parade corner shop as can be seen from this picture of a colleague during an anti-cuts demo back in the early eighties.   In the end it proved too much for Mr. Cloke the property developer, and he decided to put the Premier restaurant up for sale and move on.   Thus it was, that in an extended and rather liquid lunch in the Fellows Morton & Clayton public house, beside the canal in Nottingham, that a group of inebriated socialists hatched a plan to purchase  the North Parade Corner shop on behalf of the working class, and turn it, most appropriately, into  a corner shop center for the unemployed.   The more Fellows Morton & Clayton home brew that flowed the better the idea seemed.  By four o’clock the working class of Nottingham, or at least the six of us in the pub, had decided to make an offer for the infamous house in which our most intransigent class enemy was born and reared.   It was not very difficult, even in those days before computers and cut and paste word programmes, to forge a set of documents to use in the workers plan to purchase the North Parade premises.     With the headed notepaper of the Manpower Services Commission, a pot of glue and a pair of scissors we had soon enough created a new Government body, part of the Department of Employment and known as the East Midlands Area Board of the Manpower Services Commission.   It’s “address” was 6 Sherwood Rise, my own offices, and we even allocated the new Board an exclusive telephone number.  Mine.   Correspondence was entered into with the Estate Agents and solicitors having carriage of sale of  the famous corner shop.   We advised we were acting on behalf of the Dept. of Employment and had limited funds.  We entered into a series of offers and counter offers trying, as we advised them, to remain within the budget allocated to us by the Minister.   Our final offer was of interest to the vendors.  I cannot now recall what it was as many years ago all the paperwork, including our forged documents was consigned to the Lincolnshire Museums.   Before confirming our final offer we asked to arrange for a visit to North Parade, with our architects and with some local Lincolnshire unemployed, to make a final assessment of the suitability of the premises for a center for the unemployed.   It was agreed that it would take place on the 31st March.  The eve of April Fool’s day!   The plan was to issue a press release announcing our purchase to the world and our intention to turn it into a centre for the unemployed.   There was, we said, government funds available to establish a Youth Opportunities Programme to train waiters and we may even be able to get them training places, we asserted, in the House of Commons. The Restaurant part of the premise was to re-named for its role in the Youth Opportunities Programme, as “Mrs. T’s Tea-Parlour”   inspired, so we claimed, by  Mrs. Thatcher herself and by the very successful and similar YOP premises in Bradford, run by Dr. Barnardo’s and  known as Dr. B’s Kitchen.   There was enough plausibility in this to get past most editorial desks and we invited the press to come along, on the occasion of our visit and inspection, for a photo-opportunity with some of the Lincolnshire un-employed who would benefit from this East Midlands Area Board of the Manpower Services commission investment.   My secretary, the always effective Janice was in on the plan.  She was to field telephone calls and advise that “Mr Hall” of the East Midlands Area Board, was away from the office and would call them back later.  There were no mobile phones in those days and if you were out of the office you were not contactable – ah! Glorious days!   She was to distribute the Press release on a schedule that would get the copy onto editorial desks on a perfect timetable for April the 1st.   But an error was made.   The Press release was released prematurely and we had, at the last moment to face the fact that the story would be out well before April 1st and our timing of the purchase as an April fool’s day contribution was bound to fail.   We brought forward our intended visit and inspection with the Estate Agent who had by now been inundated with press enquiries and was becoming, for the first time, a bit suspicious of whom we were.  We had not told him of the intention to rename the premises as Mrs. T’s Tea-Parlour.  But the die was cast.   All we now needed was a suitable group of unemployed people.   The crew from Fellows Morton & Clayton were not really suitable.   Too clean cut, wore suits and ties, were always slightly drunk, were not really working class.   I turned to my loyal union membership at Nottingham City’s Wilford Hill crematorium.  Grave diggers.  Oh they were so keen to play their part.   Would rather work for Thatcher than anyone else in England they said.  An old gravediggers joke, but strongly felt nonetheless.   So on the fateful day, I called at Wilford Hill to collect five gravediggers,  straight out of the earth,  and we sped across to Grantham,  they rehearsing their lines as Lincolnshire unemployed, and me rehearsing my lines as Mr. Hall, the Head of the East Midlands Area Board of the Manpower Services Commission.   Outside the North Parade corner shop there was a sizable crowd of press and curious onlookers.  T.V. crews from the BBC and Central Television were there, a good sprinkling of local radio stations,  BBC radio 4, and quite a number of national and local newspaper reporters and photographers.   The Estate agent was fuming and said the vendor was not going to allow us in.   So we just got on with it.  I turned to the press and we held an impromptu press conference.  We announced our purchase of the premises.  There was an appreciative round of applause.   I regretted we could not go into Mrs. Thatcher’s house because of health and safety considerations.  I introduced the grave diggers as local lads still out of work, looking forward to a real center for the unemployed in Grantham.  More appreciative applause.  Mr. Hall the man from the ministryInterviews followed with the TV and radio reporters, photographs in the doorway, Oh it was such fun and the gravediggers were magnificent.   Charlie, the man on the left end of the photograph, still had his City Council donkey jacket on, clogged with mud from a Wilford Hill grave he was digging.   Told Radio Nottingham he’d been working in his allotment.   And then it was over.   Oh course they caught me.  My address and telephone number was on the forged headed notepaper.   Detectives from Nottinghamshire Constabulary called around to 6 Sherwood Rise the following week, investigating, they said, a potential fraud.   They must of sensed that it was not too serious a fraud when they saw that 6 Sherwood Rise was the Regional offices of the National Union of Public Employees.  Nevertheless they insisted upon a formal interview and the taking of a statement.   They sat in my office and I told them it was obvious someone had used my office address.  I was afraid I knew nothing of it.  I had never heard of  the East Midlands Area Board or of Mr. Hall, I said.   I would probably have got away with it had not Janice, at that very moment put her head around the door and said “John there’s another phone call for Mr. Hall do you want to take it?”  The detectives looked at Janice.  Gave her one of those long detective looks.   They looked at me.  I looked at them.  We all started laughing.

  But the real Manpower Services Commission were not so sanguine about it.  They filed a a formal complaint to my General Secretary Rodney Bickerstaff,  but nothing came of it.  However, down at Fellows Morton & Clayton, the be suited plotters were joined by the horny handed gravediggers in an lengthy liquid  celebration …..


Check out the CONTENTS page for more bits and pieces


Miners Strike – Nottingham -1984

Miners levy doc Further ephemeral treasures from my archive shoebox.   This being a check list of the NUPE officers strike levy collected for the Nottinghamshire Miners during the 1984 strike.  The levy, £23.00 a week, was mandatory and was in addition to countless irregular payments, contributions and collections that were a constant feature of the period.  No doubt there were similar levy’s in dozens of workplaces and offices throughout the strike and it is a pity more of them were not kept.  The check list is a summary of arrears owing on the levy.  Everyone in fact paid up, it was just a case of chasing them across the five counties of the East Midlands!

The money we collected was quite substantial and was used primarily to support the families of miners out on strike.  They had no strike pay and all their usual allowances such as coal from the pit and so on had been stopped.  The support work in the field was organised by branch officers of the various pits and very significantly by the women’s support groups.   It was made much more difficult by the fact that most Nottinghamshire miners did not in fact strike and their was widespread resentment about those who actually did walk out.

There was a young woman organising the women’s support group, or more correctly she was one of the organisers.  I can’t quite recall her name.  It has been so many years now.  Cecelia, I think it was.  Anyway, she was an absolute comrade.  You would stand beside her in any struggle at all, and be proud to say you knew her.   She came up to my office once, on Sherwood Rise, looking for money.   She said she needed to buy some chainsaws so they could cut and distribute wood to the families no longer getting their coal allowance from the pits.     To be honest we never looked for reasons as why the money should be given out.  If they were bona fide involved in the struggle then we didn’t need reasons.  She had brochures and price lists for the chain saws and we gave her enough to buy four of the things.   About a week later the local paper reported that all the telegraph poles along the railway line from one of the pits supplying coal to the power stations had been cut through   I rang her up and asked her if she needed any more chainsaws!

There was other means of supporting the miners as well.   Part of my union organising brief was Nottinghamshire County Council Leisure Services Dept.   They ran adventure training for youths, took them up to the Lake District or to Wales for camping and so on.   I persuaded them to lend me some tents and a couple of tea-urns.  Can’t recall the pretext used but they didn’t ask too many questions.  Tents and tea urns appeared at the 24 hour picket lines in Cotgrave and Ollerton.  Never did get them back.  And to be fair to Leisure Services, they were not too bothered about it.

Miners christmas card

Towards the end of the strike young Cecilia, if that was her name, committed suicide.  I was asked, along with others, mostly women,  to speak at her wake which if I remember was in the co-op rooms on George Street.  We were all in a bit of shellshock over her death.  She was such a strong woman.  Such a young activist.  If she had lived she would have made the most outstanding contributions to her causes.  She already had.   I told the story of the chainsaws.  There was a lot of tears that afternoon.

Queens School Rheindalen and the Profumo Affair

Rheindalen, a great sprawling British military garrison.  Headquarters of the British Army of the Rhine and home to thousands of soldiers, their wives and children.  And within fairly short distances from the garrison,  massive  Royal Air Force bases humming with technology, bristling with weapons and with armed fighter and bomber jets on permanent standby to launch strikes against the soviets.  And dozens of military bases with enormous stockpiles of vehicles, ammunition, weapons including nuclear weapons, all supplying armed to the teeth Divisions of  infantry, regiments of tanks and batteries of artillery.

By the  early 1950’s, when the British military presence in Germany had changed from that of being a victorious army of occupation into a welcomed NATO defender of the Western way of democracy, it was decided that all those troops and military, with their wives and families needed schools for the rapidly expanding number of British children.   Queens school badgeSo it was, that in Rheindalen, was established a brand spanking new secondary modern school for children over 11, the Queens School,  set in pleasant woodlands on the edge of the great garrison.

It was, in my day, late ‘50’s/early 60’s,  a straightforward garrison school, designed for the children of other ranks, and having as its mission the desire to turn them into, well, other ranks.   Most of the officer’s children had grants (and the ancillary income) to attend posh boarding schools in England.  The Officers married quarters around the garrison and the military bases were a bit notable for the lack of children during term times.  Secondary Modern schools like Queens, were of course intended to take those who did not pass the 11 plus exam or those who only just made it.  And of course we all knew, sure we did, that officers children, in those days, were always much brighter than the children of other ranks.

A central feature of life at the school was the Combined Cadet Force.  playll-cadets With virtually every boy in the school being the son of a serviceman then this was hardly surprising.  Each Wednesday we travelled to school from the towns and villages and married quarter complexes around the Garrison, in ill-fitting battle dress Army Uniforms.   Boys from the RAF bases came in ill-fitting RAF uniforms and each classroom looked slightly more like a military barrack room.

In the basement of the school, next to the caretakers room and adjacent to the school boilers was the school armoury.  Stuffed with rows of serious and lethal weapons, which were issued out to the boys at about 2.30 each Wednesday, whereupon the boys  would march up and down the school playground saluting each other, with self-selected teachers dressed up as officers, shouting Orders.

From time to time the boys would don steel helmets and patrol through the woodlands, camouflaged and with fixed bayonets, searching for soviet enemies and learning all the soldiery skills of killing.  Oh it was such fun!    There were trips out to the vast military training grounds in Northern Germany to see how real soldiers lived.  We had the chance to  play with the big guns and pretend to be real soldiers.     And out in the wilds of RAF Bruggen, on the Dutch Border,  we would spend a couple of weeks fighting carefully planned battles with blank ammunition,  assaults, charges, capturing each other prisoner, eating army rations  and living in trenches under the German moonlight.

Of course we had a great advantage over English based cadet forces in that we were living in and around one of the most important military complexes in the world.   We thus had access to units and equipment unheard of in England.  And we were constantly encouraged in our military endeavours by visits from the Generals who peopled the nearby NATO headquarters.   Thus there would be British Generals, Canadian Generals, American Generals, Dutch Generals all would come and smile at us and inspect us on parade in the school playground.  And of course there would be visiting politicians looking for a good photo opportunity and anxious to show the military their appreciation of soldier’s families.

And so it was that we were exposed to Her Majesty’s Secretary of State for War, John Profumo.   download   He came to Queens to review and inspect the massed armed ranks of the school’s combined cadet force. I was there!

Now Profumo, while not exactly a spy for the Soviet Union, was careless and feckless and thereby betrayed his country and his people.   We were not to know this at the time.  Nor did anyone else really. But it was all published in the papers, the News of the World and the Daily Mirror in particular.

And then we knew.

We knew that we had diced with danger.    There was a photograph of his girlfriend,  Christine Keelor,christine keelor I didn’t quite understand it at the time, didn’t fully appreciate its erotic potential, just thought she had a strange way of sitting on a chair.  She it was to whom he whispered the Ministry’s secrets and she it was who passed on the secrets to her Soviet lover, a full KGB colonel.

Profumo reviewed the young warriors of Queens on one of our Wednesday afternoon military days.   We paraded on the school playground.   There was a military band from one of the garrison regiments playing suitably martial music , parents and teachers lined the edge of the parade/playground as we stood smartly to attention as  he moved along our military lines accompanied by various Generals and a few teachers dressed up as officers.   He actually spoke to me!

“And what does your father do young man?”  He asked

“He’s a soldier sir”   I snapped back in my fiercest 12 year old voice.

“Just like you then” he said and patted me on the shoulder and moved on down the line with his accompanying Generals, all smiling and chuckling at his wit and obvious rapport with the heavily armed schoolboys.

I have no doubt that later that evening he whispered into Christine’s ear as she sat awkwardly on that funny chair, and told her all about us.  No doubt we were betrayed.   We can be confident that shortly afterwards the school’s armoury appeared on Moscow’s war maps, earmarked and targeted for Soviet air-strikes.   And for sure, the advance elements of Soviet invasion forces were warned to avoid Queen’s school because of its massed, heavily armed, well trained fanatical youth movement. Especially on Wednesdays.

It took me many years to get over the betrayal.   It hurt, damaged my development as a fully rounded member of society.   If you can’t trust the Secretary of State for War, then who the hell can you trust?

It was probably that incident, and my inherent sensitivity, that so traumatised me that I became one of the more difficult pupils of the school.  This was sharply manifested in my epic confrontation with the headmaster Mr. Aspinall

There was a school tuck shop.  It sold sweets and ice cream and other nutritious healthy educational treats for the always starving kids.   Profits went to buy sports equipment or perhaps ammunition for the CCF guns.   Anyway there was always a queue and if you were still in it when the bell went then hard luck, you had to answer the bell and return to the classrooms without delay.  On the fatal, hot summer day, I had just bought and paid for a cooling nutritious ice cream, when the bell rang summoning us back to the books.    I took the view that the tuck shop really shouldn’t sell ice creams so close to the bell.   It was unfair.  An infringement of my Human Rights.  As the profit of my purchase was going to the school I thought it entirely reasonable that I should take and finish the cooling confection in the class room.

This was considered behaviour of the very worst kind.  Just what you would expect of the son of a corporal or of  those bloody other-ranks.   It was much worse than the betrayal by Profumo.   I half expected to be taken out and shot by a firing squad from the CCF.  Instead I was frog marched to the headmaster’s study, subjected to an arbitrary trial and sentenced to be caned, six strokes, to be delivered with immediate effect, before the ice-cream even had time to melt.

But after Profumo, my respect for my elders was gone.  I refused to submit.  I REFUSED TO TAKE THE PUNISHMENT!.   This was un-heard of.    I reasoned that I was making a stand for tuck shop consumers, a stand that would echo through the ages.  I may lose thought I, but the wounds that would be inflicted by the brutal strokes would be remembered, in tuck shop queues, in schools across the world, from this day until the end of time.

My father was summoned to persuade me to take the belting.   He came with all the deference that other ranks have for their betters.   He called the teachers “Sir”.   It wasn’t that he was particularly deferential.  That was the way then.   Teachers expected to be called Sir by other rank parents.   Teachers were honorary officers and socialised in the Garrison Officers clubs.   They mixed with captains and colonels, dined with Brigadiers.   They were accustomed to deference.

Of course my rebellion could not survive the combined pressure from headmaster and parents or the betrayal of Profumo.    The stick was wielded with particular ferocity and dug deep into my rebellious bum.

WHACK you will not WHACK eat WHACK ice-cream WHACK in WHACK  my WHACK classrooms WHACK

It took me many years to forgive what happened.   The physical scars faded fairly quickly but I carried the mental scars for the rest of my life.   Still do.   I left the school as thick as two short planks.  Not only did I not have any GCE’s I didn’t even know what a GCE was.   I became a professional rebel, becoming an active trade union organiser, often comparing my members to metaphorical tuck shop victims.   It was the trade union movement that enabled me to truly recognise the value of education and take some serious steps to remedy the disastrous years at Queens.

It was only in my late forties that I finally came to terms with the Profumo affair.   I realised that it was not Profumo who betrayed me.   It was that bloody school.