Baroness Margaret Thatcher 1926-2013
In the pantheon of Dulwich ‘greats’, mostly included in ‘Who was Who in Dulwich’ published by the Dulwich Society in 2002, a list frequently added to within these pages, the name of Margaret Thatcher will undoubtedly rank among the highest. Although she herself spent little time here, preferring Downing Street or Chequers and it was her husband Denis who was the more often seen around the Village, it was still her home from 1986-1990. Indeed, in that memorable moment when she left Downing Street for the last time she was still able to joke that she had exchanged No 10 for No 11, meaning 10 Downing Street for 11 Hambledon Place, Dulwich Common.
The choice of Dulwich as a home for the Thatchers was influenced by the advice given by her Cabinet Secretary at the time, Robin Butler (now Lord Butler of Brockwell) who was himself a Dulwich resident. The suitability of Hambledon Place on Dulwich Common, both from the security aspect - it is a gated community, and its proximity to the Dulwich & Sydenham Golf Club as a diversion for Sir Denis Thatcher are well known. Tony Korris explained much about this in the last issue of the Journal.
Her four years as a resident deserves some permanent memorial. Unfortunately a Heritage Blue Plaque on the wall of her former house would not be seen by the general public. Perhaps the naming of the carriageway from the Queen Mary gate leading from Dulwich Common and into Dulwich Park and which is opposite her old home as Margaret Thatcher Drive might be considered appropriate. After all, her greatest legacy as far as Dulwich itself is concerned was to demand that her transport minister cancelled plans to widen the South Circular along Dulwich Common, a scheme which required driving a highway across part of the Park and playing fields of the Common, so firmly dividing Dulwich into two.
Entertaining Mrs T
(Reprinted from ‘Even More Tales from the Village’ by Brian Green in the Dulwich Society Newsletter - Summer edition 2009)
It was said that Margaret Thatcher was persuaded to live in Dulwich, during her time as Prime Minister, by the proximity to the Dulwich & Sydenham Golf Club as handy recreation for her husband Denis. This was coupled with a hefty discount from Barratt’s the developers of her house at Hambledon Place on Dulwich Common, and finally by the encouragement of Robin Butler (now Lord Butler of Brockwell) then her Cabinet Secretary and himself then a Dulwich resident.
Mrs T was not a permanent resident, she was rather like one of those rare birds (the Nutcracker for instance) which visits only occasionally. Denis by contrast was quite often in evidence. In acknowledgement of the honour the Prime Minister had done to Dulwich by coming to live among us, the Dulwich Village Business Association decided it would be appropriate to ask her to switch on the Village’s Christmas illuminations.
The organisers of the Great Switch On were the two young owners of a Village gift shop. Overwhelmed over by the letter of acceptance from Mrs T at Number Ten, they felt the ceremony should be given greater importance and ordered the construction of a raised wooden podium with a handrail so that the Prime Minister would not only be better seen but perhaps also give Dulwich the benefit of her oratory. Unfortunately, they had failed to get the Association’s permission for this fine gesture, the cost of which hugely exceeded the Association’s total assets. But as it was in a time of great prosperity they just borrowed the cost of the construction from their bank, along with a further loan for another new Jaguar.
The Great Switch On was performed with great aplomb by Mrs T, only slightly marred by a number of eggs being thrown at her by members of various local opposition political parties. Fortunately their aim was poor and Mrs T retired into SG Smith’s car showroom where I, among others, entertained her with wine and undivided attention.
That was not however the end of the story. Soon after, yet another recession struck and the two young owners of the gift shop now found themselves hounded by their creditors. In the end the bank repossessed all their assets, which by then were very few, the Jaguar having gone first. The only item of value left, or so the receivers thought, was the ceremonial podium. Sadly, it remained, unloved and unsold in the yard at the rear of Barclays Bank in Dulwich Village. After a year it finally ended up by being dumped in a skip.