Alfred Roberts

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This article is about Margaret Thatcher's father. For other people with the same name, see Alfred Roberts (disambiguation).
Alfred Roberts
Born (1892-04-18)18 April 1892
Ringstead, Northamptonshire, England, United Kingdom
Died 10 February 1970(1970-02-10) (aged 77)
Grantham, Lincolnshire, England, United Kingdom
Nationality British
Occupation Grocer
Known for Grantham alderman, mayor and father of Margaret Thatcher
Spouse(s) Beatrice Ethel Stephenson
(m. 1917–1960; her death)
Cecily Miriam Hubbard
(m. 1965–1970; his death)
Children Muriel and Margaret
Relatives Mark Thatcher (grandson)
Carol Thatcher (granddaughter)

Alfred Roberts (18 April 1892 – 10 February 1970) was an English grocer, local preacher, and politician. He served as an alderman of Grantham (1943–1952) and Mayor of Grantham (1945–1946). His daughter, Margaret Thatcher, later became Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.


Early life[edit]

Roberts was born in Ringstead, Northamptonshire. He was the fifth of seven children. His father was Benjamin Ebenezer Roberts (1857–1925), from a Ringstead family, and his mother was Ellen Smith (1857–1935), whose own mother, Catherine Sullivan, was born at Kenmare in Ireland.[1] Ellen's eldest two known siblings were also born in Ireland and her twin brothers in England in 1852. The gap in age between Alfred's aunt Mary and his uncles of around nine years coincides with the Great Famine and it more than likely meant that other siblings perished through starvation or associated diseases. His grandparents possibly left Kenmare between 1849–51 and like two million more came destitute to England. This and the family's hard times may have much to do with the reticence to acknowledge his being part Irish to his daughters.

Roberts' 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 is listed in the 1911 census as living as a boarder in Oundle, Northamptonshire, and working as a grocer's assistant. He later moved to Grantham, Lincolnshire, where he gained a job as an apprentice in a greengrocers; he had originally wanted to become a teacher. When the First World War broke out in 1914, Roberts, "a deeply patriotic man",[2] 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 (1888–1960) through the Finkin Street Methodist Church, which he attended every Sunday. They married in Grantham on 28 May 1917 and had two daughters, both born in Grantham: Muriel Cullen (1921–2004)[3] and Margaret (1925–2013).[4] In 1919, they bought the grocery shop; and, in 1923, Roberts opened a second shop.


Roberts was an "old-fashioned liberal"[5] 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.[6] His daughter Muriel recalled that Roberts "was always a Liberal at heart".[7] 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.[8] 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."[9]

On 21 May 1952, Roberts was voted out as Alderman by the first Labour majority on the council and after 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."[5] When Thatcher recalled this event over thirty years later during an interview with Miriam Stoppard, she said it was "very emotional" and wept on television.[10]


Roberts retired and sold his business in 1958 but continued to preach and remained active in the Rotary Club. Beatrice died in 1960, Roberts married again to Cecily Miriam Hubbard in 1965. He died in 1970, shortly before the general election, and nine years before his daughter became prime minister.[11]

In 1997 the satirical magazine Punch published an article by Professor Bernard Crick featuring allegations, including one from an alleged victim, that Roberts had been involved in several sexual assaults on women. Crick had tried to put the allegations into the public domain before both the 1987 and 1997 elections, but had been rebuffed by various publications. The article claimed that Roberts was inspiration for a lecherous character who was a local councillor and grocer in the 1937 satire of Grantham, "Rotten Borough".[12] John Campbell, his daughter's biographer, considered that these allegations were unsubstantiated and dismissed by people who knew him, and that the character in "Rotten Borough" was a parody of another prominent councilor at the time.[11]


  1. ^ Edward J. Davies, "The Ancestry of Baroness Thatcher", Lincolnshire History and Archaeology, 42(2007):40-42.
  2. ^ Margaret Thatcher, The Path to Power (HarperCollins, 1995), p. 4.
  3. ^ Independent diary
  4. ^ Births and Marriages England and Wales 1837-1983
  5. ^ a b Thatcher, p. 21.
  6. ^ Thatcher, p. 65.
  7. ^ John Campbell, Margaret Thatcher: The Grocer's Daughter (Jonathan Cape, 2000), p. 11.
  8. ^ Campbell, p. 12.
  9. ^ Hugo Young, One of Us (Pan, 1990), p. 10.
  10. ^ Young, p. 308.
  11. ^ a b John Campbell The Grocer's Daughter
  12. ^ Nuthall, Keith (22 June 1997). "Thatcher's dad: mayor, preacher, groper". The Independent. 
  • John Campbell, Margaret Thatcher: The Grocer's Daughter (Jonathan Cape, 2000)
  • Chris Ogden, Maggie (Simon and Schuster, 1990).
  • Margaret Thatcher, The Path to Power (HarperCollins, 1995).
  • Hugo Young, One of Us (Pan, 1990).

External links[edit]