Shopkeeper and local politician
Born 1892 Died 1970
Not to be confused with the fictional Alf Roberts, long standing resident of Coronation Street1, our Alfred Roberts was born on the 18th April 1892 in the village of Ringstead, near Oundle in Northamptonshire, the third of seven children born to Benjamin Ebenezer Roberts and his wife Ellen Smith. As their name suggests, the Roberts were of Welsh origin but the family had been been settled in Northamptonshire for some four generations where they had found employment as shoe and boot makers.
Shoe making was indeed his father's trade, but as a boy Alfred had an ambition to become a teacher. Unfortunately the family finances were such that he was forced to leave school at the age of twelve to work in the family business. However Alfred decided that shoe-making was not for him and left as he soon as he was able, eventually moving to Grantham in Lincolnshire in 1913 where he obtained the position of assistant manager with Charles Clifford, who owned a grocery store in the town. It was there that he met Beatrice Stephenson, who ran her own business as a seamstress and married her on the 28th May 1917.
One of the most notable things about Alfred was that he was extremely short sighted and whilst this required him to wear thick pebble glasses throughout his life, it also meant that he was refused enlistment in the armed forces during World War I. Alfred thus avoided the carnage of the trenches and was left free to continue his trade at home. By 1919 both Alfred and his wife had saved enough money to buy their own shop in the north of the town at 1 North Parade2. The business prospered and Alfred brought the premises next door to expand the shop as well as opening a branch in Huntingtower Road.
In 1927 Alfred move into local politics and was elected to the Grantham town council under the banner of the Ratepayers' association. He soon became chairman of the finance and rating committee, and retained that position for the next twenty-three years, and was only ousted in 1950 when the Labour Party gained its first majority on the council. Such was his reputation for being careful with the the ratepayers' money that he became known as Grantham's Chancellor of the Exchequer.
His involvement in the local community was not restricted to politics; he also became a Justice of the Peace, and was also at various times the president of the local chamber of trade, a director of the Grantham Building Society and the local Trustee Savings Bank, chairman of the local National Savings movement, a school governor and chairman of the Workers' Educational Association. But he was perhaps most enthusiastic about his involvement with the local Rotary Club; indeed it is said that Alfred only finally became convinced that Adolf Hitler was indeed an evil influence on the world when he heard that his Nazi government had outlawed the Rotary movement in Germany.
But of more importance than his commitment to the Rotary was his religious faith. Both Alfred and his wife were keen Wesleyan Methodists and attended the Methodist Church at Finkin Street in Grantham. Alfred was a committed teetotaler and a strict sabbatarian who insited that his family attend church four times on a Sunday but also found time to be a lay preacher, often travelling around the neighbouring towns and villages to deliver sermons.
In 1943 he was elected an alderman and served as the town mayor for Grantham in 1945 when he presided over the town's victory celebrations, but his political career came to an end in 1950 when the Labour Party took control of the council. Although he lost his position as alderman, he continued to be known locally as Alderman Roberts. He retired and sold his business in 1958 but continued to preach and remained an active Rotarian, His first wife Beatrice died in 1960 and he later in 1965 remarried, his second wife Cecily Miriam Hubbard being a widow whom he had known for many years through the church. He died in Grantham on the 10th February 1970 and was cremated six days later.
By his first wife Beatrice he had two daughters; Muriel born 1921 and Margaret born 1925. It is to the youngest of these daughters that Alfred truly owes his place in history, as it was this Margaret who married one Dennis Thatcher and is thus better known under her married name of Margaret Thatcher. Just five months after Alfred's death, Margaret entered the cabinet and later became leader of the Conservative Party and Britain's first woman prime minister, therefore ensuring that Alfred was to become far more famous in death than he ever had been in life.
After victory in the General Election, Margaret stood on the steps of 10 Downing Street on the 4th May 1979 and proclaimed that she owed "almost everything" to her father. Subsequent biographical accounts of the former prime minister have confirmed the profound influence that Alfred had on his daughter, leading some to believe that it was the ghost of Alfred Roberts that ruled the country for eleven years.
There is one website which includes an account under the heading "Thatcher's father 'groped girls'" that alleges that Alfred Roberts routinely molested young women that he employed at his shop. However this appears to some kind of spoof and should not be taken seriously.
1 Oddly enough the character of Alfred Roberts in the television soap opera Coronation Street, played by the actor Bryan Mosley until his death in 1999, also ran a grocery shop and sat on the local council.
2 One is grateful to www.worldcollectorsnet.com
for alerting us all to the fact that Hazle Ceramics have produced a charming china model of the very shop at No 1 North Parade where Alfred once plied his trade.
- The entry for Roberts, Alfred in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography by John Campbell
- Matthew Paris's review of
Maggie: The Personal Story of a Public Life by Brenda Maddox
- Alf Roberts Grocer - Mrs Thatcher's Birthplace
- Thatcher's father 'groped girls'