Freedom of Borough After 20 Years of ‘Dedicated Service’
BARNET HONOURS ‘OUR MARGARET’
by Linda Haley
Prime Minister Mrs. Margaret Thatcher came “home” to Barnet last week, to receive the highest honour the borough can give.
She became the borough's newest honorary Freeman in a ceremony at the Town Hall, Hendon. And although this does not entitle the Prime Minister to drive her sheep through Hendon, or fish exclusively in Finchley's Dollis Brook, * the evening itself was full of ceremony.
A fanfare of trumpets from the staff band of the Royal Corps of Transport, and a guard of honour from three local territorial Army Units greeted Mrs. Thatcher as she arrived.
It was less than a year since she had sat in the same chamber to hear herself returned as MP for Finchley and Friern Barnet, only a few hours before she became Prime Minister.
“I do indeed go round the world as you have said,” Mrs. Thatcher told her audience. “But it is not going round the world that matters. It is coming home. And I am so very pleased that my Parliamentary home is the borough of Barnet, and delighted to be its latest Freeman.”
The Prime Minister, who twice received standing ovations, remembered when her predecessor, Sir John Crowder, was made Freeman of the borough of Finchley, in February, 1960.
“Sir John CrowderHe had been here 25 years and at the time I thought, he was getting on a bit. I find I have been here 21 years and I hope to be here quite a bit longer.”
She said that, although she collected medals and scrolls from her travels around the world, the only honour that really meant anything was one granted by people who really knew her. “That is the sweetest and most valuable one of all,” she added.
Looking round the chamber, Mrs. Thatcher said she could see people to whom she owed a great deal, for they had selected her as MP in 1959. She mentioned Alderman Alfred Pike, a former Mayor of Finchley and a Freeman, Bert Blatch, a former local editor, Councillors Victor Usher and Bill Hart, Mrs. Ena Constable, Mrs. Betty Gibson, and Mr. Gordon Bryson.
She spoke of the annual events she attends in her constituency, such as Finchley Rotary Club's dinner, and the Christmas meeting with pensioners.
And she mentioned the former Sims factory—now CAV—and Priors department store—the present Owen Owen—which she had known when she took up office in 1959.
There was laughter when Mrs. Thatcher said that MPs Mr. Sydney Chapman and Mr. Peter Thomas had taken away some of her constituency, and she regretted that she had lost the Garden Suburb.
Becoming more serious, Mrs. Thatcher said that she had to deal with two files that were never closed—transport and education.
“We are always doing some blessed road scheme,” she said. “I took over the widening of the road through the Garden Suburb and then it was a flyover and now it is another tunnel.
“Education was a problem when I came and it is a problem still. We have done so much in the cause of progress but some of it did not turn out to be progressive. If we had not done quite so much we might have done a greater service to those we represent.”
She referred to the different crises of each decade, beginning with the airlift to Berlin in the fifties, followed by Hungary, Czechoslovakia and now Afghanistan.
She added: “So we were right in our assessment that there is one great expansionist power in the world today, and it just happens to be the one that marched into Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Afghanistan. We have to keep up our defence and be aware of their every move.”
She praised the guard of honour from the three Territorial Army units—B Company 6/7th (Volunteer) Battalion, The Queen's Regiment; No. 3 Company, 10th (Volunteer) Battalion, The Parachute Regiment; and 240 (Hertfordshire) Squadron, Royal Corps of Transport (Volunteers).
“What a wonderful institution they are!” she said “I once went out with the paratroopers, though they would not let me jump, and among them were several people from Finchley.
“And it was in Finchley we first began to adopt HMS Tartar whose motto was ‘Without Fear.’ I thought that was a good one for me to take when I became Prime Minister.”
She told anecdotes of some of the 51 Prime Ministers of England since Sir Robert Walpole first held the office in 1742. And she was full of praise for Sir Winston Churchill.
She told the councillors: “We all share one great thing in common. We are all elected to serve the people in the borough of Barnet. There is only one way to govern free people and that is by serving them. That rule is without exception.”
Mrs. Thatcher was presented with a casket containing the scroll of the Freedom—the casket designed and made in the workshops of Woodhouse School, North Finchley, under the direction of Mr. Gerald Lettice, and the scroll the handiwork of Mr. Raymond Clarke.
She signed the Freemen's roll and was allowed to keep the pen as a memento of the occasion.
There was praise for the Prime Minister from Barnet's Mayor, Councillor Mrs. Rita Levy, from council leader Leslie Pym, from Councillor Mrs. Edna James, chairman of the General Purposes Committee, and from Councillor Hart.
The Mayor gave “top marks” to the selectors in Finchley who chose Mrs. Thatcher as their candidate from 200 applicants.
“It has proved a far-sighted choice. Some of the original committee are here as my fellow councillors and from them I have learned that Mrs. Thatcher's forceful personality and undoubted sincerity which were the deciding factors.
“She had lucidity and fluency. As always her preparation was thorough. Even then they recognised her leadership qualities. She did not try to impress them that her father, Alderman Roberts, had been a distinguished Mayor of Grantham. Her upbringing taught her independence. So, Finchley, thank you,” she added.
The Mayor praised Mrs. Thatcher's concern for all her constituents, many of whom she knew by name.
Councillor Pym spoke of her “ability, tenacity, sincerity, logic, unflappability and determination of purpose.”
Councillor Mrs. James related the Freedom of the borough to the many times the Prime Minister had spoken on the subject, including just the week before in Finchley, when she said “freedom incurs responsibility.”
Councillor Hart spoke of his own privilege in knowing Mrs. Thatcher since she was elected MP in 1959.
He described the evening as a “family occasion” and added:
“Only recently, following a heavy Parliamentary day, she found time to open a new block of flats for senior citizens, spending most of her time talking to individual tenants in their homes in a happy and relaxed atmosphere and making them all feel they were very important people.”
After the ceremony the Prime Minister and her husband, Denis, joined the guests for refreshments in the committee rooms. They included the deputy Lieutenant, Colonel F. E. Wilkins, the MPs of Hendon South and Chipping Barnet, Peter Thomas and Sydney Chapman, Mr. Roland Freeman, Finchley's GLC representative, and Councillor Christopher Walford, the Mayor of Kensington and Chelsea.
* In the City of London Freemen have rights such as this.