Speeches, Interviews & Other Statements

Margaret Thatcher

Remarks revisiting her old school (“a really marvellous foundation for life”)

Document type: Speeches, interviews, etc.
Venue: Kesteven and Grantham Girls’ School, Grantham, Lincolnshire
Source: (1) THCR 6/2/4/30A (2) Grantham Journal , 19 February 1982
Editorial comments: Between 1445 and 1530. Item (1) evidently transcribed from tape. MT spoke to the school, toured classrooms and chatted with the press in her old chemistry lab. There was a demonstration as she arrived at the school by a group of 150 students and young unemployed, and a veteran threw his campaign medals at MT’s car in protest at the level of invalidity benefit.
Importance ranking: Minor
Word count: (1) 1867 (2) 622
Themes: Autobiography (childhood), Education

(1) Thatcher MSS: THCR 6/2/4/30A:

SPEECH BY THE PRIME MINISTER AT KESTEVEN AND GRANTHAM GIRL’S SCHOOL ON FRIDAY 12th FEBRUARY 1982

Can I say at once that it is absolutely marvellous to be back in this Hall, in this School, and that I count myself very fortunate indeed to have been a pupil at KGGS.

It is rather wonderful to see that the hall in which I learnt so much and saw so much is still here. I can tell you that Miss Buckman used to teach in that form - that was form 3, that was form 4, that was the art room, the biology lab was up there, the chemistry lab up there and the geography lab up there. And they taught us in geography class that we were really very unlucky in this country because if we had any oil it was under the North Sea and therefore we could never get it.

Now, that just shows you how much technology has moved on in that time.

I remember we had prayers here every morning, and I think one of the, some of the happiest times of my life were practicing for carols for Christmas, which we used to do in this Hall. We used to have in those days our own book of carols which I remember very vividly even to this day. But I was lucky to be here, not only lucky to come to this school, but was lucky to be here with the very first headmistress and there are one or two ex-pupils here, I can see, who are almost as old as I am, and they too were probably here during her time. You will know her name very well. It was Miss Williams. And I often think of her. Because she really started the traditions of this school. And what a tremendous thing it must be to feel that you are starting something new and that the way in which you start it off will matter so much to future generations.

I remember her so very well, taking prayers every morning and influencing and shaping our lives. She set this school off believing that only the best was good enough. That each and every pupil here was expected to give of their best whatever their talents were. And she knew somehow that a school mattered more than just teaching subjects.

It mattered more than arithmetic and physics, and history and geography. Do you still call it integrated studies these days, or do you still teach subjects? You still teach subjects? Do you know, when I was Minister of Education, they used to call the whole lot integrated studies and I never knew what they were.

She knew that a school was more than about subjects, she knew that it was really about certain other standards as well. Standards of courtesy, standards of discipline, standards of thought for others, standards of duty and standards of doing things for others. And so, yes, we were taught the academic subjects , and I owe so much to the many teachers who taught me. We also taught those other values and Miss Williams was so very advanced. We were also given one of the best domestic science courses I have ever came across. I don't know whether you still do it now. I will ask quietly. Maybe I am dropping a brick. I don't know. But I don't mind dropping a few. Because you learn so much that way so long as they don't drop on your own foot! [end p1]

We were taught all of the practical things, all of household budgeting and Miss Hennings, as some of you will remember taught it to us. So we were taught these three things and given really a marvellous foundation for life but, above all, we were not just taught those values, we actually saw them in Miss Williams, and that is the thing I think I perhaps remember best of all. It is not enough to be taught about these things, it is so much better if you see them in practice in the person who is responsible for the foundation and for the staff of this school.

And then again I was lucky, I remember our second headmistress, indeed we were grieving for her loss the other day, Miss Gillies - she came when I was in the 4th form and I spent most of my life with her. We got up to the 6th form and then somehow, in that school year, I had this great ambition to go to Oxford University. Where I got it from I'll never know. But I had this great ambition, it was put in me here, to go to Oxford University. I had gone on to the science side by that time and to get into Oxford in these days you had to have an 0 level in Latin. Well, this wasn’t easy for a scientist. I mean, we were not quite as clever as to be able to learn Latin. But there was even one more difficulty. We were not taught Latin in school in those days. And so how in the world was I going to get into Oxford? I was determined to get in on chemistry and by the time - you know it was within a year that I was doing my entrance to Oxford - I had to learn Latin. And there was no one here who taught it. So I consulted with my father. Fortunately, my father was the Chairman of the Governors. It did help a little bit. Anyway, he duly reported to me of a conversation he had had with Miss Gillies and, apparently, Miss Gillies had said to him: “Your daughter is a very determined young woman, she wants to learn Latin”. And my father, absolutely marvellous man my father, turned round and said, and I have been eternally grateful to him,. “Miss Gillies, if she says she is going to learn Latin, she is going to learn Latin. So you had better help her”.

Well, there you are, I was taught Latin and I must tell you – anyone here who wishes to do an O level in Latin can do it in ten weeks flat. I did it in the summer recess and I learned then to work all days during holidays, summer holidays as well as in term time and we got it. The O Level which in those days we could also take in December. And so you see, Miss Gillies, our second headmistress, regarded obstacles not as something to stop you, but as something that you had to overcome.

You Mr Reed, mentioned so many famous people - Winston Churchill and the great Marlborough family. Winston was Prime Minister when I was a pupil at this school. He was a wonderful, wonderful man. It was one of the greatest thrills of my life that when I went into the House of Commons as a Member of Parliament, that I sat for one session in Parliament when he was also a Member. I will never forget how much he honoured the best of the traditions of Britain. When he left the House of Commons in 1964, he was a very, very old man. He fought so much for our country and very much inspired us. But, as he left the House of Commons, you know, he honoured and observed the traditions we all use there. As we leave we actually bow to the Speaker. That is bowing not only to the Speaker, but is bowing to the traditions of freedom and democracy which inspire our country. [end p2]

Winston at that time could not walk easily or freely himself, he had to be supported on both arms. But, we watched as he left the House of Commons Chamber, for the last time, and, whatever the effort, he turned around and bowed to Mr Speaker for the last time. Now, if a man like that can honour the traditions how much more should we honour then? The very traditions, that I learnt in this school.

I remember my son used to sing a sing at school - I cannot quite remember what it said, but it mentioned all the great peoples of the past. It mentioned the Drakes, it mentioned the literary people, Shakespeare, etc etc, then it ended with a wonderful chorus. It took me a long time to understand the school significance - I am sure that they never understood it at school. “For we began when they began. Our times are one". I was very puzzled about - Marlborough, Wellington, Shakespeare, Nelson. “We began when they began. Our times are one”.

Really, I think when I look back I have found, in a way, the answer from what one learnt in this school. Because here we learned the unchanging values - the courage, the bravery, the courtesy, the kindliness, the thoughtfulness, the consideration for others, the unchanging values that persist throughout life. And we learned that the changes that we have to face are so much more easily taken in one’s stride if we apply those unchanging values to the changes of everyday life. And in a way, that’s what it meant. We belong to a nation of the same values. And its by applying those values of friendship to each and every generation, in that sense, our times are one and in that sense we add lustre to the names and traditions which they set for us. And so I am so very, very grateful to have been a pupil here, so very grateful to have had the opportunity to have learnt those things from wonderful headmistresses and wonderful teachers.

For, as we set out on the path of life, they gave us the signposts which enabled us to pick our way through the difficulties and still emerge well able to tackle anything, that we may find in our way.

It is really all in the school's motto. I hope it is still the same motto. The strange thing was, the motto was in Latin, although, as I say, we were not taught Latin for a very long time. So in fact we had to have what I would call a rather loose translation. The translation we were always taught. I hope it does not differ from the one which they are taught now:

“From this place take ye true inspiration”.

It was rather a wonderful motto for Miss Williams to have chosen and it certainly came true for me, because from this place I took true inspiration. And if I were to start out on that path of life again and if I were to choose from the whole of our country to which school I would go, once again I would choose Kesteven and Grantham Girls’ School. For there is none better.

[After unveiling the plaque MT continued:

Can I really thank Wedgewood very much indeed. It is beautiful and you have done me another service. It is so nice, especially for a woman, to be remembered as something beautiful. Thank you very much indeed. [end p3]

(2) Grantham Journal, 19 February 1982:

Here I gained inspiration, the Premier tells pupils

“It's absolutely marvellous to be back,” announced Mrs. Thatcher, returning to her old school after nearly four decades. “I count myself very lucky to have been a pupil at K.G.G.S.”

The Prime Minister unveiled a Wedgwood plaque commissioned in her honour and told V.I.P. guests, staff and pupils:

“If I were to start out again on that path of life and had to choose to which school I would go, once again I would choose K.G.G.S.—for there is none better.”

Standards

The ceremony was staged in the old hall, where Mrs. Thatcher said she had spent some of her happiest times, practising carols for Christmas.

She described how previous headmistresses—particularly Miss Henrietta Williams, the school's first head teacher—had helped shape her life, instilling high standards of courtesy, discipline, duty, and kindness and thought towards others …   . “a really marvellous foundation for life.”

A pupil at K.G.G.S. emerging with these unchanging values would be well able to face the challenges of life and to tackle any obstacle, she said.

Mrs. Thatcher referred to the school’s Latin motto—English translation “From this place take true inspiration”—and commented: “It certainly came true for me. From this place I did take inspiration.”

She admitted how the schoolday memories came flooding back and with a sweep of her arm rattled off details of the classroom layout around the hall, as it was in the 1940's.

The Prime Minister, dogged faithfully by hordes of the Press, took time out to visit her old haunts in the school.

She made a beeline for her former chemistry lab. and announced: “It has changed remarkably little … but isn’t that a new tap over there?”

And at the request of the media she sat in a desk in her old history classroom and posed for the television cameras and more pictures.

Carvings

“This desk must have been here in my time,” she declared. “Just look at all the carvings on it.”

Mrs. Thatcher reminisced about those faraway happy days and looked set to stay for hours, talking to old friends, staff and girls.

But she was already well behind schedule and after hurried farewells it was back to the Daimler for her next engagement, opening South Kesteven District Council’s Witham-place housing complex.

The Wedgwood plaque she unveiled at the school earlier had been commissioned by Thatcher supporter Mr. Gerald Reed (84), a retired barrister from Hastings.

Mr. Reed, described by the Prime Minister as “quite a guy,” was himself renewing an association with Grantham.

He was in the Machine Gun Corps at Harrowby Camp in the Great War, and he was back in Lincolnshire during the 1939–45 hostilities, serving at Hemswell with the R.A.F.

The plaque shows Mrs. Thatcher in silhouette, above two lines of wording: “A Patriot, Courage, Tenacity, Dedication.”

Mr. Reed likened the Prime Minister to some of the great women of England’s past, leaders who restored our flagging fortunes.

He described Mrs. Thatcher as an honest politician who wished to see Britain great once again, and advised her to “do your darndest” to remain in office to carry through her policies.

Thanks

The High school ceremony, introduced by headmistress Miss Margaret Wilson, finished with a vote of thanks, to both Mrs. Thatcher and Mr. Reed, from Mr. Michael Syddall, chairman of the governors.

From head girl Lorna Shipman, Mrs. Thatcher received an inscribed bowl made by school craftmaster Mr. Peter Plant.