Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Notoriety, fame, Newton and Thatcher

click photo to enlarge
"Fame, we may understand, is no sure test of merit, but only a probability of such: it is an accident, not a property of a man." Thomas Carlyle (1795-1881) Scottish philosopher, essayist and historian

My first introduction to the architecturally preposterous tower of Grantham town hall was in the 1970s, from the train, as we passed through on our way to London. We were living in the city of Kingston upon Hull at the time and the east coast mainline goes through the town. Not until thirty or so years later did I visit Grantham, have a walk around, and take in the full splendour of William Watkins' hodgepodge building. By that time the town had gained some notoriety as the place where Margaret Thatcher was born. Admirers of our first woman prime minister see her birthplace, her father's grocery shop, as something of a shrine. I have no such illusions, regarding her as a stain on our country's life and history, a divisive politician who abandoned the post-war consensus and returned Britain to a society of haves and have-nots.

On that first visit I also became aware of Grantham's connection with the great scientist, Isaac Newton. The town isn't his birthplace; he was born in nearby Woolsthorpe Manor. However, it was the place where, between 1655 and 1661, he was educated. The Free Grammar School dates back to 1327 though the oldest currently standing buildings, ones that Newton would have sat in, were erected in about 1497. Education still takes place there today, but it is now known as The King's School. Grantham is sufficiently proud of the connection with Newton to have erected his statue in the main civic space in front of the town hall. There can be no denying Newton's achievements and it is right that he is recognised in this way. As I took my photograph the other day I wondered whether, in the fullness of time, Margaret Thatcher would take her place alongside him. In Britain we are, quite rightly, wary of commissioning statues to the living. There seems to be a recognition that time can change the esteem with which the famous are regarded. The death of Margaret Thatcher last year has prompted calls for public statues as a tribute to her achievements. I feel that generally, and especially in the north of England, Scotland and Wales, the public mood would not welcome such a step. However, the one place where that feeling might not prevail is the place of her birth. I will, with interest, watch the space next to Newton in front of Grantham's hideous town hall.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Camera: Sony RX100
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 19.1mm (51mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f5
Shutter Speed: 1/60 sec
Exposure Compensation: -0.3 EV
Image Stabilisation: On