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How love blossomed (or not...) for a young Maggie in Ipswich

08:53 16 December 2015

Margaret Roberts queuing to buy an autograph from Patricia Dainton at Dartford Fete.

Margaret Roberts queuing to buy an autograph from Patricia Dainton at Dartford Fete.

Topham Picturepoint/Press Association Images

The attention of the world has once again been turned on to former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher as some of the best-known items of her wardrobe have come under the auctioneer’s hammer at Christies.

But back in the late 1940s, as a young scientist working in at BX plastics at Brantham on the Suffolk/Essex border, she was pursued by a local farmer... who eventually married her elder sister Muriel.

However, according to her official biography by Charles Moore, she enjoyed several dates with Willie Cullen from Ramsey before introducing him to Muriel.

Margaret Roberts graduated as a scientist from Somerville College in Oxford in the late 1940s and went to work at BX Plastics – but was already very interesting in politics, being adopted to fight what was then the safe Labour seat of Dartford in early 1949.

She met Denis at a dinner at that time, but she was still working in Suffolk when she met Mr Cullen.

He took her out several times, including to the Ipswich Arts Theatre in Tower Street (now The Rep pub) followed by dinner at the Great White Horse just around the corner.

However it seemed as if the future prime minister realised early that the life of an Essex farmer’s wife would not suit her as she had strong political ambitions – however in letters to her sister it was clear that she was encouraging her sister’s growing closeness to Mr Cullen.

In a letter to her sister published in the biography, the young Margaret said: “The wives were typical wives – they know of domestic matters and nothing else. I stayed with the men after supper talking about many other things.”

And she told her sister that Mr Cullen thought the two of them looked very similar.

Muriel and Mr Cullen became engaged in early 1950 and were married at Easter that year.

Although she went out with Mr Cullen on several occasions, Margaret Roberts had already been out to social events with Denis Thatcher in Dartford, where he was a successful businessman and a leading member of the Conservative Association in the Kent town.

The couple married in 1951 – and the rest is history.

Margaret and Denis were frequent visitors to the Cullens’ farm which is still owned by the family today.

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