A magical year ahead for Edwina Fogg, Marlborough’s new mayor for jubilee year
“Yes, I suppose it is going to be one of the most exciting years of my life,” says Edwina Fogg as she contemplates becoming Mayor of Marlborough in May. “And I hope it will be an exciting year for all of us.”
An historic one too. For elegant Edwina, at 70 the mother of six children with four of her nine grandchildren still to babysit, will be Marlborough’s first citizen as the town celebrates both the Olympic torch racing through to High Street en route to London and the Queen’s diamond jubilee.
She has a positive organising hand in all the celebratory events taking place – 20 so far – for her mayoral year has a special significance because her husband, Nick Fogg, has twice been Marlborough’s mayor before her.
So it means that not since King John granted Marlborough a charter in 1204, to hold a market and an annual fair, has a married couple both carried the gold chain of office round their neck.
And not since 1948, when King George VI was the last reigning monarch to visit Marlborough, has a major royal event coincided, as it did then, with the first post-war Olympics staged at the White City.
Edwina, a member of the town council for five years, sees her double period as wife of the mayor as “work experience for the proper job ahead”, and has been deputy mayor too for the past year.
And warming to the coming months of commitment and celebration, Edwina admits: “It is going to be a magical year, one I shall never forget.”
She has her own remarkable story to tell. The only child of a Royal Navy sailor who became a Tilbury docker, who died when she was at any early age, she was brought up by a mother who was an ardent Labour Party supporter and also a monarchist.
“I was a working class in a middle class environment at a girls’ grammar school where I had free school dinners and free school uniforms and all that,” she recalls.
“On Saturdays I used to earn 15 shillings working for the last of the Gravesend shrimpers, who would go to sea and bring back his catch. And in the huge yard at the back of his shop we cooked winkles, crabs, cockles and all that kind of stuff.”
Edwina’s first encounter with royalty was at primary school when the headmaster announced the death of King George VI. “We were all really, really shocked and some of us were crying,” she says. “There are so many people of my generation who remember that happening.”
“I can’t remember getting a Coronation mug – Nick still has his – but I do remember my mum going up to London to all the big royal events that she could get to from work and she was up there early for the Coronation to find herself a good place.”
“On that occasion I was left with an aunt who had one of the first television sets. There were about 20 of us glued to this tiny screen on which you could hardly see anything. But then film of Coronation burst into the cinemas and we all saw it there.”
Edwina, who had not identified any particular ambition, was so inspired one teacher at school that she went off to Nottingham University to study theology, meeting Nick in freshers’ week on a bus, and marrying him when she was 25. He went on to work for Christian Aid and she brought up the first of their children in a house in Catford before Nick became head of religious education and also taught history at Marlborough College.
Complications prior to the birth of their fifth child, Tom, meant she couldn’t join him at first, but then they moved into a Marlborough flat when Tom arrived in 1978 and later bought their present home in Oxford Street in 1985.
And subsequently she too taught religious education for 20 years at St Mary’s School, Calne.
It was on her retirement there that Edwina entered into the world of parish politics. Although initially a Liberal in the inspiring days of Jo Grimond, she has always maintained that being an independent working under the banner Marlborough First was the course she inevitably had to follow.
Out canvassing, she became conscious too that while Marlborough is perceived as a wealthy, upmarket town, it has its own share of working class families facing hardship and living on benefits, seriously more so now with youth unemployment at record levels.
“I hope the Olympic and diamond jubilee events will help lift the economic gloom we have at the moment,” she declares. “We’re a lot gloomier now than even in the difficult times of the miners’ strikes and the Winter of Discontent. And the fate of our young people worries me.”
Now, she believes, is the time for the community to come together to celebrate and help those in need in the historic setting of Marlborough and its famed High Street, due to be decorated with flower baskets, bunting and flags.
She laughs at any suggestion that she is a member of a toytown council with few powers and a budget of just £400,000.
“More Clochmerle,” she jokes. “And we punch above our weight because we are an historic borough with a royal charter that goes back centuries. That gives a sense of importance.”