Warnings that a new statue of Margaret Thatcher would attract egg-throwing protests came true within two hours of it being installed in her home town of Grantham on Sunday.
The bronze statue was, without ceremony, placed on a 3-metre (10ft) high plinth to make it more difficult for protesters to inflict any damage.
Shortly afterwards a man was seen throwing eggs from behind a temporary fence and, when one connected, a cry of “oi” could be heard.
The egg throwing came as a surprise to nobody in Grantham. There is pride but also heightened awareness of how divisive a figure Thatcher remains.
After it was installed on a warm Sunday morning, a number of people stopped to take selfies. But loud booing could also be heard from passing motorists.
The Labour councillor Lee Steptoe said the egg-throwing was “absolutely inevitable”. “The statue was always going to be a prime target for petty vandalism and political protest. She was the most divisive prime minister probably in history and certainly in my lifetime,” he said.
He added that now the statue was up the challenge was to “concentrate on the cost of modern day Tory policies which are driving millions of people to food banks”.
Councillor Kelham Cooke, Conservative leader of South Kesteven council, said the statue was a fitting tribute to a unique political figure.
“Margaret Thatcher will always be a significant part of Grantham’s heritage,” he said. “She and her family have close ties with Grantham. She was born, raised and went to school here.”
He added: “It is, therefore, appropriate that she is commemorated by her home town, and that the debate that surrounds her legacy takes place here in Grantham. We must never hide from our history, and this memorial will be a talking point for generations to come.
“We hope that this memorial will encourage others to visit Grantham and to see where she lived and visit the exhibition of her life in Grantham Museum.
“This is about inspiring, educating and informing people about someone who represents a significant part of Grantham’s heritage.”
The statue, made by sculptor Graham Jennings, was originally intended to stand close to parliament but it was rejected by Westminster Council in 2018. Councillors said it was too soon after her death, in 2013.
They would also have been aware of the attack in 2002 on the marble statue of Thatcher in the Guildhall Art Gallery, in London. It was attacked with a cricket bat and decapitated with a metal bar in what a protester called “an act of satirical humour”. A court found him guilty of criminal damage and jailed him for three months.
After Westminster’s refusal, the statue was offered to Grantham, with work to achieve that spearheaded by Grantham Community Heritage Association (GCHA), an educational charity which manages the museum.
It has been a rocky road. There was horror when it was revealed that a £100,000 unveiling ceremony was being planned. A Facebook group proposed an “egg-throwing contest” which attracted 13,000 expressions of interest.
That event was abandoned and in strikingly low-key fashion the statue was lowered into place on Sunday morning. An official unveiling by the Public Memorials Appeal (PMA), which funded the £300,000 statue through public donations, will, take place at a later date, the council said.
Graham Jeal, a trustee of GCHA, said there had been a long conversation in Grantham about having a permanent memorial to Thatcher.
“The delivery of the memorial has secured the museum for the next few years and has helped the museum finances survive the Covid pandemic,” he said. “It is recognised that the full spectrum of views exist in Grantham about the legacy of Margaret Thatcher and an exhibition inside the museum illustrates this.”
The statue has been placed in St Peter’s Hill Green, close to the museum and the site of the grocer’s shop owned by Thatcher’s family.
Lincolnshire police confirmed it had received reports of criminal damage to the statue but no arrests had been made and enquiries were ongoing.