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Memories of Bedford College

Memories of Bedford College

Thank you to those alumni who submitted memories of Bedford College following the call out in the recent Bedford Society newsletter, we hope you enjoy reading them.

If you would like to submit a piece for future newsletters, please email the Alumni Relations team with your contribution.

In the early 1980s the College or its student groups organised some curious gatherings and parties such as the annual Hanover Lodge champagne breakfast in the middle of the St Johns Wood roundabout, or the party on a carriage of the Circle Line which in those days endlessly circled central London as its name implies. 

Most memorably, the then-famous band Haircut One Hundred was booked to play in the College refectory. They had achieved sudden chart success between being booked and coming to the College. The place was crowded for the event, which I suppose must have been a college ball; we watched the support band from the doorway opposite the Oliver Bar, a bar so up-to-date that it had a Pac-Man machine. For maximum zeitgeist one should imagine (improbably) that we were all drinking pina coladas: probably bought at the Reid Bar, which was more of a poseurs’ haunt.

The stage had been set up on the kitchen side of the refectory, so we had a reasonable view. The support band whose name I forget were quite acceptable but Haircut One Hundred were terrible and we drifted away. Maybe they weren’t good live or they’d lost interest in playing small venues, or maybe they were just having a bad day. Whatever the case, we had the double thrill of seeing them just as they were experiencing their fifteen minutes of fame and of being able to dismiss them as talentless from our position of superior inside knowledge, which made it a pretty good evening. 

I went to Bedford College at the age of 17: London was not a challenge for me as I came from Merseyside - I was used to big city life, albeit on a smaller scale geographically. Some students had not lived in a big city before and took time to adjust. Nevertheless there was not space for all in halls of reisdence and I was lucky to gain a place in my second term in a converted group of terraced houses in Swiss Cottage. This was overseen by Miss Crewdson as Warden who ran a strict regime: notably permission required in person  by her if you wanted to be out after 11pm with signing in and out supervised. I gained my room there because the previous occupant had failed her Latin - a mandatory requirement for entrance - which she had been allowed to retake in January but failed again.

Life in the early 50's was still dominated by the aftermath of war - food rationing and coupons for clothes were still in place. Travel abroad was controlled with a spending limit of (I think) £30 so no foreign holidays. I was one of the new students enabled to go to University because fees were paid and I had an Exhibition allowance from the Local Authority of £100. £200. and finally (riches) £300 in the third year. I bought a new look dress!

This was the time of the Festival of Britain, the funeral of George VIth, the coronation of Queen Elizabeth. It was also the beginning of the destruction of Victorian and Edwardian London.  I went to Covent Garden to sit in the Gods for 2s 6d to see my first opera with a student from Imperial College, met at a hop. We also lived through the dense fogs of the early 50's when you could not see your feet and the blind led lost people to their destinations (so it was said).

Males were not allowed in female residences unless relatives and finding male company was often through going to hops - there was a fairly sophisticated system of sending a representative to a venue who would ring up and say whether it was worth attending. My group of friends and I decided that it was a scandal that the College did not have a debating society and set one up. Word got out and we found ourselves invited to speak at much more established and prestigious groups - we were completely inexperienced and out of our depth and eventually gave it up.

History students had a programme of lectures which they were expected to attend. We hardly ever saw Professor Penson who spent a lot of time setting up academia in Africa. However there was Dr. Greaves, Mr. du Boulay and Dr. Lawrence among others. We all took notes (except for one student who was sent out for writing letters during a lecture!). Our finals consisted of ten 3 hour papers over 2 weeks and as we had had no interim exams for three years we requested a practice paper at the end of the second. This was reluctantly given… Mr du Boulay  was not popular during our time for writing to The Times to say that he thought students coming straight from school were too naive and inexperienced in life to bring a proper background to their studies. We indignantly drafted a reply which the paper acknowledged but did not print. On reflection I think he was right - we were a relatively innocent and unprepared group, despite our experience of the war years. 

I don't think any of us worked outside College in term times although in the second year I worked in Jo Lyons Corner House for 4 weeks in the summer (lodgings on the top floor in Harley Street at £1 a week) and earned the money for essential books and the fare home. This introduced me to "real" life in a way the restricted environment of College did not.

I could go on but I am sure you will have plenty of similar recollections from others and I am being self-indulgent in living the past.  However, I still think those were the best years of my life and when, at last, I was able to achieve my Masters Degree I was 67 and paid for everything personally.

One of the major attractions of Bedford College for me (after, of course, the very extensive and attractive Botany curriculum), was the location of the College in prime central London. Another huge draw was the location of the Hanover Lodge accommodation, on the Outer Circle of Regents Park, no less.

A secondary attraction was the fact that Bedford used to be a women’s College and still had a very high proportion of female students. This fact did not escape male students at other London Colleges with much lower proportions of female students, who used to come to Bedford College parties and balls in eager anticipation. Looking back now, they were idyllic times and I could not have hoped for a better student experience.

In the spirit of The Sound of Music, these are a few of my favourite things (except the exams!):

  • Sociable evening meals in the Hanover Lodge dining room.
  • Fried breakfasts consumed whilst feeling hungover from the previous night’s excesses in the student bar.
  • Walking to College through Regents Park with the ducks, geese and herons as company.
  • Playing cat and mouse with the Park Police at night when the park was closed.
  • Departmental games of croquet on the lawn at back of the Botany Garden Unit.
  • Goats on their artificial hills at Regents Park zoo.
  • Evening gatherings in our Hanover Lodge rooms.
  • Sunbathing in the Hanover Lodge grounds in the long hot summer of 1976.
  • Long, tiring days in the Garden Unit laboratory doing practicals.
  • The Botany field trip at Millport on Great Cumbrae island in Scotland.
  • Regular games in glorious Regents Park.
  • End of year exams in St Johns Hall.  
  • Wonderful summer balls in the College grounds.
  • Feeling like being part of a big family, with friendly lab technicians, approachable lecturers and helpful administrative staff (Mrs Harvey, Professor Audus’ secretary was a particularly amusing and helpful lady).

These memories are of my time as a post graduate doing a Masters in Philosophy at Bedford College between 1981 and 1982. I was teaching full time and had a young family so opted for a weekly essay and exams, one of the two choices available to me at that time. The alternative was a thesis and Viva. My three chosen areas were finally Ethics, Plato and Political philosophy but because of my mostly ignorance of other areas, was required to also study Logic, History of Philosophy and Aesthetics. Because of my teaching, attending lectures or obtaining books easily was rare and there are fraught memories of rushing for trains and desperately trying to finish essays, in the car, waiting for my children, even on the train en route to a tutorial, in order to read it to my tutors. No doubt very funny to a non involved observer.

Memories still fresh in my mind: Of hearing the band playing whilst rushing across Regents Park and often, in the summer, through the college windows: of the dreadful toilets where there was never toilet paper evidently because it was stolen by the students as soon as replenished: of my first experience of graffiti which covered every possible space on walls and doors of the cubicles, much of which would have been unprintable anywhere else. The stimulation of hearing  and reading the ideas of my tutors and the fascination of watching them; some pacing to and fro, never still whilst speaking, the fact that lecturers turned up for the tutorials in their slippers and with holes in their jumpers. The utter bewilderment of  having negotiated the time, the domestic arrangements, the trains, of standing outside a lecturers door for ages for an arranged tutorial, only to realise he was not coming. Later to learn he was writing a book and had better things to do. There was also the unforgettable sound, sight and smell of the Students Union, the like of which surpassed all others and a very lingering nightmare of having the rare opportunity of listening to a lecture amongst very attentive, nodding students , the subject of which sounded like “the little perturbations” which puzzled me for years.

Then there was the anxious clock watching, a train to catch but was there time for something to eat? The smell and taste of Leek Mornay remains to this day: it was the cheapest and easiest to eat quickly and I cannot bear even the smell of leeks to this day.

When Bedford College closed it was a very unhappy decision for us all although thankfully we have survived with our own Society. I took my mother as a guest at the last social occasion at Regents Park and it was one of the real highlights of her 103 years. She never forgot it, for ages brought it into every occasion she could with her friends although to this day I do not know how we managed to get her there. What a very happy lady she was. She used to say “I had an invitation”, no mention of the origin!

I still have all my text books although the content is now beyond me and much of it outdated no doubt. But my memories remain of one of the most stimulating and worthwhile opportunities in my life despite the tugs of conscience over family, the constant feeling of missing out in terms of lectures and getting to know other students: and the if only.... ...I could then do better etc. We cannot have it all. Thank you Bedford College, my tutors and Regents Park in the old days.

Early in the 1980s the alarms at Bedford College were tested with tremendous zeal: by which I mean very frequently and persistently. There was no drill to be followed, or at least not for the students; we just carried on safe in the knowledge that we were somehow protected by the efficiency of the bells. 

One particular day when the bells went off, I was in the Herringham hall on one of the row of seats between the BCUS shop and the library: and therefore with a fair view of the main college doors. I was chatting with someone and there were various people milling about, and we all ignored the bells as best we could; we took little notice of the people hurrying to the door with what it turned out was literally a bag of swag. Someone even kindly held the door open for them as they made off with the cash that had been intended to pay the refectory staff’s wages. 

No doubt there are people for whom this incident was not at all amusing, and presumably the college was propelled into the twentieth century by these events and paid its staff by cheque from then on: but really the problem had been the alarms, which were the electromechanical equivalent of the boy who cried “Wolf!” because, as the police soon discovered with a mixture of bemusement and exasperation, we had all ignored the alarms and not one of us could give a description of the thieves. 

One evening in the main television room at Hanover Lodge it was very apparent that everyone was drinking hot drinks, because there were cups everywhere and more drinks than students. It turned out that the vending machine by the stairs just beyond the television room was giving out free hot drinks; we all took advantage of its generosity. The scene resembled a low-budget version of “Whisky Galore!” Eventually the machine had no more to give. 

A few weeks later, drinks were free again. The story was that whoever refilled the machine had helped themselves to a free drink, no doubt quite legitimately, but that they had then forgotten to switch the machine back to taking cash. 

Then someone discovered that it was possible to reach into the belly of the machine through the place where the drinks emerged, at some personal risk I imagine, and thus encourage the machine to dispense free drinks. Because of this trick it seemed that there would be hot chocolate galore for evermore, but actually tinkering with the machine was rather like killing the goose that laid the golden eggs: because of course it wasn’t long before the machine was replaced with a tamper-proof one. 

For those with time to spare there was still the arcade machine downstairs which could be tricked into operation by a spinning tuppence when really it wanted ten pence, but that was just getting a fair deal. Free hot drinks had been the real prize: but, luckily for the Hanover Lodge budget, it never happened again. 

It was a privilege to study Psychology as an undergraduate at Bedford College. What more pleasant way to start the day than to walk to lectures through Regents Park, from Hanover Lodge? I first took that walk, with a girl who was studying Botany, to attend our initial Freshers' function; there, she met a boy studying German and they are still together and two of my oldest friends. Hanover Lodge was still a female-only hall of residence in my first year there, though some girls with rooms on the ground floor had screwdrivers and touch-up paint so that they could release the safety bars at the windows to let boyfriends in after hours.

Psychology staff were great and class sizes small, and everyone knew everyone else and was friendly. At a residential getaway, Professor Brian Foss amused us at the piano, singing psychology-themed ditties of his own composition, such as “I’m a little fish” about Tinbergen’s famous stickleback studies. We had entertaining evening talks by psychiatrist Dr Stevenson, accompanied by a glass of wine, in his Harley Street office. A group of us also piled into his large old car (I sat on the floor) for a day out as his guests at Epsom Downs Country Club.

There was great kindness from some staff. In our final year it turned out that I was the only student who wanted to take the special option in Comparative Psychology and, amazingly, Dr Monica Lawler ran it just for me. Once, a student panicked at the start of an examination, and Dr Joan Wynn Reeves took her to her own house for the night and allowed her to sit the exam in a calm state the next day. After one vacation, Dr Reeves did not come back; we were shocked to learn she had died of cancer.

I was a member of the college choir, which provided the music for a service at Guildford Cathedral. I also took the leading soprano role in two shows by Bedford Light Opera Group (BLOG). One involved dancing with Bill, a bearded geology professor, and both shows were conducted by Barry, a pipe-smoking philosophy lecturer, I think. I really appreciated the opportunities for involvement in such activities and having fun with people across disciplines.

It was wonderful to study Physiology for two years as my second subject, in the days when it was possible to dissect human brains and study our own urine and blood. A brave friend (still my friend today) swallowed a balloon so we could study the pressure in her stomach. A student who had overdone the jabbing of his thumb walked round the class with blood dripping from his elbow offering it to anyone who needed it!

My favourite moment in class, though, concerned a Physiology lecturer who deeply impressed us as he had published papers about blood. However, he was remote and never made eye contact with anyone in lectures as he paced up and down behind the full-width bench. During one lecture, his body came to a sudden halt, as if yanked backwards, but he never stopped talking. As the lecture continued, there was some surreptitious fiddling behind the desk, followed by a loud ripping noise, after which the pacing resumed, and we realised he had caught his lab coat on a cupboard knob. I relive that moment whenever I need to cheer myself up!

I became an academic and a professor myself, and over the years saw universities become increasingly corporatised, risk-averse and administrative nightmares. I feel very lucky to be able to look back with pleasure on my undergraduate days at Bedford College, in simpler times, when it was an integral part of the University of London. 

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