'An Orderly Christian Household'
Whilst College development today necessitates expansion and a commercial approach, the founder of the College, Thomas Holloway, placed great emphasis on maintaining the 'domestic life' of the College. His Foundation Deed stated that the College should be run 'like an orderly Christian Household'.
Deed of Foundation, 1883 (RHC GB/102/1)
There were great attempts to uphold a socially refined atmosphere suitable for middle and upper class girls. Customs were established, such as dressing in evening dress for dinner every night, which was taken in the Dining Hall using silver service, and consisted of four courses. Staff and students were waited on by servants and expected to prepare interesting small talk for the table. Robert Latham, who joined the College as a lecturer in 1947, recalled that on entering the Dining Hall he felt like a 'pig farmer who had strayed into a boudoir!'.
Dinner in the Dining Hall
“Dinner at 7pm was the best meal of the day, and for that we wore evening dress. We had to book ‘dinner nights’ with our tutors by signing in their engagement books. A dinner night with Miss Higgins (Principal) was by royal command! She invited each student to dinner at the High Table at least once in her time at RHC. Scholars were invited in their first year. It was an awful ordeal. One had to go to her drawing room and with Miss Higgins lead the dinner procession into the Dining Hall and up to the High Table. There one sat on Miss Higgins’ right hand and tried to make suitable conversation. I was a miserable failure in my first year, but did better in my third year when I had to bring a visiting speaker to the High Table.”
- Memories of RHC by Ida Winifred Busbridge, RHC student 1926-29 (reminiscences by Caroline Bingham - RHC RF/132/3)
Expansion in student numbers meant that the College couldn't sustain the Victorian standards of luxury. The Catering Officer arriving in 1965 was astonished to learn that the College still bought its food from Harrods and that the Butler carved meat daily for several hundred staff and students at the High Table
“There were contracts with the local butcher, he also supplied Windsor Castle, so they thought that he was the best man to have! They had purchased from Harrods…nothing but the best…this all referred back to the genteel ways of the College. It ceased to be genteel when I came there! The baker and the sticky buns were stopped. Unfortunately, I slipped up with the ice-cream. I got a very good contract with Walls and hadn’t realised that anyone else was supplying it from elsewhere as there were no records of it. But I had a very irate local newsagent come in to complain!” - Reminiscences of RHC from Mr. A.T. Boog, Catering Officer 1965-78 (reminiscences by Caroline Bingham - RHC RF/132/3)
Order was sustained by a rigid College timetable applicable to every student. This was known as 'College Hours', which were kept in place well into the twentieth century. Days were routinely spent moving from the Chapel to the Library and to studies and lecture rooms according to strict rules of silence.
The Daily Routine
“My winter’s day at Royal Holloway in the ‘50s’. You woke up to a rather cold room, and rather smelly too if your friends had been meeting in your room, sharing the coal the previous evening. It was always a great rush because… you would roll out of bed and be called on by one of your friends – and it would be something like twenty to nine. So you would tear down the corridor to your wash basin in the bathroom and splash water over your sleepy face, pull your clothes on, gather your notebook and dash down because breakfast stopped at 9 o’clock, so there were about ten minutes in order to get a cup of black coffee and scrambled egg or baked beans. Then you would put your gown on which would move behind you as you belted down the corridors, across the quads and down into the lecture theatre. - Reminiscences of Mary Kennedy, RHC student 1950-53 (reminiscences collected by Caroline Bingham - RHC RF/132/6)
Then you might have nothing else that morning – so being us, we would go off to one of our rooms and have coffee and talk yet again. So you might go and have coffee or you might go back to your room and do a bit of reading or go to the library, or rush off into Englefield Green to do some shopping because you were going to have one of these sort of tea gatherings in the afternoon. And then there would be this ghastly lunch.
The afternoons were, of course, meant to be devoted to study or recreational activities. But usually once a fortnight, at least, you had a tutorial, which was half an hour in one of the staff’s study rooms where your essay would be pulled to pieces. When you came out it didn’t really seem a very good idea to do much work, the urge to write another essay was 10 days away, so you probably went back to your room, lit the fire and got the buns and cakes all ready. And then friends would drift in and most probably you would stay around there toasting, and making tea, debating and arguing. An opportunity for something to be discussed about men – great cinema and theatre-goers in the group so we talked a lot about that – about novels we were reading. We were all reading avidly outside our subject areas or about the world in general.”
“College life was strictly regulated: silence had to observed between 5pm and 6pm, and between 8.30pm and 10pm, and after 10.30pm until the morning. Between 10 and 10.30 the rule was relaxed so that we could drink coffee. If we were heard talking in a ‘silence time’ we were liable to be reprimanded by a lecturer. This was known as ‘being jumped’, and the penalty was an apology to be made to the lecturer before 9am the following morning.” - Reminiscences of Marjorie Lunt, RHC student 1930-33 (reminiscences collected by Caroline Bingham - RHC RF/132/6)
Only female staff were allowed to reside at the College, with male staff having to live off campus. Students were not allowed to have men in their rooms without a chaperone. On the 1960s female students were still forbidden to be away for the College at night without permission. This posed a dilemma for some students.....
“Dear Lady Holloway,
I am going out with a boy who loves long car rides so that I invariably return to College later than 12.55 and consequently have to climb in through a pantry window. Unfortunately I keep on laddering my stockings! Can you suggest a cure?” - Chateau, vol.1, no.3, 7th March 1968 (RHC RF/200/48)
The preoccupation with moral sustainability also revealed itself through societies and groups set up to perform good works outside the College. These included the 'Waif and Stray Society' who adopted, clothed and presided over a 'College Waif' for domestic service and the 'Foreign Missionary Circle' which drew a steady stream of recruits.