Despite the fact that in the first two years of the College only 50 students and 12 academic staff inhabited a building of nearly 1000 rooms, the College's relative isolation and the nature of the building itself, fostered a considerable sense of community amongst staff and students. All staff and students were expected to learn everyone's names. This was easily done when there were only 88 resident students at the College in 1895, but got considerably harder as the College expanded and the obligation was relaxed in the 1920s.
When the College opened in 1887, female staff and students lodged together in the West wing of Founder's building and shared pantries and bathroom facilities. This cohabitation of staff and students existed until the 1960s when female members of staff moved out. Certainly it makde academic staff seem less distand and intimidating. Mary Bradburn, a student from 1935-1940 and later a staff member, stated that:
“Students were very much more aware of the staff as human beings than students are now, because if staff lived on the same corridor as you they went into the same pantry as you, and every time you went to the loo or bathroom then there were staff shuffling along the corridor, the same as you. There was a recognition that the staff weren’t exactly a different race of human beings.” (RHC RF/132/3)
Dr. Benson's Study
Being resident in the College afforded little respite or escape for academic staff. They received no extra extra financial reward for their authorative and pastoral roles outside of lecture hours. Marion Pick, lecturer from 1911-1946, recalled that:
“There could be days when residence made one feel crushed; the immediate remedy was solitude, with an ‘Engaged’ on one’s door. If it could be managed, a pleasant expedition to London, or a week-end away, cured a more serious attack of aloofness. But continued residence could really become oppressive.”
As College numbers grew in the early twentieth century some lecturers, including Marion Pick, felt that in order to preserve their desire to work at the College, they would need to move out. Measures were taken to ease the burden on staff. The Marie Pechinet Memorial Fund, set up immediately after WW1, provided a sabbatical term for a resident lecturer of more than 6 years.
Students also found the constricted community of the College stifling. The tradition of forming 'families' provided a sense of belonging for some, but isolated others.
“There was the most strict taboo of not being friends out of your year. A taboo that I broke! I happened to meet somebody on my first or second day who spoke to me and said, “Would you like to join our family?”, and I found myself in a group…lived over on East…who just by a little chance happened to come together. Families were chiefly for tea. And they felt loyalty towards each other. Well none of them were sufficiently original to become my friend and in the end they threw me out because I tried to make friends outside their group and with second years! And they were conservative and traditionalists – so then I was without a family.” - Memories of Kathleen Vinall, RHC student 1923-27 (reminiscences collected by Caroline Bingham - RHC RF/132/8)