The academic session of 1967/68 was a year of major social change. In 1967, well-publicized student demonstrations during San Francisco’s ‘Summer of Love’ signalled a shift in social mores which reverberated across the world. France underwent a period of volatile social change and almost came to a standstill during the May 1968 student riots. Stephen Williams (BA Hons Geography and History) came up to Hull in 1966 and in this piece he reflects on the changes and the events that occurred during this tumultuous time, including Hull’s own student demonstrations and the change in social mood they introduced.
2016 will be the 50th anniversary of going up to Hull University, although I have to admit it does not feel anything like that time span. In many ways my memories are still very vivid of a wonderful three years. Yet on further reflection one is left with the feeling of an entirely different student life from that, for example, more recently experienced by my son. One also realises that some of the most significant seeds of this change were sown during the late 1960’s. Let me try and illustrate what I imagine are some of the main differences, by reflecting on how things were at that time.
To put things in context, in the mid 1960’s about 50,000 students were awarded University places annually, as compared to over ten times that number, currently. These figures clearly had a significant impact on the realities of student life in the 1960’s especially as the ratio of academic staff to students was far more generous. This enabled weekly tutorials and one to one discussions with tutors, as well as the normal lectures, for which one had to wear an academic gown. This rather quaint practice was stopped during my second year but I still possess the said black gown for posterity’s sake. In comparison my son’s experience was of far fewer contact hours with his lecturers. In the 1960’s at Hull one regularly ‘sat at the feet’ and appreciated the intellect of such revered legends as Prof John Kenyon in History and Prof Jay Appleton in Geography. The former exhaled pipe tobacco through his nostrils whilst conducting tutorials (it was an era when smoking was not frowned upon), and woe betide you if you didn’t have a thick skin. The latter, who was also my personal tutor was a wonderfully wise and kind man, whom I had the pleasure of subsequently meeting on several occasions before his death earlier this year, at the age of 95.
Student accommodation was also a far simpler issue given the lower numbers. Most first-year students were offered places at one of the four traditional halls of residence, located in Cottingham. These were Needler and Ferens for the males and Thwaite and Cleminson for the females. There was supposed to be strict curfew hours when visitors were not allowed to venture into these single sex establishments and rumours that the female warden at Cleminson used Alsatian dogs in the grounds at night to discourage male intruders were not put to the test by many. The Lawns site was just being constructed and the non-traditional halls such as Morgan, Lambert and Grant only became available in the late 1960’s and then on a strictly single sex basis.
In traditional Halls there were ‘bedders’ who made ones bed and cleaned ones room on a daily basis. In addition meals were provided: breakfast and evening meal during the week and three meals at weekend. The evening meal was a formal affair, requiring a jacket and tie and the whole assembly stood up when the Warden and his entourage entered. The first course was always soup served at each table from a huge silver cauldron; then there was a main course served with ample tureens of vegetables, a dessert and finally cheese. The proceedings were started with a rushed grace of two words – ‘Benedictus, Benedicat’ which was the cue for the waitresses to fly out of the kitchen ‘en masse’ like a football team running onto the pitch, under the watchful eye of the Domestic Bursar.
I spent all my three years in Needler Hall and was elected President of the JCR (Junior Common Room) for the third year which gave me the ‘privilege’ of attending the SCR (Senior Common Room) for a glass of sherry prior to each evening meal. To be fair the academic staff residing at Needler were an excellent group and included Bob Chester,(The Warden) and also Don Kendrick, Chris Walker and Fred Burton, amongst others. The Hall had a wonderfully varied social life with its own music room (donated by the Needler family who owned the local sweet factory), a library, a large games room for table tennis and table football, two outdoor tennis courts and the JCR itself with a TV and plenty of reading material. The Hall also had its own football team which during this era reached the final of a local Cup competition against a team from the Fish Docks. We were unbeaten all year but made the fatal mistake of meeting up for a tactical talk the night before the match, in the rooms of one of the tutors, the aforementioned Fred Burton, who played for the team. He had had a recent delivery of his annual wine order and the next day several of the team, including our star player were ‘hors de combat’ and we lost 1-0 and poor Fred also had to re-order.
Other events at Needler included an annual film festival and twice yearly dances with live music. We were particularly fortunate in this respect, as on our JCR committee we had a certain Ed Bicknell, as Social Secretary. Ed, who went onto mange Dire Straits, had an incredible knowledge of pop music and was able to identify little known artistes who were on the ‘up’ and also secure their services for a relative pittance. One such was the Jethro Tull group and another, Ralph McTell. He used to do the same for the University Union and it was the era when the best known groups played at university campuses on a Saturday night and such as The Who, Manfred Mann, The Moody Blues and many more come to mind.
One other notable event for each traditional Hall was the annual Rag Day procession. For weeks prior to this, students would sell the Rag Mags, (a collection of tame, smutty jokes) to the general public and the Hall who sold the most, was rewarded with a barrel or two of beer. It was a major strategic exercise to ensure victory was achieved at the expense, particularly of arch rivals, Ferens Hall. In addition each Hall constructed a rag float, many of which were of quite complex design and these were paraded from the University right through the middle of Hull City Centre and back. I still have a cine-film of the proceedings and very ancient it looks.
In those days ‘Town and Gown’ relationships were strong and friendly, although events in the late 1960’s were to change this relationship forever. In the early to mid -1960’s students at Hull were regarded as a little wild and eccentric but relatively harmless and probably good for the country. As such great tolerance was shown by the public and the authorities and for example the policeman at the Haworth Arms’ corner, who directed the traffic on Rag Procession Day, took his flour bombing with good humour. Then there was the Student Demonstrations of 1967 which changed everything.
At the time, the demonstration did not seem at all significant. A few hundred students occupied the Administration building and the vast majority who were not involved could not understand what the demonstration was all about. In truth it seemed that most of the demonstrators were not sure either and it appeared they were demonstrating because they wanted to demonstrate about something, in line with a trend that had started a few years before in American universities. Supposedly the reason was to gain representation on University bodies but in all truth very few students were really concerned with this issue. However the reaction from the University, from the Press and from the general public was immense and the image of the student, nose-dived literally overnight. Added to this were exaggerated stories about drug taking and so any student flour bombing the policeman at Haworth Arms corner the next year would have been arrested on the spot, such was the transition. This was a great pity for there was something very special about Hull and how the then University Librarian, Philip Larkin so wonderfully and aptly described it as:
“I never thought about Hull until I was here. Having got here, it suits me in many ways. It is a little on the edge of things, I think even its natives would say that. I rather like being on the edge of things.”
The two main routes into Hull were the A63 and the train line into the terminus of Paragon Station, as the Humber Bridge was still a thing of the future. When you arrived you were at the end of the line, surrounded by countryside and part of a unique atmosphere. Then it was still a major port and had a huge fishing industry. Early on a Saturday morning at the fish docks one could see rows of women gutting fish and in the afternoon the same women standing on the terraces of the adjacent Hull RL ground, cursing the referee, far more viciously than their male counterparts. At this time that there were two or three major trawler disasters and the whole City including the University were in absolute mourning. It was as though grief had engulfed and numbed the total population, as deep sea fishing and Hull were then synonymous.
As to the University itself in those days, it comprised a set of buildings to the left and right of the main walkway from the Cottingham Road. The Administration Building to the left and Arts buildings to the right and then the Brynmor Jones library on the left being extended with its equivalent of a tower block and the science block to the right. At the end of the walkway was the student building with its ‘Buttery’ bar and a couple of eating places and the hall that served as the entertainment hub on a Saturday. There was no grand Student Union and everything was a little bit disorganised but somehow none the worse for that. The building housed the various societies and organisations and predominant amongst those was HUSSO, which was a major organisation in providing positive support within the community. It is good to see that this still exists.
There was also the University Newspaper then called ‘Torchlight’ and the editor was one Chris Mullin, who went onto be an MP for many years. I worked for him in the capacity of Sports Editor and still have my ‘press pass’ which allowed me free access to Hull FC and the two Rugby League grounds. Sadly this is no longer serviceable.
Yes, the memories flood back and I am left with the same feeling that inevitably time has significantly changed the university experience of fifty years ago from what it is today. But that should not come as any great surprise, as every aspect of society has changed radically in that time in so many ways. Why then is it so difficult to appreciate that it really is all of fifty years ago that I was there? Perhaps the answer is that ‘time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana’.
© Steve Williams, BA Geography and History 1966 – 1969.