1954 was a time of momentous change for Hull, with the award of the Royal Charter transforming the University College into the University of Hull. Arriving in 1954, Professor Ken Bowler (BA Zoology, 1957) was one of the first ever students of the new University. He recalls here his accomodation in camp huts constructed during the second world war, developing friendships with students from West Africa, the Bursar’s opinion on salad teas and the Austenesque terms of social engagement at the Bonfire Night ball.
I arrived in Cottingham with Bob Bryan in 1954 having shared a carriage and on the train and discovered we were both going to University to study Zoology. It was good to find we were placed in Hut 5, an old Wartime Camp hut. We shared it with 3 second year students, Terry Hawkins (Swedish), Tony Hind (Law) and Roy Hattersley, later to become Rt. Hon. Lord Roy Hattersley, Labour Minister and peer.
The huts were dilapidated, the windows leaked when it rained which wet the bed. Heating was totally inadequate, so in winter bathing was a serious decision. The bath hut was some distance away.
Meals were taken in a dining block, and often the food served was not worth the walk, and rationing was still in force. In spite of the poor facilities we enjoyed the Camp Hall experience.
It was the success of the unit of 5 living together that the decision was taken to build Ferens Hall on a staircase and not a corridor design. We were the first ever occupants of Ferens. An en-suite bathroom was extremely popular after the former shared facilities. We were required to send washing home, which was a real chore though the return parcel usually contained a cake. Male students were only allowed a female visitor on Sundays until 6pm, at which time a salad was available for collection. At a meeting, the Bursar was asked why the tea was always a salad. His memorable reply: “we wanted to see if your guests ate like rabbits too.”
In my second year I moved to Hut 65 with John Booker (Economics), Keith Smith (Geography, an English Rugby trialist and Lancashire) and Clive Burrows (French). It was a four-room hut and became notorious from John Booker’s poster which asserted that “A divan is divine in Hut 65”. Significantly those friends are still in contact. Bob Bryan, who became lighting director at Glynbourne, was our best man. Terry Smith (Economics) was a longstanding and good friend, and the main driver of alumni gatherings.
On the year of our 70th birthdays my wife Hilary and I had a party for those named above with spouses.Terry in his tribute to Hilary made this thoughtful remark: “this is a important moment for two reasons. The men are all 70 this year, and we are all still married to the girls we met in the 1950s.”
There were many amusing moments, a predictable outcome of 300 men being placed together. A third of our number were from Nigeria and Sierra Leone. Their Freetown University was a College of Durham University, and in 1968 I went to Freetown in a professional capacity as an external examiner. To my surprise I was hosted by a team of ex-Hull students. They included Sam Bangura (Bank of Sierra Leone), Golly (leader of the cocoa board), Ponsford Benkecoker (Head of Police Training School), Ernest Wright (Professor of Chemistry) and the Professor of Physics (cannot remember the name). These Hull graduates all did well and were a benefit to Sierra Leone.
There was always a dance on Saturday nights with Norris Walker’s Dance Band, and this was where many relationships were formed, not only with girls from Thwaite Hall but girls from the Training College next door. Camp Hall fancy dress dances took the ticket. Stan Halliwell always went as the devil, irrespective of the agreed theme.
Every year a Guy Fawkes Bonfire Night celebration was held followed by a ball. Local girls often attended. We favoured Boots girls over Woolworths girls as they were considered higher class, prettier and therefore more fitting for our social ambitions.
One memorable event in the Ferens Hall en-suite bathrooms was the sudden appearance of a motion in the toilet that would not flush. Eventually it disappeared, thankfully. A week or so later it reappeared. The issue was resolved when we caught ‘Mouse’ Maunders from the next staircase retrieving it. He had modelled the offensive item from onsite cement and cocoa.
The halls trip to the Phyllis Dixie show was also notable. She was a famous fan dancer, but our encouragement brought down the curtain early and elicited threats from the manager.
I could go on but the important point to make was that Hull was a good experience, socially and academically.After some 60 years my memories are still fond, and many friendships struck at the time have since stayed the course.
Professor Ken Bowler (BA Zoology, 1957)