Year of the Charter: from divine Camp Hut 65 to Ferens for the first time

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. 

Law students contemporary to Professor Bowler. Lord Hattersley front row, second from right

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)

11 thoughts on “Year of the Charter: from divine Camp Hut 65 to Ferens for the first time

  1. Wonderful memories Ken, I really enjoyed reading them and had never realised the relatively primitive accommodation students had to endure in the 1950s. Clearly more modern students are a pampered class. Equally fascinating to note the link with Sierra Leone and the positive contribution that a ‘Hull education’ had on the development of that country.


  2. Ken, it was great to read your comments after so many years. You may remember me as the drummer in our jazz band, with Bob Bryan on piano and Al Potton on trumpet. I also played mediocre rugby and field hockey. I was in a hut with Val Williams, Pete Lawrence and Crawford Baines. I came back to Hull for one of the first alumni reunions, but have been living in Switzerland since 1971, after some years spent in Kenya, Mauritius and the Sudan. I didn’t meet my wife until I got to Kenya, but did then stay married until five years ago, when she unfortunately passed away. Your article brought back a lot of memories.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi John, it would be very interesting to learn more about life as a drummer in a student jazz band, and where your career took you across Africa. I’m on if you were interesting in writing a piece, with photographs if at all possible?


      1. Thanks for your comments Chris (?) Being in a student jazz band was a very part-time thing, but it was fun. We used to play in the Union building once a week for a student dance session, and practise when we could. The jazz scene in Hull was quite active in the fifties, and well-known bands often played in town. I remember that we managed to invite Chris Barber and his then lady Ottilie Patterson for lunch at the Union, also Johnny Dankworth and his beautiful young singer Cleo Laine (who later became his wife, and also the best jazz vocalist in UK.)

        As for my career in Africa, I first had to complete my two years national service from 1957-59 (one of the last intakes before it was abolished), which I did in the Royal Signals, spending the whole of the second twelve months in Germany, where we also had a part-time jazz group. After National Service I joined Barclays Bank DCO, (previously Dominion. Colonial and Overseas, but they had already become dirty words by 1960!), mainly because I wanted to see a bit of the world, and for the next twelve years served in Kenya, Mauritius and the Sudan, each one a tremendous contrast to the others. It was only after the bank was nationalised in the Sudan that I was lucky enough to be posted to Switzerland, where I have lived ever since. I still have very fond memories of my years in Africa, but think I was lucky enough to enjoy some of the best years of the century. I wouldn’t be too keen to go back to Khartoum today. It all seems long ago now, but the happy memories are still fresh in my mind.


  3. Hello Ken, after all these years.
    You may remember me and my two friends, Brian Anthony and Malcolm Brewin in Camp Hall from 1952 to 1955; we are still in touch and meet occasionally with our first wives (no second ones !). I presume the picture above was taken in Ferens as I do not recall any girls in Camp (officially, that is !). I remember number of the faces but cannot put a name to them all, but I think I can name Simpson, Hattersley, Barker, Smith (T), Cryer and Booker (?) In my first year, 52/53 I lived in one of the 3 brick blocks in Camp Hall with very small rooms indeed, which were on 3 sides of the open static water tank I moved ‘up’ to the 5 roomed Hut 2 and then to the 4 roomed Hut 76 (?) in 54/55 with Anthony, Brewin and Chas Sperring with his 3 wheel Morgan sports car.

    You might possibly have seen a few of my thought from those days on Camp Hall in the November edition under ‘Flour and Gowns.’ I can remember that we would turn the electric heaters upside down and make toast, but the trouble with rationing was that we didn’t have any butter to put on it but we might have got some sugerless jam

    When the University College got its charter in 1954, we Law students had taken Inter LLB and Finals Part 1 with London University and were then exempted these first two years in the Hull degree, and most of us then re-registered with London and took Finals Part 2 with both universities and finished up with degrees from both.

    It would be nice to hear from other former Camphallers who would probably remember many other things and have stories to tell of those unforgettable days.

    Graham Smith
    ( Law 1955 and 1956 postgraduate )

    Liked by 1 person

  4. We received a message from Brian Ashley, (1945-47 and 1950-53) recalling the student experience of these times, which included extraordinary reports of competitive sprints across the roof of the Needler halls. Brian is the earliest President of the Student’s Union with whom we are in contact and his post is shared in full:

    In 1945 as a new student from school and on grounds of my Ferens Scholarship, I was released from RAFVR where I had been waiting for aircrew training. I entered Needler Hall in company with other new young students to find the number of residents being gradually increased by former students returning with distinguished records from war service. These men, remembering their own fresher period, good-naturedly tolerated the wild antics of the second year faithfully and energetically applying the traditional inauguration rituals. One of the favourite daytime sports of the second year (when resting from nightly forays along the Needler corridors) was to time themselves in racing along the narrow top cowling of the Needler roof. This was a sport at which, as I remember, a student named Jeff Oxlade excelled. We spent a year in the comparative academic luxury of Needler under the benevolent but formal supervision of Warden Dr. Harry Lucas, and enjoyed its formal dinners, though we were required to bring our own personal jars of rationed butter and sugar. After our first summer vacation we returned to find ourselves billeted (to use an appropriate military description) in the ‘temporary’ nissen huts of Camp Hall. Groups of eight students shared a hut, with individual bedrooms along a corridor and toilets and washroom at the end of the hut.
    This created a different culture from that of Needler, as hut contacts developed strong group friendships that often continued in later life. But the ‘traditions’ survived as we, now second years, rigidly enforced the rituals that the year before that we had feared and abhored. For me, two years of National service in Hong Kong then intervened and when I returned I was a ‘student in lodgings’. A totally different cultural experience with more independence but less social contact.
    These different cultures reinforced the early interest I developed in the social organistion of student life that led to membership in the Student’s Union Council during a period when student participation in university government was establishing itself at local level and also nationally and internationally. Eventually in my last year from 1952-3 as a post-graduate student I had the honour to be elected President of the Students Union.
    I very grateful for the academic training that I received in University College and that has served as a continuing basis for my academic and professional development. I decided to record these memories because I am convinced that the effect of the strong student culture influenced the orientatation of my whole career in public and voluntary social service.

    Best wishes, Brian Ashley, 1945-7 and 1950 -53.


  5. looks like a small reunion! Graham Smith alerted me to this site and glad he did. Nice to hear from you Ken ( last time was at the rugby reunion organised by Terry Smith and I gave Eskimo Nell as an after dinner thought). Also Jo — last seen at the Deacons reunion I organised in 1999. Sorry to hear of you wife. At that reunion were also old Hull ites val Williams, Ivor Maw, Eric Hall and Malcolm Brewin so we all came from the same school.
    Oh my! How we did enjot our time at Hull ( with the girls training college next door) and Camp. Sure it was a bit antiquated compared with modern facilities but at least you could treat it rough. We used to play an invented game called ‘footcrick’ in the corridor. As regards the heating radiator – you could actually cook things like beans on it as long as you put some strong wire in the fuse box — what a fire hazard that was. I can remember many after dance parties crammed into a little room cooking up something. One chap Sam Hughes we kidded on that a herbal tea was good for his brain but the stuff we put in was actually a laxative and we put in umpteen doses — poor Sam darent leave his hut for 3 days afterwards.
    I notice Jim Lock on the front of the photograph , an historian one year below us. And the names flood back — Brian Steels, Charlie Pinkman, Chris Lynam ( never play poker with him) John Booker, Beano Barkley, Ted Carey, Denny Dwyer and I could go on for ages. There was tremendoius camaeraderie at Camp. I started off in Hut 3 with malcolm, T Beaumont who left shortly after, Piggy Bates and Roland (Ron) Barrick who was doing his education year and pleased to say that we are still in touch with Ron and Edith now in their 85th years.
    For our final years we moved into Hut 49 ( you got it wrong Graham) and just over the road was the hut for Jack Johnson – the best improvisor on the piano I have known — he played regularly at the King Billy in Cott. on Sat nights. Give him a few bars of anything and he could play it! Sadly he died within 2 years of leaving uni and having married local beauty Diane ?????
    I must come back with more memories another time and perhaps a few more will have recorded messages by then.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Great to read all these reminiscences. My time was 1946-1949. Good to know at least one of my generation is still alive and to be reminded of Saturday night hops,Norris Walker’s band and the beauty mines of Needler, Thwaite and the Training College. Perhaps I may add a missing piece. At the Rag Dance we welcomed the ladies from Endsleigh Training College connected to the Sisters of Mercy Convent. Normally they had to be in by 10pm but for the Rag Dance it was as late as 11pm! Their joy at liberation was a pleasure to behold. We aspired to the equivalent of the 3 Peaks Challenge- Ben Nevis, Snowdon and Scafell Pike. The Triple Escort Challenge of Endsleigh for 11pm, Training College for 12pm and Thwaite or Needler for 1 am unless she had a friend with a ground-floor window. The logistics alone suggest it was more in our dreams than in reality. As it was my practice to make my way to the hop only after Last Orders at the Gardener’s Arms success eluded me and even just one of the three was not the way to bet.
    There were some fine young women at UCH. I remember lots of names , few of whom I knew personally. It would be nice to know what happened to them. I know of 6. 4 married,2 didn’t. 4 have passed on,2 survive.


  7. I have enjoyed reading these recollections. I was in the final year, 1954, to graduate London external in Chemistry and then a Hull PhD.

    My first 3 years were in Camp Hall, where we got up to all the tricks radiator misuse and ragging, including painting a warden’s car in royal colours for the Coronation! We had to fork out for repainting . Chris Lynam was one of my cbums: he unfortunately ďied in a road accident in the 1960s

    I met my future wife, Kathleen Myers at Hull, she lived at Thwaite. We had 51 years of hsppy married life.


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