“The first hurdle for a Needler freshman was to avoid being the ‘accused’ at the annual trial” – Tony Crilly on Life at Needler in 1960

In this article we take a trip down memory lane with Tony Crilly (BSc Joint Mathematics, 1963). Starting with his arrival at Hull in 1960, Tony shares photographs of friends Barry Mawer and the later MP Frank Field, mentions such figures as Fr Anthony Storey, the Animals, Larkin, Ben Newlove, Brian Cox, the Archbishop of York, and many others that you may recognise from the era. So, without further ado, let’s join Tony outside the Arts Building in Fresher’s Week 1960…

I arrived at Hull Paragon in October 1960 after a day’s journey across country by steam from Bristol Temple Meads. The next part was a bus to Cottingham and Needler Hall. I had never been ‘up North’ before. My grandfather used to receive fresh fish from the early morning train sent to the West Country, but apart from being told the city had white telephone boxes, that was the sum of my knowledge of Kingston-upon-Hull.

Tony with friends Barry Mawer and Frank Field at the Arts Block in Fresher’s Week 1960 (copyright Tony Crilly)

My first year was spent as a semi-detached member of Needler, half-in, half-out. I was billeted to sleep in digs but to have the evening meal in hall. My lodgings were with Mrs Simmons down Northgate where the railway line crossed the road. There was an understanding there would be a proper place in hall the next year.

In the early sixties Needler replicated an Oxbridge college. It existed in an era of academic gowns and not studying for a degree but reading for one, the Warden a youthful father figure in the background, the Domestic Bursar a mother. It had a Junior Common Room complete with an elected president and committee, a library (coal fire in the grate during winter), music room (equipped with a fine piano), tennis courts, a laundry service and bed makers. Jugs of milk were delivered to pantries for hot drinks at bedtime.

Each week the student president of the J.C.R. would choose a handful of Hall members to join a party of academics on High Table for the week’s formal evening meal, the warden Peter Coveney presiding. Northern Irishman Dr Angus, the unassuming sub-warden, was invariably present while both Dr Miles (Chemistry) and Ron Shepherd (Assistant Registrar) were regulars. Philip Larkin was an occasional visitor as was his friend Brian Cox (English Studies) who later gained notoriety for the infamous ‘Black Papers’ on education.

Proceedings began with sherry in the Mixed Common room, for many of us an introduction to adulthood: ‘sweet or dry Mister Crilly?’ When the gong sounded, the party entered the main hall, and following ‘Benedictus Benedicat’ in came the tureens and searching interrogations. The openers were sometimes tricky; once Coveney asked a fresh-faced Physics student sitting opposite what were his opinions of À la recherche du temps perdu. In riposte he should have enquired into the warden’s knowledge of Paul Dirac’s quantum mechanics.

In my first term it was decided that the Hall library was to be restocked. In his old Morris, Coveney took student librarian Martin Wood and me (sub-librarian) to the York bookshops on a spending spree. Martin was so well-read that decisions on what to buy were determined en route; near Market Weighton a steam train appeared and Coveney exclaimed ‘Oh, I adore trains.’ Back we came to Needler with stacks of modern novels to fill out the library shelves. Woody and I spent happy hours cataloguing them—always keeping an eye out for À la recherche .

The first hurdle for a Needler freshman was to avoid being the ‘accused’ at the annual trial. As was the custom some innocent newcomer would be singled out to appear in the dock charged with a triviality judged to be a serious misdemeanour. In the student culture of the time, it was an excuse for an evening of drinking. A barrel of beer was imported, perhaps an unwise move as in our year as a Ferens Hall raiding party snatched our prisoner. Happily, this trial tradition soon fizzled out.

The Needler building has now bitten the dust (but you can now shop at at Aldi in its grounds) and the ‘The Fuchsias’ annexe in Thwaite Street where I lived as a postgraduate, is in private hands. A few steps away, on the corner with Beck Bank, the Railway Inn has now gone. The landlord used to welcome us in, but as 11 o’clock approached it was ‘your glasses and your absence please. The law compels….’ In its place is an unprepossessing block of houses. And further along Beck Bank Bessy’s ‘last minute’ shop (just before you come to Cottingham station) has disappeared.

Tony Crilly – On a Sentimental Journey, Cottingham Station, Summer 2018

Hull was a small university. We were supposed to be in a period of expansion but in the early sixties there were barely 1600 students in the whole place. To show that Hull was a prominent seat of learning (Lampada Ferens) it used to lure celebrities to visit and speak to its societies. Enoch Powell, Minister of Health during Macmillan’s conservative government, came and talked about taking a penny off a pint of milk.

Archbishop of York Michael Ramsay, about to be enthroned as the 100th Archbishop of Canterbury was invited by the Anglican Society. He spoke about the existence of Purgatory, but in the end ducked the question. Novelist Angus Wilson spluttered enthusiastically about Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa to the English Society and dinner-jacketed Max Mosley arrived off the London train to take part in an evening Union debate.

Hull had too its inhouse notables, too many to mention here. Of course, Larkin was the most famous and many of us purchased our first editions of The Whitsun Weddings (12s 6d) at Browns Bookshop, and later, ever dutiful, High Windows (£1.40). We were too timid to ask for it be signed. The Student Union’s manager Ben Newlove (aka. Herr Neueslieben) was a regular target in Torchlight the student newspaper.

Father Storey was appointed to head the Catholic Chaplaincy in Newland Park. His debating combatant, philosophy lecturer Axel Stern (with the memorable election slogan to ‘Back Axel, Stern First’) argued for Christianity against Storey’s support for Atheism. A few doors along the newly appointed professor Bill Cockcroft set up the pure mathematics department. Timothy Poston was a student there who in all weathers walked about in clogs and a bright red knee length jumper emblazoned with his signature by which all knew him—Eigenheit. Tim moved around the campus singing at the top of his voice. A first-rate mathematician, he was whisked off to Warwick and made a reputation in Topology.

In winter students dressed in either duffle coats or other items bought at the Army surplus store. There was a subtle distinction of the chosen scarf, the traditional university scarf vs the gaudy Union one. Apart from the Students Union building the library was a focus. Upstairs the reading room was often overcrowded, but in the basement one could hide away find a table and be distracted by the complete run of bound copies of The Times (swept away when microfilm arrived).

Saturday evening in the Students’ Union was the Entertainments venue. Upstairs was the place to be seen. The bar was there and a TV room where leather jacketed males and mini-skirted females sank back in lounge chairs to watch ‘That was the Week that Was’ (TW3) in black and white. The late Jonathan Raban held court there. We all loved Millicent Martin.

Downstairs you might hear the Dutch Swing College, and on one occasion Eric Burdon and the Animals who admirably kept their appointment when they were chart-topping with ‘House of the Rising Sun’. In the adjacent room dancing took place under the polka ceiling dots cast by Ben Newlove’s much vaunted Crystal Ball—until the last Waltz signalled the end of the evening.

To all the early 60s generation at Hull University, thank you and good night.

5 thoughts on ““The first hurdle for a Needler freshman was to avoid being the ‘accused’ at the annual trial” – Tony Crilly on Life at Needler in 1960

  1. What an evocative piece from Anthony Crilly. On Hull in the early 1960s. I can smell the coal fires, see Tim Postan’s sweater and as for Saturday night in the Students Union.. Decades later I tracked Frank Field around South America, he helping with pensions, me with International Reinsurance. He was much admired wherever he had been


  2. A little later in 1974 we still had the Warden, High Table, JCR, the music room, the morning papers delivered and so on. A real part of our educate.

    Jeremy Gee


  3. I was in Needler Hall from 1973 until 1977, in the “new wing” and Bob Chester was the warden during that time. Very basic accommodation compared to today’s standards I suspect – a room with a bed, desk, chair and wardrobe. Communal showers down the corridor. Happy days. What a shame it is no longer there.
    Dr Alan Sissons, Biochemistry 1973-1979.


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