Elvet Bridge

There may be other graduates like me who were a bit disappointed when King’s College became the University of Newcastle upon Tyne. Of course, it was only a name change. The outstanding Durham quality continued as before, and Newcastle graduates remain among the best in the country. Nonetheless, there is a certain magic about the name Durham, and its place as one of only three collegiate universities.

My story began in 1954 when, after leaving grammar school at sixteen with no GCEs, I began my working life as an apprentice paper maker. My first lucky break came after six months when I was transferred to the company’s civil engineering drawing office and enrolled at the local technical college to take a Higher National Certificate. Five years later, I had won a state scholarship and a place at Durham to read civil engineering.

My studies began in October 1959 and, despite my previous experience in industry, I found the course extremely demanding. Professor Cassie was a strict taskmaster, and there was the constant fear of the consequences of failure. If you failed a civil engineering subject, you were excluded for a year. He might let you retake, and if you passed he might let you return. Of the students who began with me fewer than twenty graduated.

Professor Cassie had made civil engineering one of the few honours only courses because of his high opinion of the profession’s position in society. My intake responded to our privileged position by introducing the wearing of gowns to all in house lectures – a gesture that was warmly welcomed by all the teaching staff. Incidentally, in those days we were expected to wear suits throughout the College.

Away from the academic scene, I recall fond memories of my first year in Eustace Percy Hall. We had very comfortable single rooms, excellent meals and a formal dinner once a week when we wore academic dress. I was also accepted for the Air Squadron where I would be paid as an officer cadet and taught to fly by first class instructors. This amazing experience led me to give up civil engineering and join the RAF as pilot with a permanent commission.

On hearing of my change of career, Professor Cassie had nothing further to do with me. This was a bit sad although I understood fully how he felt. One of my fondest memories was of my first day at King’s when I realised, with a measure of disbelief, that I was an undergraduate. I have the Professor to thank for that, and I have always been extremely grateful to him for the life changing opportunity he gave me.

Roy Springett OBE

  College: King's College
  Subject: Civil Engineering
  Class of: 1962

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