Name: Ricki P
 College: King's College
 Subject: General Arts
 Class of: 1956


KING’S IN THE FIFTIES

I started at King’s with Freshers’ Week, which I enjoyed so much I stewarded at the following year’s event. W had a chance to find our way around the college, which was then located in many different odd buildings and we could meet people. I found someone taking the same course and made a new friend, as she knew second year students, I found myself in a group of half a dozen meeting regularly for lunch every day. We ate in The Barn, a breeze block hut beyond the Union, or in the BR, a building lower down the street.

Outside the Barn

The ‘BR’ had been a British Restaurant during the war and was an old fashioned building with high ceilings, unlike the more modern Barn with its many windows.

In both places there was a self-service counter, with the menu chalked above and you made your choice and took your tray to one of the long tables. Money was very limited and most of the meals cost only a few shillings. The cheapest was always ‘lap of lamb’, either curried or stewed. The meat was delicious, very sweet, but each strip of breast of lamb was joined to an inedible sinew and had to be carefully separated.

Every Saturday night the Students’ Union organised ‘Saturday Night Entertainment Committee – SNEC. They showed films in the girls’ common room (yes, after entering the Union we parted at the top of the steps, girls to the right, boys to the left) There were gaps as the reels were changed by inexpert fingers, to many jeers.

Upstairs was the ‘hop’, dancing to modern tunes. Boys gathered in a clump at the entrance end of the room and watched all the girls at the other end before sidling up to a chosen partner.

There was also a debate, held, I think, in the boys’ common room.

If we went to meet someone in the Union, we always said ‘See you at the Hot Seat.’ This was a bank of huge radiators inside a wooden frame, providing a flat top where we sat, back to the windows, watching every newcomer mounting the steps. It was heaven on a cold day.

We often had famous faces from the local theatres paying a quick visit to the Union. One day, I almost bumped into Dickie Valentine as he was leaving, and was amazed to find that at 5’ 4” I towered over him! Another time I sat on the deep window sill of the girls’ common room, enthralled by Lonnie Donegan, inches away as he regaled an audience with stories of his stage career. I had been to the theatre only the previous night watching as he sang ‘Rock Island Line’.

There were often special events, like Mission to King’s in my first term, when representatives from different religions wandered through the college, talking to random groups of students.

We would be sitting in the Bun Room with a coffee when someone we’d last seen on TV sat down and engaged us in philosophical conversation.

There were notices up asking for volunteers for the Coffee Stall during Rag Week. Anxious to try everything, we went down to find a milk bar trailer which had been lent to college for the week by The Milk Marketing Board. We served tea and coffee from huge urns, and some food to passers by in the Haymarket. One year Pathe Pictorial filmed a group of coffee stall volunteers eating a full English breakfast at a table on a traffic island in the middle of the A1.

There were societies to join, too. Having played hockey for my school.I joined the hockey club and got picked as goalkeeper for the second X1, with occasional forays as reserve for the firsts. It’s a thankless job in goal, we had no helmets or body padding as today.., but I enjoyed the activity and made new friends.

We also joined the Inasmuch Society, a group trying to bring comfort to poverty stricken pensioners in the worst parts of Newcastle. We raised money for paint and wallpaper and set off, armed with scrubbing brushes, buckets, brooms and dusters Many the filthy floor I scrubbed, in incredible conditions! One boy was hospitalised after stripping ancient wallpaper and we always surreptitiously used our handkerchiefs to rub the mugs when we were offered tea.

Talking to a bedridden pensioner before decorating her room.


Of course, we did do some work too! The English Department was in an old house in Eldon Place and to get there we went through a narrow alley known as The Dardanelles. Each lecture room was originally a room in the house and I remember tutorials in a downstairs, front room round the fireplace. There were six Patricias in my year out of about fifteen girls, so I chose to be known as Ricki (from PatRICIa).
 
Our essays were marked with Greek letters, which I had not expected. We had to learn to do a lot more of our own research and the best place for this was the Library. Unfortunately there was a lot of building work then and bulldozers, cranes and workmen were just outside the windows, creating constant noise and dust.

It was certainly a year to remember!

In my second year, I moved into Easton Hall, in Eskdale Terrace, Jesmond.. This was much better than my digs in Gosforth and I have a lot of happy memories from there. It was run quite strictly, with a Warden (from the academic staff) and a housekeeper, who was in charge of the daily running of the hall. It was very definitely for female students only and there was only a limited period in the afternoon when male students could mount the stairs to visit the bed-sitters. We had to be in by a certain time and there was even a board in the hall where sliders showed who was in residence. If we wanted to spend a weekend with relatives, we had to have permission. Breakfast was between set hours but dinner was one sitting only.

My room was on the first floor, looking out over the gardens to the backs of houses. Each room was equipped with a bed, chairs, a desk with drawers and shelves for our books and an old fashioned piece of furniture composed of a long, deep drawer with above a narrow wardrobe and a smaller cupboard where we kept crockery and food. Everyone had to have their own supply of sugar – mine was in a square jar with a green lid. It was up to us to personalise the room with pictures, a bright bedspread and ornaments. The rooms were cleaned by maids and often we chatted as they worked. My collection of Wade miniatures was dusted with meticulous care.

There was a bathroom half way along the landing with two or three lavatories, wash basins and two baths that still showed the red line that had been painted during the war to show the depth of water you were allowed to use! There was a kitchen at the end, by the stairs for tea making or any snack preparation, such as cakes and sandwiches for visitors.

On the ground floor the dining room and kitchens took up one side with a telephone room, TV room and common room at the other. Some girls were constantly to be heard chattering on the phone, but most of us used it only occasionally, strange as that may seem nowadays. We usually had more exciting things to do than watch TV but on the nights Quatermass was shown, the room was packed with residents and visitors!

Once a term we invited guests from the academic staff to join us for dinner and coffee. A favourite meal for these evenings was fricassee of chicken and I tried to avoid sharing a table with the girl who announced every single time, ‘It’s not real chicken, you know, only rabbit.’ I never could convince her that rabbit would have tasted much better!

After dinner, we adjourned to the common room for coffee ‘on the hoof’. I have benefited all my life from a lesson I learned then. Coffee was served in miniature ‘proper’ coffee cups. Unfortunately, the spoons were not miniature and the clatter of spoons on parquet punctuated conversation. Now, if I collect a cup of coffee from a buffet, I leave the spoon on the table. If it is served to me, I hook my thumb firmly over the stem of the spoon.

Christmas dinner at Easton Hall was a real celebration and included several courses, including nuts and fruit , served up at decorated tables. We pulled crackers and enjoyed the extra special dishes.

I also changed courses to General Arts. In those days a language was a mandatory ingredient in this course and as I had not studied French beyond 0-level and German and Spanish not at all, I chose Norwegian. In spite of hating Anglo Saxon the previous year, I loved Norwegian, after all, many of the words were pure Geordie!

We read Ibsen, Kielland and modern writers but there were no provisions in English education for Norwegian – no translations to use as cribs and no books on grammar. We were forced to use a book intended for Norwegian primary children, with fairy stories. Words like den gamle for an old witch and the fell mouse and home mouse became very familiar but were not much use in later visits to the country. The lecturer introduced me to a concept I still feel is important. When we read a particular author, he encouraged us to revise what was going on in the world at that time, the music, philosophy, scientific discovery and art.

I enjoyed the lectures so much more, meeting Yeats and Pound, learning my way round Norway, getting the hang of essay writing.
As well as English, I did History of Art and Architecture , which would have been my first choice if it had been available as an honours course. My father had taken his Diploma of Art at Armstrong College, the predecessor of King’s, with Richard Lyons as his tutor and had in fact been an original member of the Ashington Group, later nicknamed the Pitmen Painters. It thrilled me to think I was attending lectures in the same rooms where he had studied. Our lecture room had a big screen for a slide show, facing rows of benches rising gently to the back of the room, each station with a small desk with a slit of light so that you could take notes when the lights went down.. Our lectures were generally in the late afternoon, often as it was growing dark and as we sat in the warm dark I had a dreadful tendency ot drift off only to jerk back to attention.

On the flat space outside the Art Department, the Morris Dancers put on a show every May Day. If I could get there without missing lectures, I always went to this, enthralled by the catchy music, the white clothes, flowery hats and jingling bells. Some rapper dances were performed, where the ‘swords’ were woven together and magically held up as a star shape. Because this appealed, I joined the Country Dance Society and learned to do the Morpeth Rant.

At that time, every ball in Newcastle or Durham included Scottish dances, the Dashing White Sergeant and the Eightsome at the very least. At one memorable ball in Durham Castle we were roped into an eightsome set with a group of academic staff, including the Warden of Easton Hall. As my partner found himself flinging her along the sprung floor, he was sure he’d be sent down!

Another club I joined was the Rock Climbing and Fell Walking. A friend and I joined at the Freshers’ Week, attracted by their plans for a trip to the Lake District. Neither of us had the faintest intention of climbing any rockfaces! The weekend duly arrived and we set off in the coach. The arrangements were that the girls would sleep in a dormitory at this climbing hut under Langdale Pikes, while the boys had to provide themselves with sleeping bags, air mattresses and whatever they could find to sleep rough in the hut.
We arrived in the dark to find chaos. The people who ran the hut had arranged that the boys would use the dormitory and we girls would have bunk beds in the kitchen. Very kindly, the boys volunteered all their gear and we found ourselves allotted a double bunk in a corner of the busy kitchen! We survived the lack of privacy and even being lost in a thick mist on top of the Pikes the following day, but on Sunday we threw in the towel and enjoyed a magnificent roast beef and apple crumble dinner served in a picturesque inn by the river.

I worked on Rag Week every year, mainly in the catering. We had the use of an empty house in Leazes Terrace, with an old gas fired boiler intended for washing clothes , now heating water for the urns in the Coffee Stall. Everything was transported by hired Dormobiles and while carrying milk for someone to bathe in ‘asses’ milk, one of the churns tipped over and left the van stinking of sour milk.

Unlike today’s students, I had a full county scholarship that paid my academic fees and Easton Hall. Apart from that I had £2 a week to cover food, clothing, books, bus fares, postage and entertainment. I managed fairly well and am now amazed at the variety of things I did. From Balls in the Assembly Rooms and the magnificent setting of Durham Castle to football matches in St James’ Park, I saw life.

There were college productions too, the Gilbert and Sullivan Society and reviews written by Alan Plater, performed in full Geordie and with many ‘in’ jokes. Whenever I see one of his plays on TV, I remember those sketches. The cinema in the Haymarket was all too handy and we went in at any stage of the film and sat through till we reached the same scene. We often popped into the Newsreel Theatre at the top of Northumberland Street that showed not only the news but also Tom and Jerry, Looney Tunes and so on. We enjoyed a magnificent Messiah in Durham Cathedral, for which I had to borrow a mortar board as it was not essential wear at King’s.

At the end of the three years, I graduated in King’s Hall, with my mother watching. I applied to the Education Department and was accepted. When they knew I was returning, the authorities at Easton Hall asked if I would like to be assistant warden at one of the two annexes that were just opening. One of my friends was to take this position at the annexe nearest Jesmond Road, but I moved to the end of Eskdale Terrace, to a brand new room on the ground floor, complete with wash basin and much more modern furniture. My ‘job’ was unremunerated and consisted of checking every other night that everyone was in and then locking the front door.

I was with a completely new group on the Dip. Ed. Course but we were all soon sent on our first teaching practice.

I caught the bus at the end of the road and headed to a secondary modern school. One teacher regarded my presence as an excuse to hand over lessons (maths!) to me while he drank coffee and read the papers in the staff room, but most teachers were helpful. I was teaching Geography as my second subject and this was quite challenging.

In the Spring term, I was sent to a school in the foothills of the Pennines, just beside the TV mast. They paid particular attention to the weather forecast and if snow was mentioned, the buses were called early and we were sent home.I had to catch a very early bus from the Haymarket, over the river at Blaydon, up by Riding Mill and I needed an early breakfast long before normal serving hours. I used to walk down to the main hall where I sat in solitary splendour in the dining room with cereal and a boiled egg. This level of involvement – a whole term- cut me off a bit from Newcastle but I still helped during Rag Week, and caught up with my friends in Hall.

Then, all too soon, it was the last time to check lists of exam results pinned up under the arch, last time to see my little room and clear out all the stuff I’d accumulated over four years. I had a job, but it was in Berkshire, so I could not even hang on the edges of the crowd. Thanks, King’s, I had a wonderful time.


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