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Memories of an old Simmarian: Prof George Brown (1956-58)

My memories of my time at St Mary’s from 1956-8 are firmly embedded and too many to relate in this article.

Six years later I was at Borough Road College and an external examiner for St Mary’s. I went on to study at the University of Ulster and then Nottingham, and lost touch with Simmaries. But the experiences I gained in developing the use of video and promoting academic staff development led to me being invited to give seminars and teach the first PGCHE course at St Mary’s in the 1990s.

St Mary’s by then had become St Mary’s University College. I then occasionally visited St Mary’s and watched the transformation of the College into a University from 2014 onwards. 

Part of my memories are of the changes within the College and the HE system since 1958. Strawberry Hill House was part of the College where the Vincentian priests lived in comfortable surroundings. They were the administrators and some of the lecturers. Now Strawberry Hill Trust is an independent organisation and the priests have departed.

Archive photo of the Waldegrave Building and Strawberry Hill HouseIn 1956-8 there were 200 male students mostly from Great Britain and Ireland. There were about 25 white male staff. Now there are about 400 male and female staff and a diverse body of 6,000 students form the UK and overseas. Not all are Catholics, but the university still has a strong Catholic tradition.

Students used to receive grants from the LEAs and the College generous funding from the Government. Not now. Government grants are risible. Students pay more than £9000 per annum for tuition fees. In 1958 there were about 130 Teacher Colleges. Today, they have closed, been absorbed into Universities or become Universities in their own right. There were 22 Universities then. Now there are 162.  

More personal memories are of changes in culture. In the 1950s women were only allowed into the College on Sunday evenings for country dancing. Discreet cuddles did occur when priests were not present. If you took your girlfriend to her College, you probably broke the curfew. Mysteriously, there was always a window left open.

When I stayed in the Women’s Hall of Residence during a vacation in the early 2000's, I heard students talking to staff and using their Christian names. We always addressed staff as Father, Doctor or Sir. We ate in a formal refectory. Now staff and students eat in the same self-service restaurant. But the greatest surprise was when one of the staff flung open the old chapel door: it was a bar full of male and female students. The times they are a-changing…

Finally, it is really good that, in 2020, Teacher Education is still rated very highly, Sports and Sport Science are going from strength to strength and student satisfaction is very high. Let’s wish the new VC luck in making St Mary’s University even more successful.  

Professor George Brown is a Fellow of St Mary’s University.