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 An Opportunity to Show What I Can Do (part 5)

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Tim of Aclea
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Join date : 2011-12-31

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PostAn Opportunity to Show What I Can Do (part 5)

I was one of six male students who were paid for by the T.U.C. scholarship. I walked from the bus towards the Rookery, now known as Ruskin Hall. I noted there were three pubs and a lovely old church, I was the first to arrive. The staff addressed me as ‘sir’ and told me where my bedroom was. No one had their own bedroom, I shared one with four other students. Before long John Boyle introduced himself to me. He was one of the nicest men I have ever met. I said “I suppose you are a clerical worker?” “No” he answered, “I am a road sweeper”. He was one of the students who studied the novel. My own view is that it should be called English, but they always spoke of it at ‘the novel’. He later became a lecturer at Bradford Technical College. I admired the way that he was so open about having been a road sweeper, because of the prejudice against domestic servants, I was very reticent about saying that I had been in domestic service before the war. My own subject was economics and political science.

The college was equally open to men and women, and a good number of the students were married. Students were rarely under the age of 21. Before the war there was an upper age limit on entry of 35; but this had been temporarily been lifted, I would have been toward that upper age limit but still eligible. The average age of Ruskin students was in the middle twenties. Before the war the number of students varied between 30 and 40; but by 1947 it had increased to 90. Students came from every walk of working class life, and there were students from other countries as well.

All day students kept arriving including two men and one woman from the USA. They were very well off and some of the students were jealous of their wealth. We had two students form the West Indies. One of them was called Angus Wilkie, he came from Barbados, and I was to stay in contact with him, as I was to with several other students, for the rest of my life. When later I was to introduce my daughters Dorothy and Rosemary to him, he was the first coloured person they had ever seen and Dorothy asked him if she could touch his skin as she wanted to find out if it felt the same as that of a white person’s skin. Another Student was Siaka Probyn Stevens, we knew him as Jackie, who came from Sierra Leone. He was a Muslim and later became president of Sierra Leone. We also had another black man from Uganda who was a prince; he could speak French and Latin. He was fascinated by the fact that I could talk to him without talking down to him. I would imagine that now people would be more surprised that a prince could talk to a former footman without talking down to him! We had a student from Egypt who used to spend far too much of his time chasing young girls. For one term we also had two German male students. We had approximately fifty first year students of whom about ten were woman. It seemed to me that the girls at Ruskin who were single were looking out for a man of which there was a shortage due to the number killed in the war. I was very flattered when I head two young girls discussing me. One girl said “he’s nice, but he is married with two daughters”. All the students came from various trade unions, or similar. The important thing is that the first day at Ruskin was one of the happiest of my life.

By 7:00 pm most of the students had arrived which was when supper started and at 8:00 p.m. the principal talked to us for about one hour. He told us who he was and what his responsibilities were. He said he expected us to work seven days a week. We were to study in the morning and evening, but in the afternoon go out and keep fit. He explained we should not study for more than two hours without a break. He told us how to take notes. He said that books are three fifths facts and two fifths padding. He said we were not expected to read all the books. He said we would be tutored for one term on one subject. He expected an essay a week of two foolscap sheets of our own work. He ended up telling us not to be dogmatic, as we would be wrong! Agree to disagree. I felt what useful advice it was; I queried David Blakely, who was a second year student, “supposing I can’t do the job, what shall I do?” “Bluff” was his reply. “Take notes in the lecture, ask questions, pretend you understand, sooner or later the light will come”. He said that it had taken him a term to get used to the life at college. He came from Northern Ireland and later became a professor of theology.

When I went to the bedroom that I shared, I told one student from Oldham called Bill Stroud “I don’t want you to smoke in the bedroom”. He was a little man and he became a social worker for Surrey and he used to talk about being in the workhouse. Later in 1953 I was able to put him in touch concerning a house in Redhill which he moved into. His wife was to become friends with Vera

Next day the principal wanted everyone to do an essay (to see if we could). The subject was “Is it possible to have absolute justice?” I put the theory that it is not possible to have absolute justice. All we can do is have the chance for everyone to get on. I could write an essay so the tutor, Mrs Schofield, said I need not come to her lectures anymore. Later we were given a card which allowed us to go to any lectures at the University. After completing their diplomas some students went on to University but scholarships were very few, I tried, but I was too old.

Student life was the special concern of a House Committee, whose officers were elected by the full student body. The College ran association football and cricket teams, dances and other social activities, and had a magazine that appears twice yearly. Every year the College produced one or two plays, often written within the College. The aim of the College was to afford a liberal education in studies related to the interests of its students. It was a workers’ college, but by its Constitution it was not tied to any political party or to any political or religious doctrine.

In the afternoon of 7th October in the main lounge, we discussed matters to do with living at Ruskin College. I was not keen to get a job so I kept quiet. One lady called Joan offered to order the papers and arrange for paying for them. The few communists said “not the Daily Mail”, they wanted the Daily Worker. I said that if there was no Daily Mail I would burn the Daily Worker, not because I particularly liked the Daily Mail but because I objected to their attitude. We want to have all papers with no censoring. Joan agreed and was very efficient at that job. She also offered to take over paying for the telephone. People were expected to pay for the costs of all calls, Joan would pay the bill and they would refund her. At this time many members of the working class were not used to using the telephone. The students seemed to want to reform the world, but the important thing was for them to get a cycle, and most of the students did. It was sensible to buy a second hand one and a chain. I bought one for £2 14s 6d and I paid 11s to get it in working order.

After completing my first year I received in September 1948 the following letter from Ruskin College concerning the start of the second year.

Dear Mr Whittle,

This is to remind you that the new College year commences on Monday, October 4th. Arrangements have been made for you to be accommodated in the College for your second year. Will you please arrange to arrive before the evening meal at 7:00 p.m. on October 4th.

Please ensure that you bring with you:

Ration book, with full allocation of points and coupons for the last week in Period 3

Your National Insurance Medical Card

You are also asked to provide yourself with the following:

1. Bed rug or eiderdown
2. Towels – 2 bath, 2 hand and 2 tea
3. Afternoon tea cloth or tray cloth
4. Duster
5 Soap container (and soap for immediate use). Coupons for further supplies can be obtained from the Domestic Bursar
6. Beaker for toothbrushes
7. Ashtray for smokers
8. Teapot, cups and saucers, plates, butter dish, knives, teaspoons, tumbler and any other crockery or silver for use in own room. Crockery and silver provided by the College is for Dining Room use only.
9. Men students should include football boots if they have them.

Students are also responsible for personal laundry. All articles of clothing should be clearly marked with name. They should bring with them a laundry bag also clearly marked and 2 laundry books.

A copy of revised rules is enclosed, together with a copy of the College residential prospectus for 1948-49.

Please sign and return immediately the enclosed acceptance of the revised College rules.

I also enclose a statement concerning the position of students under the National Insurance Scheme, the contents of which you are asked to note.

Please let me know your expected time of arrival in Oxford not later than Thursday, September 30th.

With best wishes

Yours sincerely

General Secretary

While I was at Ruskin I was to meet again both Lady Astor and the Colonel of my old regiment. The Colonel asked me how I had got to Oxford and I replied quite correctly “by train”. “No, I mean how do you come to be here, Whittle!” responded the Colonel and when I explained that I was now a student at Ruskin he was quite impressed. I met Lady Astor after a lecture at the University and we talked for about half an hour. When her chauffeur reminded her that they ought to be going she replied that she was talking to ‘Sidney’, the name by which I had been known when I worked for the Astors. She invited me to visit her in her London house.

In 1949 I gained my diploma in economics and political science; six students failed but most were successful.

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