St Andrew’s: from Hostel to Hall

The original University College and Reading University have always been justifiably proud of their student accommodation. They were pioneers in this field. The author and journalist Elspeth Huxley, however, had little time for hall life. In her semi-fictional account of her time as an agricultural student at Reading in the 1920s she counts herself lucky not to get a hall place:

‘Most of the students lived in halls of residence, and I had dreaded going to live in one with its inevitable rules and regulations and herding together. I was lucky; Reading had only two halls for women, and I had applied too late to get a place…’ (Love among the Daughters, pp. 47-8)

Nevertheless, she does admit that, ‘The smart hall was St Andrew’s’ (p. 49).  By the time Huxley arrived in Reading in 1925, the former St Andrew’s Hostel in London Road, that had been set up privately by Mary Bolam, had long since been replaced by St Andrew’s Hall.

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By 1908 it was obvious that the old hostel’s capacity and quality of provision were inadequate. Once again the Palmer family came to the rescue: Alfred Palmer offered the tenancy of his old home East Thorpe on Redlands Road. This large house had been designed by Alfred Waterhouse and completed in 1880. The terms of the lease were generous and came with a promise to add a new wing to double its capacity. On Palmer’s death in 1936 the University inherited the property.

ground floor
Architect’s Ground Floor Plan of ‘East Thorpe’, 1880 (University of Reading Special Collections)

The official opening of St Andrew’s Hall was conducted by Mrs Alfred Palmer on June 10th 1911 and was followed by a garden party. After that things progressed quickly: fees were set; a management committee was appointed; and Allen Seaby, Lecturer in the Department of Fine Arts, designed a bookplate.

Between 70 and 80 women students moved into East Thorpe with  Mary Bolam continuing as Warden. The Hall was now under the direct control of the College rather than a private venture as had previously been the case. Capacity was soon increased from 79 to approximately 120 students through the use of neighbouring houses.

1913
The Hall from the corner of Redlands Rd and Acacia Rd (College Review, 1913).

Fees quoted in the College Calendar of 1911-12 were £32 per annum for sharing a double  bedroom; £36 for sharing a double study-bedroom; and £42 for occupying a single study-bedroom. Rules and regulations, in addition to the general College rules about behaviour, punctuality and attendance, were the same for students in all halls, hostels and ‘Recognised Houses’, and focused on obtaining permission for changing accommodation, overnight absences, leaving Reading before the end of term and staying in Reading after the end of term.

The Calendar advertised that:

‘All studies and study-bedrooms have fire-places. Lighting is by electricity and gas, and hot-water radiators traverse the building. There is complete provision of bath-rooms, lavatories, pantries, cloak-rooms, drying-rooms, and bicycle sheds.’ (p. 100)

Hall
Study Bedroom in St Andrew’s Hall (College Review, 1913).

The St Andrew’s Hall Committee was chaired by Mrs Childs, wife of the Principal, and included Mr and Mrs Palmer, the Warden, and the Principal. Francis Wright, the Registrar, acted as Secretary.

In an Appendix to the College’s Annual Report of 1911-12, Mary Bolam reported that:

‘Everyone has settled down comfortably in the new Hall so that the old days seem far away. The health throughout the year has been excellent.’ (p. 59)

Seaby
The Hall bookplate, designed by Allen Seaby; published in 1911 in Tamesis; with the motto ‘They can because they think they can’.

The architect’s plan of the Palmer household (see above) can easily be related to the layout of today’s building by those who visit the Museum of English Rural Life and the University’s Special Collections.

Enlarged secction

This enlarged section of the ground floor plan shows the three rooms (Morning Room, Drawing Room and Dining Room) that were knocked into one to become the Special Collections Reading Room. The Entrance Hall became St Andrew’s student common room, and is currently hosting MERL’s exhibition ‘Biscuit Town: 200 Years of Huntley and Palmers in Reading’. The room at  bottom right is still referred to by staff as ‘The Study’.

The wall between the original dining room and drawing room had already been removed in 1911, as reported in the Calendar of 1911-12:

‘The former drawing-room and dining-room have been thrown into one, making a spacious dining-hall, fifty feet long, facing the garden and opening into it.’ (p. 100)

The result can be seen in the image below. Here, the wall between the original Drawing Room and Morning Room remains intact.

Old dining hall
University of Reading Special Collections (undated).
today
The Reading Room in January 2022. The wall between the former morning room and drawing room no longer exists.

Other original features have been preserved: the two doorways (blocked by bookcases), the moulding, the fireplaces and the windows (one of them the bay window), looking out onto the gardens.

Childs
View from the Gardens (Childs, 1929).
Concert
The Gardens in July 2013.
Note

Please see The History of St. Andrew’s Hall  for more information.  This ‘Scrapbook’, based on research by Rosalinde Downing and produced by The Museum of English Rural Life,  provides a lot more detail about East Thorpe, its designer and owners; its time as St Andrew’s (including extracts from the Minute Books of the Common Room Committee); the heated controversy over the Hall’s closure in 2001; and its subsequent reincarnation as The Museum of English Rural Life.

Thanks

To Professor Viv Edwards for the Latin translation; and to Emily Gillmor for permission to reproduce Allen Seaby’s bookplate design.

Also to the Reading Room Assistants and Graduate Trainees for help accessing material and with the photography.

Sources

Childs, W. M. (1929). A note on the University of Reading.  Reading: University of Reading.

Childs, W. M. (1933). Making a university: an account of the university movement at Reading. London: J. M. Dent & Sons Ltd.

Holt, J. C. (1977). The University of Reading: the first fifty years. Reading: University of Reading Press.

Huxley, E. (1968). Love among the daughters. London: Chatto & Windus.

Seaby, A. W.  (1911). Bookplate for St. Andrew’s Hall. Tamesis, Vol. X, Spring Term, 1911. No. 1, p. 94. 

The Reading University College Review, Vol. III, July 1911, pp. 180-81.
The Reading University College Review, Vol. V, No. 15 (Images on p. 252 ff.).

University College Reading, Annual Report and Accounts, 1911-12.

University College, Reading. Calendar, 1911-12 & 1912-13.

University of Reading Special Collections. Photographs in the box: University History, MS5305 Halls, Great Hall.

A Postcard Home

During the early days of the London Road Campus, a wide range of picture postcards was produced showing scenes of the College grounds and buildings. Many of these have been preserved in the University’s Special Collections and they include views of the cloisters, the front entrance, porters’ lodge and Green Bank. There are also interior shots of student hostels and halls.

Very occasionally a card turns up that has been written on, sent home and, at some stage in its long history, has been returned to the University and retained in its archives.

One such example is this card posted in 1907 that shows the sender’s room in St Andrew’s Hostel.

St Andrew’s Hostel (University of Reading, Special Collections)

The reverse of the card reveals that it was sent by someone called Alice to a Mrs Knapp in Penarth near Cardiff. 

The written message reads as follows:

Many thanks for letter & “Enclosure”. You will like to have this card of our room. I wish you could see a little more of it, it is rather like the photo on the wall! Did you like the hockey group? You did not mention it in the letter. Thank you for sending the Recorder. The concert went off well last night. I got an encore!!! Your photo is very prominent in the picture is’nt [sic] it!  The Principal has got “influ” – also Miss Morley & M. Salmon. My cold is much better. Much love Alice.’

Alice’s Postcard. The stamp shows Eward VII who ascended the throne on the death of Queen Victoria in 1901. (University of Reading, Special Collections)

The three members of academic staff with ‘influ’ were:

  • The Principal:  W. M. Childs who became Reading’s first Vice-Chancellor in 1926;
  • Miss Morley:  Edith Morley who became Professor of English Language in 1908, the first woman to hold an equivalent position in the UK;
  • M. Salmon:  Professor Amédée V. Salmon, Professor of French.

So who was Alice? It seemed logical to assume that she was writing to her mother or close family member and I was convinced that I had seen the name Alice Knapp somewhere in the College records. 

Lists of graduates were published in the college calendars so it was a simple matter to discover that  Alice graduated in 1907 with a second class honours BA in English and French (hence the references to Edith Morley and Amédée Salmon).

The following year she was made an Associate of  University College Reading (with Distinction) by virtue of her honours degree.

Lists of committee members of College societies in the Calendars show that Alice was a student who enjoyed extra-curricular life to the full.

  • In 1906-7 she was:
    • Deputy-Captain of Women’s Sculling,
    • Lady Lay Member of the Hockey Club,
    • Lady Captain of Tennis,
    • Member of the Debating Society Executive Committe Calendar.
  • In 1907-8:
    • Vice-President of The Women Students’ Union (founded in 1906),
    • President of the Women’s Branch of the Students’ Christian Union.
  • And in 1908-9:
    • Secretary of the Debating Society.

I wondered why she was still on committees after the award in her degree. The answer is in the lists of Education students – she was training to be a teacher, and in 1908 she passed the one-year postgraduate ‘Certificate (Theoretical and Practical) of the Teachers Training Syndicate, Cambridge‘.

ST ANDREWS HOSTEL

With regard to Alice’s accommodation, note that the words ‘My room in Old St Andrews London Rd. 1907‘ above the addressee indicate that Alice was lodging in the original hostel in London Rd rather than St Andrew’s Hall on Redlands Rd (see map below). The site for the latter was offered to the College by Alfred Palmer in 1909 and formally opened in 1911 (see Childs’s memoir, p. 176). Originally called ‘East Thorpe‘, it is now occupied by the Museum of English Rural Life and the University’s Special Collections.

Detail from a Map of 1906 showing St Andrew’s Hostel in London Rd, and East Thorpe on Redlands Rd next to the College campus.

The hostel in London Road was run by Mary Bolam, Censor of Women Students, as shown by the Student Handbook of 1908-9. 

Extract from the Student Handbook of 1908-9 (p. 37)
POST SCRIPT

I don’t know what happened to Alice Knapp when she left Reading. All I can find is the announcement of her BA in The Englishwoman’s Review (see below) under the heading of University and Educational Intelligence. It seems that the Review recorded the academic qualification of every woman graduate.

THANKS

To Professor Viv Edwards for locating the census records of the Knapp family in Penarth.

SOURCES

Childs, W. M. (1933). Making a university: an account of the university movement at Reading. London: J. M. Dent & Sons Ltd.

The Englishwoman’s Review of Social and Industrial Questions, Vol. XXXIX, No. 1, January 1908.

University College Reading. Students’ handbook. Second issue: 1908-9.

University of Reading. Calendar,  Issues from 1906-7 to 1910-11.

University of Reading Special Collections, Photos in MS5305: University History, Halls, Great Hall.

The Censor of Women Students

Lucy Ashcroft, Censor of Women Students at Reading, was mentioned in previous posts about Women’s Sculling and women and boat racing. These references prompted an enquiry about the role of the Censor.

My source of information about colleges and universities outside Reading is Carol Dyhouse’s ‘No distinction of sex‘, a history of women in British universities. Dyhouse points out that:

University authorities were in loco parentis, and felt that women needed special protection and chaperonage that could only be discharged by a woman. The 1880s and 1890s were, after all, decades in which controversy still raged over the potentially deleterious effects of intellectual exertion on women’s minds and physiology.’ (p. 59)

Essentially, the Censor was responsible for the welfare of women students, but the title varied between institutions:

  • Tutor (or Senior Tutor) to Women Students
  • Lady Superintendent
  • Lady Tutor
  • Dean of Women Students
  • Advisor (or General Advisor) to Women Students

Details of the role varied too. There were issues about whether the person appointed should be an academic and the extent to which they should be involved in academic matters. Sometimes the duties led to conflict – responsibilities such as the acceptance or rejection of applicants could have unpleasant consequences.

There was scepticism about the usefulness of the position in some quarters, but it was robustly championed by the Headmistresses’ Association, at least partly to appease parents who were anxious about their daughters going on to higher education.

Edith Morley mentions the role as a career opportunity for women in her edited volume of 1914, ‘Women workers in seven professions.’ In one of the chapters she authored herself, ‘Women at the universities and university teaching as a profession,‘ she classifies it as an administrative post but insists strongly that it should be filled by an academic:

This post [Dean or Tutor of Women Students] is usually  and should always be held by a woman of senior academic standing, whose position in the class-room or laboratory commands as much respect as her authority outside. The Dean or Tutor is responsible for the welfare and discipline of all women students, and is nowadays usually a member of the Senate or academic governing body.’ (p. 17)

CENSORS AT READING: MARY BOLAM

Reading had both a Censor of Discipline (male) and a Censor of Women Students (female). As far as I have been able to discover, the first mention of the latter is in a late notice inserted into the Reading College Calendar for 1901-2 after it had been printed:

Late insert in the Calendar of 1901-2 announcing the appointment of Mary Bolam.

Mary Bolam was Censor from 1901 to 1911. From the outset, her address is given as St Andrew’s Hostel and it seems that her position of Censor was inextricably linked with that of Warden. She remained Warden of St Andrew’s until she retired in 1927. In his memoir, Childs recalls that:

Beginning in 1890 with two or three students in private rooms, she [Mary Bolam] lived to preside for many years over one of the largest and best appointed women’s halls to be found in any English university, old or new.‘ (p. 182).

She was clearly a dynamic force, described by Childs as ‘the merciless enemy of the slovenly‘. And Childs devotes a glowing testimonial of nearly a page and a half to Mary Bolam’s personality, skill and effectiveness: 

She had organising genius, strong will, clear purpose, north-country toughness under trial and benevolence of heart.‘ (p. 182).

The image below showing Bolam and Childs in 1901 is an enlarged section of the photo of the Education Department from Professor Barnard’s book of 1949 that was shown in full in my earlier post about the ‘Criticism Lesson’.

Mary Bolam (left) in 1901 seated with W. M. Childs, Vice-Principal of Reading College and the University’s first Vice-Chancellor.

Mary Bolam is also praised in Holt’s history of the University of Reading, though not quite as effusively. He reports that she had been ‘the doyenne of the women wardens‘ (p. 64), that ‘her own students adored her‘ and that ‘She was indefatigable and she was a Tartar’ (p. 65).

Her status was undoubtedly enhanced by being a graduate and having teaching responsibilities. Successive editions of the Calendar record teaching duties in Geography, ‘Preliminary Studies’ and in Primary Education (she had previously been an assistant at Cheltenham Ladies College under Dorothea Beale). Holt notes her membership of Senate as the first ‘statutory woman’ (p. 275). 

LUCY ASHCROFT

I am not sure exactly when Lucy Ashcroft succeeded Mary Bolam as Censor. She is not described as such in the Calendar until 1913-14, several years after Bolam had relinquished the role. 

Like Bolam, Ashcroft was a graduate with teaching experience in schools. She first appears in the College Calendar of 1907-08 as Assistant Lecturer in Mathematics. A brief profile (including her address) can be found in the Student Handbook of 1908-09:

Lucy Ashcroft’s qualifications and experience published in the Student Handbook of 1908-9, p. 70

Given her experience of teaching mathematics in schools, it is not surprising that the Calendar of 1913-14 lists her not only as Censor of Women Students but also Lecturer in Secondary Education, following in the steps of Caroline Herford, the first holder of that position. Between 1921 and 1922 Ashcroft was also acting Warden of Wessex Hall. 

Lucy Ashcroft is mentioned by name in Reading’s Charter of Incorporation (1926). The position of Censor entailed membership of the University Court. She remained in post until she retired in 1942.

The above has focused on women censors at Reading. My next contribution will be about the male Censor of Discipline, Herbert Knapman.

POST SCRIPT

According to the Ashcroft family,  Lucy was the aunt of the actress Dame Peggy Ashcroft (1907-1991) – my thanks to Sharon Maxwell for this information.

SOURCES

Barnard, H. C. (Ed.). (1949). The Education Department through fifty years. University of Reading.

Childs, W. M. (1933). Making a university: an account of the university movement at Reading. London: J. M. Dent & Sons Ltd.

Dyhouse, C. (1995). No distinction of sex? Women in British universities, 1870-1939. London: UCL Press.

Holt, J. C. (1977). The University of Reading: the first fifty years. Reading: University of Reading Press.

Morley, E. J. (2014). Women at the universities and university teaching as a profession. In E. J. Morley (Ed.), Women workers in seven professions: a survey of their economic conditions and prospects (pp. 11-24). London: Routledge. [Edited for the Studies Committee of the Fabian Women’s Group].

Reading College. Calendar, 1901-02.

University College Reading, Calendars, 1902-3 to 1913-14, and 1921-22.

University College Reading, Student Handbook, 1908-09.

University of Reading. Charter of Incorporation, 17 March 1926.