ONLINE EXCLUSIVE: The Gryphon takes you back to 1950…

Locked away in the vaults of the Brotherton Library lie treasures unimaginable… or at least unexpected. From cookery books to original Shakespeare folios, Special Collections has a little, or a lot, of everything. With freshers now over, but many of you no doubt still feeling rather ‘fresh’, The Gryphon delves into the University Archive to take a look at past advice for freshers on starting university, life within it, and how times have changed in the 66 years since 1950.

Much like The Gryphon’s very own ‘Fresher’s Guide’ (which I am sure you all read diligently), back then the University released a yearly ‘Introduction to the University of Leeds’ handbook. The handbook outlines life in the union, students’ favourite haunts, places to eat, and the many (many) pubs new students could crawl.

Instead of the neatly alliterative ‘Freshers Fair’, in 1950 you could attend the more bizarre ‘Bazaar Day’ within the Riley Hall, which of course still exists today. And the clubs weren’t that different either. If you fancied ‘playing rugger’, join the Rugby Society – sadly, no women’s team was available. But the women did have a monopoly over the Knitting Society – a tragic inequality that is thankfully remedied today. Tempting offers such as ‘free inaugural teas’ enticed new students to join in a charmingly benign way.

Leeds University as it was in 1950

Snooker Soc could take advantage of the ‘four first-class tables’ within the union’s ‘Billiard Rooms’, which have since vanished – something even the £520-million-pound redevelopment programme could not rectify. What do we pay for, right?

Underneath the union these days you can find shops offering food or clothes, banks, even an optician. Things were a little different (and odder) 66 years ago. The lower floors offered a barbers, where you could get your hair ‘singed’ (thanks, but no thanks). And who wouldn’t like to take a bath in the union? Because you could in 1950.

Freshers are encouraged to go to the self-confessedly ‘vulgar’ ‘caf.’ in the union for ‘sandwiches, tea and coffee’. Unfortunately, the ‘occasional exotic delicacy’ offered sounds more sinister than scrumptious. The caf. was the site for ‘philosophical debates, political arguments and constant grumblings’, but I doubt you could get a croissant.

Fruity is, not surprisingly, a little younger than 66 years old, and so 1950s freshers would attend the Union dances in the Riley Hall. Attendees could boogie-woogie, jitterbug and bop to their heart’s content, a far cry from the loud, sweaty crushes of modern clubs. But before the glow of nostalgia becomes too endearing, students were still ‘complaining about value for money’, so not everything was hunky-dory.

Then, as now, students could even get involved with writing for a ‘small magazine’ called The Gryphon where ‘no subject is banned provided it conforms to common law’ – perhaps a product of a more innocent time. It seems the constant hunt for new writers was a factor even then: ‘it is discouraging for an editor to have to the whole magazine themselves’, something that still rings true today. So don’t forget to come along to writers’ meetings and get writing! Who knows? Perhaps in 50 years it will be your work being quoted…

Finally, in the back of each handbook is inserted a hand-drawn map of the union as it was in 1950, and what a different world it shows. The campus boasted a rifle range, Leather-Working were granted a much more impressive quarters than English, and the ‘gymnasium’ was embarrassingly small when compared to The Edge.

Yet, with all the similarities and differences, one timeless piece of advice from the then Vice-Chancellor still echoes through University halls: ‘Your school days may not have been the happiest days of your life, but your University days may well be.’

Euan Hammond

(Images: Euan Hammond)

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