Welcome to the first in the series of Special Collections blogs that chart the development of university life at the Highfield campus from 1919 onwards.The development at Highfield was part of an ambitious expansion plan by the University College of Southampton to create new and enhanced facilities to attract more students and to compete with other educational institutions.
The first part of this plan was the acquisition of the lease of Highfield Hall by the College’s Principal Dr Alexander Hill. This was opened in early 1914, partly as a home for Dr Hill and his family, and partly as a hall of residence for a number of staff and students.The progress and plans for the buildings at the Highfield site were to be subject to various modifications as compromises had to be made to keep the project within budget.
Firstly, due to increasing building costs, the construction of the proposed administration building was postponed. It then became clear that only two wings of the Arts building, without its centre, could be constructed with the money available. This “Arts block” consisted of 28 large and various small lecture rooms as well as private rooms for professors and laboratories for biology, chemistry, physics and engineering connected to the Arts block and each other by covered ways.Despite the compromises that had to be made with the construction, a sense of optimism prevailed and in a letter to the Court of Governors in early 1914 the President of University College, Claude Montefiore, wrote: “There is a need for a strong university college in the southern counties, which shall ultimately develop into a local university…. A natural seat of such a university or university college is Southampton.”
The first instalment of buildings was officially opened by the Lord Chancellor, Lord Haldane, on 20 June 1914.Eight days later Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated in Sarajevo and war was declared on 4 August. The College made the decision not to move its operations from the High Street and a special meeting of the Council on 7 September was called to consider offering the War Office the new buildings at Highfield as a temporary hospital. The Highfield buildings continued to be used as a war hospital into 1919. The War Office gave up the tenancy in May, although discussions had begun early in that year for the return of the buildings to the University College. The College took the view that as the buildings had been new when they were taken over by the War Office, there would be damage that could not be made good. Instead, as noted in the Council minutes of 24 February 1919, it would prefer “that they should remain as ‘honourable scars’ testifying to the service which the College was able to render to the state during its time of trial”. On assessing the extent of the damage, however, the Principal Dr Hill reported to the Council on 23 June that “the architect … was astonished at the amount. … The fitting up and furnishing of the new buildings would be extremely costly, even though the utmost use should be made of all materials which could be removed from the old buildings. The absolutely indispensable equipment would cost several thousands of pounds”. Renewed negotiations with the War Office led to the agreement for “all the huts, fittings, furniture and other equipment provided for the war hospital” to be retained by the College to enable it to accommodate the influx of students and wounded military personnel wishing to return to study. When the move was finally made from the “Old Hartley” to Highfield campus for the start of the academic year 1919 “upward of 300 full time day students had been admitted and more were coming in every day….” marking a new beginning for both the University and for college community life.
What awaited the new students who joined the College in the autumn of 1919?
In terms of the facilities, the new buildings at Highfield were praised as an improvement on those at the city centre, although accommodation was restricted. Lecture rooms could be small and some facilities had to serve multiple purposes.Whilst the wooden huts left by the military provided much needed additional accommodation, they still had in some cases traces of their hospital origins. The staff refectory bore the inscription “dysentery” on its door for some time. And although they provided more spacious accommodation than the rooms in the main buildings, the huts were fairly spartan environments. There was also no room specifically designed as a library since this has been part of the central block which had not been constructed. Stock had to be distributed across the College in the various departments. Maintenance grants were available to support students wishing to study at the College. The rates set by the College’s grants committee in 1919 ranged from £90 pa for single men who were residing with their parents and did not contribute to household costs, to £150 pa for single men and £200 pa for married men who resided independently. No mention is made of grants for women students. Whilst student numbers had been maintained during the war years by an increase in women students, there was an influx of male students returning to study in 1919. Men and women staff and students might teach and study together, but otherwise existed quite separately. There were designated common rooms for female staff and students, away from those for the male staff and students, and halls of residence were equally separate. In keeping with a new beginning at a new location, new staff joined the University for the 1919 academic year although the overall staff complement remained quite modest: G.F.Forsey was appointed lecturer in Classics, finally marking a separation of this subject from English; E.E.Mann became a lecturer in civil and mechanical engineering; A.E.Clarence Smith was appointed a lecturer in physical chemistry; W.H.Barker became lecturer in geography; and the first lecturer in Economics joined the staff. By 1919 the starting salary for the lecturers was £350 pa, whilst that of a professor was £500. This was apparently quite low in comparison with other higher education institutions of the time. Student activities and student societies had continued throughout the war period, although on a more modest scale. The academic year of 1919 was as much one of transition and adjustment for student social and sporting activities as for academic matters. The student magazine returned to a termly publication rather than the annual one it had been during the war and student societies began developing their future plans. Yet while student events were organised, the lack of space at Highfield campus meant that certain groups such as the Physical Culture Society and the Scientific Society were unable to initiate meetings again at the start of the 1919/20 academic year. Moreover the annual soirée for new students was held at the old Hartley Institution building as there was no room large enough at Highfield.
As we move into the 1920s, the University College entered a new phase: to find out more about this look out for the next blog in February.