It’s a University!
The 1950s saw the move for Southampton obtaining university status gain ground more rapidly than anticipated. In 1952 Southampton became the first university to be created in the reign of Queen Elizabeth II, receiving its royal charter on 29 April of that year.In announcing that the University had come into existence, Sir Samuel Gurney-Dixon noted to the Council “those who in the past had worked long and hard to create the tradition and the conditions which had made this possible, in particular Dr Claude Montefiore, Alderman J.S.Furley and the late Principal, Mr Kenneth Vickers”.
The Duke of Wellington was appointed as the first Chancellor of the University, with Sir Robert Wood its first Vice Chancellor and Professor Forsey Deputy Vice Chancellor. The University of Southampton Act which transferred all rights to the newly created University, received its Royal Assent on 6 May 1953. On 3 July the ceremonious installation of new Chancellor, the Duke of Wellington, took place at the Guildhall in Southampton.
As well as representatives of many overseas universities attending the event, delegates from various universities presented their addresses of congratulations to the Chancellor at Connaught Hall. A garden party was held at South Stoneham House – at which a message carried in relay by members of the Southampton Athletics Union from the Chancellor of the University of London was presented to the Duke of Wellington – and in the evening the Chancellor hosted a dinner for the first honorary graduands of the University.It could be said that the decade started quietly with no major developments; yet by the end of the 1950s Southampton had embarked on a major expansion which was to continue well into the next decade. In 1952/1953, the number of students at the University was 935, rising to over 1,300 by the end of the decade. As it became apparent that a permanent increase in a university population could be expected, and that provincial universities would need to expand to take these increased numbers, the University began to proceed with its building programme and planning for future developments over the period 1957-67. Sir Basil Spence, the designer of Coventry Cathedral, was the consultant architect for the layout of the expanded University and for a number of buildings constructed in this period.
The main building projects in the early part of the decade were the completion of the remaining blocks of Glen Eyre Hall in October 1954 and the conversion of a purchased site into the botanic gardens, supported by a donation from the former Mathematics’ lecturer Miss Annie Trout. By the late 1950s a number of building projects were in hand, some to be completed in 1960 onwards. The new Economics block was opened by Emeritus Professor Percy Ford in October 1959, whilst in December of that year Sir Samuel Gurney-Dixon opened the Library extension, the Gurney-Dixon building to extend library space to 400 user places and to accommodate 150,000 books.
With the acquisition of University status in 1952/3, changes were introduced to departmental structures and to courses as the University began to issue its own degrees. In 1953, the Department of Legal Studies became the Faculty of Law, offering University degrees rather than preparation for Law Society examinations.
During the decade a number of new chairs were created: for German (Dr W.I.Lucas) and Geography (Dr F.J.Monkhouse) in 1953; in 1957 in Engineering as Dr P.B.Morice became Professor of Civil Engineering; in 1958 for Economic Theory and Geology; and in 1959 in Modern History (J.S.Bromley), Theoretical Mechanics (Dr Bryan Thwaites) and Engineering (Dr L.G.A.Sims).
Other staff changes saw the departure of some long serving members of the University. Professor George Frank Forsey, resigned as Chair of Classics in 1954: he was replaced by Professor H.C.Baldry. Professor Neil Kensington Adam who had been responsible for development of the Chemistry Department stepped down after nearly twenty years service. And in 1957 Frank Templeton Prince, who was a reader in the Department of English, was appointed as Chair of English to replace Professor B.A.Wright.
Whilst it has been observed that there was more of a gender balance of male and female students at Southampton than some other universities, this was not reflected across all of the university. There were, for instance, as one student recalls, no female post-graduate students in chemistry at Southampton during the period 1955-8. Indeed there was only one female member of staff in Chemistry at that time – Dr Ishbel Campbell.Student life was still governed by a certain formality in this period. Students at Glen Eyre halls of residence were expected to attend dinner in the dining hall at 7pm on weekdays and for lunch at 1pm on Sundays. A former student noted that “it was still an era when all students were required to wear a black academic gown at dinner in the evening”. The Students’ Union was to be the hub of most student activities. Student societies encompassed a range of faculty and departmental societies, including Engineering, Law and Geography, alongside union societies such as the Camera Club, Choral, Debating, Jazz and Operatic Societies, the Organ Club, the Scottish and Old Time Dance Society and the Theatre Group. The Athletics Union supported clubs ranging from athletics, cross country, fencing, lacrosse to mountaineering, rugby, sailing and tennis. Held on Shrove Tuesday each year, the annual Rag Day included a procession of tableaux on lorries, with a trophy awarded to the winning hall or society. As former student Peter Smith recalls: “The annual Rag Day was a highlight of the Winter term … Somehow the townsfolk tolerated generously the antics of the students in fancy dress out collecting money, including in the afternoon a procession of decorated floats on lorries lent by local firms… The Engineers were always very prominent during Rag – they were often accompanied by their human skeleton mascot “Kelly”…. There was always an annual Rag Ball … at the Guildhall and a revue format.” There were a wide range of other activities on offer in the student calendar. Dances ranged from the regular Saturday night dances at the Union called “hops”, to the formal Union ball at the Guildhall in Southampton in February, featuring a dance programme of quicksteps, waltzes and foxtrots. Societies produced performances and production of plays and shows and at Glen Eyre halls of residence the annual Christmas pantomime was written and produced by students. As the University moved into the 1960s it was already embarked on its ambitious programme of expansion, leading to a new and exciting phase in its development. To find out more about life at the University in the 1960s look out for the next blog in June.