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Hull University Archives University history

Fire! Air Raid Precautions at the University in the Second World War

Every now and again we uncover a small collection of records at Hull University Archives that really bring life to years gone by. One such discovery was made in 2019 whilst staff were preparing an exhibition and source guide on Second World War records. Amongst the early records created by the University of Hull, we found a series of Second World War firewatchers’ report books with associated papers.

Firewatchers report books [UA PARCEL 26]

These records give us a fascinating glimpse into some of the air raid precautions that were taken by the University.

A fire-watching scheme

The University initiated a scheme for fire-watching in February 1941. The need for such a scheme was driven by heavy bombing raids on the city. These bombing raids often caused fires to spread in areas where bombs fell.

Description of a bombing raid observed by the firewatchers on duty at the Science Building (Cohen), May 1941

Willing volunteers

75 staff and students signed up for the scheme in the initial months, indicating a clear enthusiasm at the University to support Civil Defence efforts. This, however, was not enough to ensure that each volunteer only worked the maximum 48 hours per month suggested by the government’s Fire Prevention (Business Premises) Order 1941. The average number of hours worked by fire-watchers at the University was 63 per month. By 1942 staff and student numbers were depleted as a result of enlistment. It was only possible to continue the fire-watching scheme because many men carried out both fire-watching and other civil defence duties. Female students stepped into the gap, undertaking fire-watching duties at the Needler Hall accommodation building.

Entry recording shortage of firewatchers at the Science Building (Cohen) and a need to use female students from Needler Hall to fill the gaps

Equipment

The University provided equipment for the use of firewatchers on duty, along with instructions for what to do:

‘If a fire bomb has lodged above ground, use the rake to pull it down to the floor, then apply sand’; and ‘Dustbin lids are to be used as shields when dealing with incendiary bombs’.

Excerpt from instructions given to firewatchers by the University
Air raid precaution equipment given to firewatchers by the University

Fire-watching posts

Staff established fire-watching posts on top of the Science and Arts Buildings. Fire-watching duties included raising the alarm if a fire was spotted, as well as making a record of any air raid alerts, plane sightings, anti-aircraft activity, and all clear sirens.

Entry recording an air raid alert, several bursts of anti-aircraft fire, and the all clear being given

Maintaining morale

Shifts were long, lasting from 6pm to 9am the following morning. Four fire-watchers were on duty each night. The four fire-watchers were to consist of one staff member and three students. At least one individual had to be on look out at all times.

Request made by firewatchers for supplies to make the shifts more tolerable!

It is unclear as to whether the above suggestions were granted…probably not! To pass the time more soberly the fire-watchers played games:

Entry recording a game of chess played to pass the time whilst on duty

Blackout duties

In addition to their duties as fire-watchers, the volunteers also served as blackout officers. If any light could be seen emanating from windows or doors, the University buildings might become a target for enemy planes flying overhead. Blackout infractions are detailed in the fire-watchers’ report books:

Report book entry relating to blackout measures

Provisions

The volunteers were provided with meals and hot drinks by the University. Comments entered into the report books show that provisions weren’t always considered ‘up to scratch’ by those on duty:

Entry recording a firewatcher’s thoughts on the dinner provided by the University
A description of the lasting memory of the ‘chocolate mould’ referred to in the former entry

But we must remember that there was a war on and supplies were short, although this doesn’t appear to have prevented the volunteers from complaining:

Entry requesting that some sugar be provided to mask the taste of the coffee

Close but no cigar

Other than a few near misses and a bit of superficial damage, the report books show that the University campus escaped any major incidents during the Hull Blitz of 1941-1942.

Entry noting fires observed in Hull which were caused by incendiary explosives
Statement that two craters had been made in the sports fields on campus by a falling bomb
Note recording near misses around the University campus

Unbroken spirit

Fire-watching at the University continued throughout the war, only finishing on 24 March 1945. However, the report books show that the initial enthusiasm for volunteering had worn off by late 1942. After this time, we find various notes indicating that fire-watchers were turning up late or not at all for their registered duty. However, given the difficulties faced by fire-watchers we can perhaps understand a dip in levels of enthusiasm. Volunteers were having to contend with faulty equipment, lack of food, loss of vacation time. By 1942, the situation was no longer novel. War-weariness had set in and the initial excitement of something quite out of the ordinary had warn off. Fire-watching had become a dull task, made worse by the drudgery of having to repeat it month after month.

One firewatcher’s musings on the night sky, and another’s comments on those musings

These books offer us a valuable opportunity to examine the experiences of those who remained behind during the Second World War. The descriptions recorded in their pages help us to understand how the city must have looked, sounded and smelled during an air raid. And the comments made by the fire-watchers give us a glimpse at their personalities.

Check out our guide, to find out more about Second World War records at Hull History Centre.

Categories
Archive collections Hull University Archives

The Life and Loves of Philippa Burrell

Born 1908, Philippa was a writer and the daughter of the English painter, Louie Burrell. Philippa spent much of her childhood travelling the world with her mother, as Louie tried to make a living by painting portraits for wealthy individuals. Philippa made friends easily and was often a hit with her mother’s wealthy clients. She appears to have been a strong-willed and resourceful woman, one who did not like to be tied down. She had many relationships, often with married men, each a ‘great romance’ lasting a short time before she moved on to another phase in her life.

Her life and loves are recorded in an autobiography consisting of three parts: The Golden Thread; The Horses & the Charioteer; and The Dance of the Opposites. But Philippa’s life and loves are also captured in the original letters that have survived and are held by Hull University Archives at Hull History Centre.

Inspired by Valentine’s Day, we’ve selected extracts from her letters of love and heartbreak, each giving a small glimpse of this intriguing woman’s life.

Sir Vincent Caillard

The earliest reference to a relationship in Burrells papers relates to Sir Vincent Caillard, with whom it appears she started corresponding around the time she finished her exams and left school. Louie had painted Sir Vincent and Lady Caillard in 1922, and it is during this period that Philippa must have first met him. Caillard wrote to invite Philippa and Louie to visit him in 1924, which they did, and in January 1925 he wrote to arrange a meeting with Philippa. A few months later, Philippa received a love letter from Caillard:

Sir Vincent Caillard to Philippa Burrell, 11 Oct 1925 [U DBU/1/175]

This correspondence appears to have initially lasted a year, with Calliard’s final letter to Philippa written in January 1926. A few later letters were exchanged in 1928 and 1929, but by this time, another man was in the picture.

Lieutenant Harold Clements

In 1928, Philippa and Louie travelled to Delhi, where they met Lieutenant Harold Clements of the Gordon Highlanders. Just a few months later, they were engaged. However, this relationship was not to last either. In May 1929, Clements returned home to Ireland on leave from the army and Philippa took the opportunity to break off the engagement.

Letter Harold Clements to Philippa Burrell relating to the distress caused by her last letter, 5 Jun 1929 [U DBU/1/305]

Clements last letter to Philippa was sent in September 1929.

Lieutenant John Gage

Next, Philippa met Lieutenant John Gage of the 4th Hussars whilst in India. Gage was a devorcee stationed in Meerut. She quickly fell in love and the pair became engaged.

Letter Lieutenant John Gage of 4th Hussars (India), Meerut, to Philippa Burrell, 16 May 1929 [U DBU/1/309]

This time, there appears to have been concern about the suitability of the proposed marriage. Louie and Colonel Gage corresponded on the subject, both expressing their relief when the engagement was broken off and their belief that it would have been a disastrous marriage. Letters between Gage and Philippa survive for the period January to October 1929.

Vladimir Shavisch

After the initial flurry of romantic entanglements, Philippa’s relationships seem to have subsided, at least for a few years. And then, in September 1936, Philippa attended the Forth World Theatre Festival, held in Moscow and Leningrad. It was here that she met the conductor Vladimir Shavisch.

Letter Philippa to Louie re meeting Shavisch, 8 Sep 1936 [U DBU/1/515]

Despite Shavisch being married with a daughter, the two began a relationship. But Philippa began to feel trapped by the situation and returned to London to escape.

Adolf Kohler

A few years later, with the threat of war looming, Philippa made the decision to go to Berlin in 1939 to immerse herself in what was to enfold in order to further her writing. Whilst trying to find a literary agent, she became acquainted with Adolf Kohler, who was head of an office established to give advice to foreign visitors. The pair grew close, and Philippa’s relationship with Kohler ensured she was kept informed with how the war was developing. Through his efforts, she was able to board the last Warsaw to Paris Express before the outbreak of war. After passing through Paris, Philippa arrived in London on 31 August 1939, where she received a letter from Kohler:

Love letter Herr Adolf Kohler to Philippa Burrell, 31 Aug 1939 [U DBU/1/551]

For the next two years, he continued to write. After a gap of several years, he writes again in 1947 to give an account of his actions during the war, denying having any link to the Nazis, and describing a prevailing sense of collective guilt in Germany. But the relationship was long dead.

Major Gordon Hannan

Philippa’s next great love developed in December 1943, after meeting the married Major Gordon Hannan. She fell in love with him whilst undertaking war work at the Newport headquarters of the Bristol Channel Ports.

Declaration of love Major Hannan to Philipppa Burrell, 17 Feb 1944 [U DBU/1/661]

In 1945, Philippa suffered a nervous breakdown and Hannan arranged for her to be invalided out of the army. After the war the pair returned to London and he began divorce proceedings. But the relationship eventually fell apart, with Philippa moving to Kent and Hannan returning to his wife. Their correspondence, which begins in 1943, ends in 1947.

Gordon Craig

In 1947, Philippa published her book ‘He was like a continent’. It failed to raise any interest but spurred her to write a play, titled ‘The Brothers’. Attempts to persuade a renowned scenic designer, Gordon Craig, to produce the play resulted in a brief relationship in 1950.

Love letter Gordon Craig to Philippa Burrell, 8 Aug 1950 [U DBU/1/1084]

The letters exchanged between them were eventually stolen when, in 1976, Philippa attempted to sell them through Sotheby’s. However, photocopies of the letters survive in the collection, along with an account of the relationship.

Sir C.P. Ramaswami Aiyar

In 1951, Philippa attended the last night of a PEN Club Congress in Edinburgh, an organisation concerned with freedom of expression. At the congress dinner, she was accompanied by the prominent lawyer Sir C. P. Ramaswami Aiyar, whom she had met some time previously. In him, Philippa found the partner that she had been looking for.

Love letter Sir C.P. Ramaswami Aiyar to Philippa Burrell, 13 Jun 1951 [U DBU/1/1178]

Their relationship endured until his death with meetings and weekly letters.

Fantastic Study Resource

Aside from helping us to understand one person’s personal relationships, this collection provides us with an opportunity to study key historical events and periods through the personal experiences of people who were there.

The literary evidence of the Burrell’s movements around India in the 1920s and 1930s can help us explore questions relating to the experience and operation of colonialism. Surviving letters from the period of Philippa’s stay in Berlin (just prior to the outbreak of the Second World War) can help us to understand some of what was happening in Germany in the 1930s. They can also tell us about the experiences of people trying to move around Europe at this time. Finally, records of Philippa’s time in Russia during the 1930s offer us the opportunity to glimpse what life was like inside Soviet-era Russia.

The incidental details and occurrences recorded in casual letters are not usually included in official reports and releases. Details such as who was at a particular social gathering or political event, what leisure activities were undertaken, and what sights and sounds were experienced can generate a contextual picture of a period or place that would otherwise be lost to us. This is why letters can be such a useful resource to any researcher.

Just starting out with archives? Find out more with our SkillsGuide ‘Archives: The Basics’.

For more information about this collection, see the catalogue of the Burrell Papers [Reference Number U DBU].

Categories
Archive collections Hull University Archives

Cooking the history books

Looking to be inspired for our January Hull University Archives blog, we started browsing online content for January anniversaries.

It turns out there’s a huge number of food and drink related celebrations; there’s Chocolate Brownie Day on the 8th, Hot Tea Day on the 12th, Hot and Spicy Food Day on the 16th, Gourmet Coffee Day on the 18th, Cheese Lover’s Day on the 20th, Chocolate Cake Day on the 27th and Croissant Day on the 30th!

This got us thinking about a small collection of household recipe books contained within one of Hull University Archives’ collections….

The Hotham Family

The Hotham Family of Scorborough and South Dalton represents part of the Yorkshire landed gentry. Pedigrees from the collection suggest the family’s roots lie in the 12th century, possibly beginning with one William de Hotham who lived c.1100-1166. Originally associated with Scorborough, the family relocated to South Dalton after a fire destroyed the old family home in 1705.

As with many such families, their lifestyle and the size of their household necessitated the appointment of various housekeeping staff, including a cook who would have catered for the family’s daily meals and evening entertainments.

Lady Frances’ Recipe Books

Amongst the records left by the family, there are several recipe and medicinal books belonging to Lady Frances Hotham.

Lady Frances married into the Hotham family in 1816, bringing her own mother’s cookery and nursing books with her, and beginning her own recipe books to help her manage her new household. These records provide us with a history of cooking stretching back to the mid-17th century.

Contents page for one of the Hotham recipe books, c.1777 [U DDHO/19/2]

The books contain recipes for preserves, biscuits, sweet and savoury pies, stews, cakes, and drinks. They also contain recipes for medicines purporting to cure gout, fever, coughs, and even hair-loss!

Remedy for hair loss, c.1860 [U DDHO/19/8]

With such fascinating resources you could carry out some really interesting research projects; anything from trends in cooking, to a history of traditional home remedies.

History Bakers

Back in 2015-2016 a few of us at Hull History Centre used Lady Frances Hotham’s recipe books to create ‘History Bakers’.

The basic premise was: choose a recipe (so many options!), decipher it (the writing could be quite tricky), work out the measurements (Imperial to Metric, and some we’d never heard of!), source the ingredients (including some uncommon items), try to discern a method (scant details provided in many instances), make the recipe, and report back on the results. We shared the bakes with our colleagues and reflected on our experiences using social media.

It was such a popular campaign that we thought we’d share some of our attempts in this blog (please forgive the repurposing of content!)…

Curry Powder, c.1860 [U DDHO/19/8]

Recipe for curry powder, c.1860

Written by Pete Dixie, Archives Assistant

The recipe for the curry powder is quite simple but shows some of the spices that were available to well-to-do households in England as far back as the Georgian period.

And to my method: The spices were ground together in a mortar and pestle, then dried in a warm oven for about 20 minutes. Easy. Too easy. So, having made the curry powder, I decided to use it to flavour some vegetable samosas.

There are plenty of recipes available on the internet for samosas. I picked one that took my fancy and replaced the recipe spices for my History Bakers curry powder. First, I boiled three small potatoes and a cup of frozen peas to make the vegetable filling. Next, I fried the onion in a tablespoon of oil adding the whole spices, the ground spices and the grated ginger chilli and garlic. I then added the potatoes, which I had broken up with a fork, the peas and herbs and continued to fry the filling for about ten minutes. Finally, I made the pastry with chapatti flour, which was better in taste and appearance than ones I had made previously with plain flour.

After resting in the fridge for half an hour (the pastry not me), I rolled it out and cut it into approximately six-inch circles. I then cut the circles in half and made them in to cone shapes, which I filled with the samosa mixture before deep frying them in oil for about five minutes until brown.

They came out really well, but the spice mix was very mild. I had no complaints from my taste testers, though several noted the ‘pleasant but mild’ spice.

The finished samosas!

Prince Albert’s Pudding, c.1860 [U DDHO/19/8]

Recipe for Prince Albert’s Pudding, c.1860

Written by Claire Weatherall, archivist

Although the book from which this recipe comes is dated 1860, some of the recipes, like this one, have earlier origins. The original recipe is thought to be by Eliza Acton. It first appeared in ‘Modern Cookery for Private Families’, which was compiled in 1845. This recipe shouldn’t be confused with another Prince Albert inspired recipe for Plum Pudding. The Prince Albert Plum Pudding also appeared in Eliza Acton’s recipe book under the heading ‘Christmas Pudding’.

As you can see from the photograph of the recipe, there isn’t much by way of method. So, I improvised by using the ‘measure it out and chuck it all in a mixing bowl’ approach. There was no measurement for the cinnamon and mace so I ‘guestimated’ half a teaspoon of cinnamon and a teaspoon of mace. Not being able to find mace whilst buying the ingredients I had to substitute it for ground mixed spice, which I already had in my cupboard.

Once the ingredients were mixed, I buttered the pudding basins. I divided the mixture in two, as I only had small basins, and layered the bottom with candied peel. Next, I added the mixture and then came the actual cooking process.

And it is here that it might have gone a bit wrong. After three and a half hours of steaming the puddings on an electric hob they still hadn’t cooked through. I decided to finish them in the microwave (not historically accurate I know but it was late and I wanted to sleep). Unfortunately, they came out overcooked and quite dry.

Colleagues were very polite and tasted my attempts. All who were brave enough to taste the pudding noted that the flavours were great. One colleague made the helpful suggestion that custard might help with the dryness issue!

The finished pudding!

Baked Apple Pudding, c.1820 [U DDHO/19/5]

Recipe for baked apple pudding, c.1820

Written by Verity Minniti, archives assistant

I chose a recipe for Baked Apple Pudding, which dates from around 1820. As you can see from the picture of the original recipe, there is limited advice for the modern cook on the exact method of preparation.

Consequently, I did some further research and found other contemporary recipes for Baked Apple Pudding online. These really helped when it came to the cooking! As no type of apple was specified, I decided on Granny Smiths. I thought the sharp taste of the Granny Smiths would be a good balance to the sweetness of the pudding. Also, I discovered that cooking apples hadn’t been developed by 1820. The number of eggs in the original recipe also alarmed me a little. When looking at similar recipes it seemed that 6 eggs was a standard amount. So I decided to use just the 6 eggs and not add a further 3 whites.

Having seen other recipes suggesting serving the pudding in a ‘pastry dish’, I chose to bake some of the mixture in a pastry case and some in a normal glass dish. Having also needed to estimate the oven temperature, I was pleasantly surprised when both attempts turned out rather well!

All in all, I had a great time cooking the pudding, even if there were a lot of fingers crossed hoping it would turn out ok! Oh, and all at Hull History Centre seemed to enjoy eating the puddings.

The finished apple pudding!

Gingerbread, c.1777 [U DDHO/19/2]

Recipe for ginger bread, c.1777

Written by Verity Minniti, archives assistant (she really loved this campaign!)

To celebrate the Hull Fair and Bonfire Night season, I thought it would be only fitting to make some gingerbread.

I selected a recipe in a book dating from around 1777. This particular example caught my eye, as it was very different to the gingerbread recipes I had tried before.

As you can see from the picture of the recipe, this gingerbread contains black treacle, cream and brandy! The recipe was fairly detailed, considering it’s age, and provided me with clear weights for each ingredient. I even had a something of a method to work with!

However, I still had to estimate the oven temperature, cooking time and amount of flour. Luckily, my estimations were correct and the gingerbread turned out really well. However, colleagues were disappointed that the cooking process had evaporated the alcohol from the brandy… probably for the best!

The finished gingerbread!

Over to you…

Think these resources could help you with your studies, research or learning development? Email us archives@hull.ac.uk for a chat or to make an appointment to use them at Hull History Centre.

Categories
Archive collections Hull University Archives

Seven Seasonal Snippets

With just a few days to go, we’re starting to get that Christmas feeling at Hull University Archives! So we’ve been looking through the collections for references to Christmases past. These are some of the things we found…

Send a card

To get us started, here’s a Christmas card printed by our University for the year 1946. The ‘Donald’ who sent this card was a former student, so we can presume that these cards were available for purchase in much the same way Uni branded merchandise is sold by the Student Union today.

Receive a card

A much more visually interesting Christmas card from 1868 next. This one was sent to William Mortimer Baines by his son Henry Verdon Baines.

U DDBH/26/11/225 – Card enclosed in a letter from H.V. Baines in New Zealand to W.M. Baines at Escrick Park, 17 Nov 1868

Order the turkey (or nut roast!)

A slightly left of field offering here, perhaps relating to Christmas dinner…. This is a draft agreement stating the terms under which Henry Southerne was able to rent a house and land in Everingham from John Rushworth. As well as paying a monetary rent, Southerne was responsible for providing Rushworth with a ‘fat hen’ every Christmas. Not something your modern student landlord asks for!

U DDEV/9/63 Draft covenant, Henry Southerne to John Rushworth of Lincolns Inn, Apr 1655

Deck the halls

Whilst we are on the subject of land ownership, this letter is an extremely contrite apology sent by Lady Constance Lawley of The Villa, Escrick, to Mrs Baines of Bell Hall on Boxing Day. It appears Lady Lawley trespassed on the Baines’ land in order to collect ivy to decorate her house for Christmas, scaring their game in the process.

U DDEV/26/13/75 Letter from Lady Constance Lawley to Mrs M.V. Baines, late 19th cent.

Attend a service

Order of service for Christmas services held at the Church of the Holy Sacrament, Arras, on the Western Front in 1917

U DAS/29/70 – Order of Christmas services, Church of the Holy Sacrament, Arras, 1917

Write thank you notes

After the presents come the thank you notes. This one is from a daughter to her mother thanking her for the gift of a writing pad and fountain pen. The daughter would grow up to become a successful author.

U DBU/1/242 – Thank you note from Philippa Burrell to her mother Louie Burrell, 25 Dec 1919

And finally, a mix of Christmas cheer and bah-humbug in this memorandum from former University of Hull librarian Philip Larkin:

U DPL2/2/9/96 – Memorandum from Larkin to the catering officer of University College Hull, 23 Dec 1971

On behalf of the University Archives team, we hope you have a restful Christmas break and we’ll see you in the New Year!

Categories
Hull University Archives University history

Torches and Bonfires

With November the 5th coming up, here at Hull University Archives we thought a warming wander through student bonfire nights past might be a nice diversion.

So we turned to the University of Hull’s student newspapers for inspiration. And it was only then that the serendipity of the situation struck us – the first student magazine was aptly (for our purpose) named The Torch!

Front cover of the first issue of The Torch, Dec 1928

Lighting the Torch

First issued in December 1928, it has gone through several iterations, initially as The Torch, then as Torchlight, and it continues to this day as HullFire. These names draw inspiration from the University’s motto:

Extract from the Third Annual Report of the University College of Hull, 1928-29

From the Latin for ‘Bearing the torch’, our motto is a play on the name of the University’s first benefactor, Thomas R. Ferens.

At the beginning of the first issue of The Torch is a foreword written by the University’s principal. This sets the tone and highlights the hopes of those involved for the future of the University:

Extract from the Foreword of the first issue of The Torch, Dec 1928

The Principal’s message is echoed in a short poem included at the end of the first issue:

Poem from the first issue of The Torch, Dec 1928

And so The Torch was lit. But back to our original purpose…

Remember, remember the 5th of November

In the third issue of The Torch we find our first reference to bonfire night. A report describes the events:

The Torch, Dec 1929 – Report ‘The Fifth of November’

With such fun to be enjoyed, and perhaps a late night dancing, the following morning appears to have been a bit of a come down. The very next piece in the issue seems to have been inspired by a ‘morning after…’ type feeling in one of the magazine contributors:

The Torch, Dec 1929 – Short story ‘Please to Remember’ (part 1)
The Torch, Dec 1929 – Short story ‘Please to Remember’ (part 2)

Skipping a few years, we find that celebrations have moved on and now include a torchlight procession through the village of Cottingham:

Torchlight, 21 Nov 1958 – photograph of students carrying torches

Though a nice idea in principle, the sight of a large group of students boldly parading through the streets seems to have inspired a town and gown type rivalry with the local youth:

Torchlight, 21 Nov 1958 – report ‘Damp squibs during the procession’

But a year on and things seem to have calmed down, with no mention of any such unpleasantness being repeated:

Torchlight, 17 Nov 1959 – ‘Festivities on Fifth of November’

If you’ve enjoyed this brief spotlight on our early student magazines look out for further Hull University Archives posts on the Library blog!

Categories
Hull University Archives University history

Where it all began…

How much do you know about the history of our university? Based on a popular Twitter thread from 2020, this blog post uses records from our very own archives to tell the story of our foundation and early development.

If you prefer to access this content via video you can do that using the following link:

Still with us? Good, then read on!

Ferens and his £250,000

We start with a man (points if you spot the connection to our University motto)…

Portrait of T.R. Ferens, commissioned by the University shortly after his death

On 2 February 1925, local philanthropist and entrepreneur Thomas Robinson Ferens held a lunch for a group of Hull’s leading civic figures at his home. During the lunch, he announced his intention of providing a financial gift to establish a university in Hull. He confirmed his intention in a letter written the same day to the Lord Mayor of Hull, Councillor A.D. Willoughby:

Holderness House
Hull, Feb. 2nd 1925.
My dear Lord Mayor,
The need of provision for higher learning in Hull, has greatly impressed me, and I have taken the opportunity of consulting University Professors and other friends, in regard to the matter, and I have decided to set aside for the purpose of forming a nucleus of a University College for Hull the sum of £250,000.
Very shortly I am going from home for a few weeks and on my return I propose calling together a few local friends interested in education to formulate plans.
With kind regards
I am
Sincerely yours
Thos. R. Ferens

Letter from T.R. Ferens to A.D. Willoughby

With this gift (and much subsequent hard work by many other individuals), a longstanding civic desire to establish a university in the city became a real possibility. Just three years later, on 11 October 1928, the first staff and students arrived on campus and the University College of Hull was born.
Unfortunately, we don’t know if Ferens’ letter to Willoughby still survives. It was around in the 1970s when T.W. Bamford wrote an institutional history of the university, but the author gives no indication in his book as to how he came by the letter.

Surviving evidence

Not to worry, we have plenty of surviving material within the university’s own archives to help us tell the rest of the story. One such item is the first minute book of the university, which records the first ever meeting held to set things in motion.

Minutes of the first meeting of the Organising Board, 1925 [U REG/2/1]

But let’s face it, even though they are incredibly useful, minute books are dry and dull to look at. If you are anything like us, what you really want to see are pictures, lots and lots of pictures. Well, chief among the treasure trove of material that constitutes the university’s archives is an album, stuffed full of fantastic sepia and black and white photographs. This invaluable record dates right back to the first years of the operation of the university in the 1920s and 1930s. So we continue our story…

First photograph album of the University of Hull, 1920s-1950s [U PHO]

The campus site and buildings

In addition to providing £250,000, Ferens purchased three fields, comprising 18.756 acres in total. He donated the land to the Hull Corporation, intending that the Corporation would then grant the land to the Organising Board, which had been appointed to establish a University College in Hull. After some negotiations, and a few issues with the Board of Education, the transfer of land took place in October 1927.

Aerial photograph, c.1927, marked up to show the outline of land to be used to construct a university campus [U PHO]

But by this time construction work had already begun on the Cottingham Road site. The first pile had driven over a month earlier, during a ceremony held on the 24 August 1927 and led by the wife of Arthur Eustace Morgan, who would be the first Principal of the University College of Hull. Eight months later, the foundation stone was laid during a very prestigious ceremony. Those in attendance included the Archbishop of York, the Duchess of York, T.R. Ferens as the first President, the Duke of York (Prince Albert, later George VI), and Principal Morgan. The Duke of York did the honour of laying the foundation stone.

University College of Hull foundation stone laying ceremony, held 28 April 1928 [U PHO]
The Duke of York laying the foundation stone, 28 April 1928 [U PHO]

Only two buildings existed on the campus site when the University College of Hull opened to students on 11 October 1928. The Science Block (now known and the Cohen Building) and the Arts Block (now known as the Venn Building). The two buildings were designed by W.A. Forsyth and Partners in the Neo-Georgian style, and would later be categorized as a group of architectural significance by Historic England and given Grade II listed status.

The Science Building (now known as Cohen) under construction in 1928 [U PHO]
The Arts Building (now known as Venn) following completion in 1928 [U PHO]

Halls of residence

However, two further buildings are of importance to the early history of the university. During their initial planning work, members of the Organising Board took the decision that students enrolled at the University College must be resident, unless living at home or unless there were exceptional circumstances. This policy necessitated the provision of halls of residence for students. Northfields (renamed Needler Hall) and Thwaite Hall, both in Cottingham, were purchased for this purpose in early 1928, there being no time or money to construct purpose built halls.

Needler Hall, c.1929 [U PHO]
Thwaite Hall, c.1929 [U PHO]

Male students were housed in Needler Hall, whilst Thwaite Hall was used to house female students. A warden was appointed to live at each of the halls of residence, and it was the job of these wardens to oversee the running of the buildings and the welfare of the students living there.

Needler Hall dining room, c.1929 [U PHO]
The common room at Thwaite Hall, c.1929 [U PHO]

The first departments and courses

In 1927, upon hearing that the University of Leeds wished to cease law training in Hull, the Yorkshire Board of Legal Studies approached the Organising Board to ask if the University College would take over law training in the city. Grants were secured to appoint a lecturer in Law, and James Louis Montrose took up post on the 1 October 1927. A Legal Studies course started on the 20 October 1927, and was taught in the Law Society Hall and in the city’s Guildhall. This represents the University College’s first functioning department and course.

Guildhall on Lowgate in Hull, 1920s [UDX336/34/4]

Around the same time, the Workers Educational Association approached the Organising Board and asked for the appointment of a tutor so that Adult Education classes could begin as soon as possible. The Organising Board appointed Professor T.H. Searls who took up post on the 1 January 1928.

Workers Educational Association Rally held at on campus, June 1928 [U PHO]

The Department of Adult Education was one of the major successes in the early years of the University College. The department operated extra-mural courses in the local area and across the wider Yorkshire region.

Extra Mural Students’ Rally, 1929 [U PHO]

Campus opens

On the 6 October 1928, administrative staff, who had been operating out of Maritime Buildings in the centre of the city, became the first members of staff to move to the University College site on Cottingham Road.
They were followed on the 11 October 1928 by sixteen members of academic staff (including the Principal who served as a professor of English), two assistant teaching staff members, and around 39 students.

Academic staff and students with Principal Morgan at the centre of the group, 1928 [U PHO]

The group was representative of fourteen academic departments in total, these being Adult Education, Botany, Chemistry, Classics, English, French, Geography, German, History, Law, Mathematics, Philosophy and Psychology, Physics, and Zoology.

Zoology lab, c.1929 [U PHO]
Advanced Physics lab, c.1929 [U PHO]
Zoology lecture theatre, c.1929 [U PHO]
Fisheries lab, c.1929 [U PHO]
Geography room, c.1929 [U PHO]

Official opening

The official opening of the university took place a full year after the first students and staff arrived on campus. Present at the ceremony were Principal Morgan, Thomas R. Ferens, H.R.H. Prince George (later the Duke of Kent), and Benno Pearlman in his role as the Lord Mayor of Hull.

Official Opening of the University College of Hull, 10 October 1929 [U PHO]

Early activities

And so the University of Hull was born. Next followed a period of slow though steady expansion. The University College welcomed further local students from the city of Hull and the wider region.

Staff and students, June 1935 [U PHO]

Noteworthy guests came to speak to the students…

Students, Lt Comm Kenworthy and Mr Arthur Henderson (Foreign Secretary) [U PHO]

Sports teams were formed…

The University College Association Football Team, 1929 [U PHO]

And an active dramatic society was established.

Early members of the Dramatic Society, 1930 [U PHO]

University College Hull was off to a galloping start!

If you’ve enjoyed this, we’ll be exploring more of our past in the future – so keep an eye on the blog!