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Early days at University College, Leicester

On 4 October 1921 nine students were admitted to Leicester's new University College (today the University has 18,500 students from over 100 countries, with thousands more studying for Leicester degrees in their home countries). Three years later - in 1924 - Nora Waddington, a member of a well-known local family who went on to a successful career in teaching, became a student of English and French at University College.

The following is an extract from an interview she gave which provides interesting insights into the life of the College in its early years. The interview forms part of the East Midlands Oral History Archive - a joint project to conserve and develop oral history resources in the East Midlands.

"We had a very good time. Everything was beginning. It was, it really was like building a new building, you know what I mean, building it up. Everything that happened was new. We tried to start a badminton club, and the only place we could find, the roof was too low, the ceiling, you see, so we couldn't run badminton there. We tried to have a hockey match - and they ran out of people, and they said "Can't you play hockey?". I said "Never touched a hockey stick in my life - I couldn't possibly". "It's quite all right, my dear", they said, "you just hit it hard through the goal, hold the right hand of the stick up - you know - do all that and then push it through". I did all that and got a goal!

"They'd only got nine students when they began, and they were very enterprising because they were older than usual, because they'd been put off going to college because of the war and their parents' worry. Of the nine students, one was a man - a poor lone man. It lasted for a year - just one poor lone man and eight other students.

first college students celebrate graduation

"They got a drama society going almost at once, and it was while I was still there. They had people like C P Snow - he started a chess club and he started a magazine. He was a very fine cricketer. He of course went on to great things. C P Snow was very much the 'father' of the little group we were in.

"The Principal then [Dr Rattray] - they didn't call him a Vice Chancellor - he was a Principal. He started all the things that ought to be started. He could act himself. He put on Greek plays, modern up-to-date plays. He had to run the College and also do all the lecturing for the English Department, language and literature, and also Latin! That had just one little student, you understand, but, how he did it, I don't understand how he managed to keep it going. They made it very social. They entertained people to their tea parties, and they had a sort of butler at the door - all done in style you understand - and at Christmas when I first went they had a Christmas tree and every student had a present!

"They had a huge bazaar in De Montfort Hall to provide money. My sister was to be a French fisherman. This was when she was still at school, and one of the staff came along. She'd been to Brittany, and she'd got a man there - a fisherman - to give her the right garb for her to wear. Mother's face when she thought she was to wear this thing - it had never been washed or anything! She just had to get to work and boil it up!"

The East Midlands Oral History Archive is supported by the University of Leicester, Leicester City Council, Leicestershire County Council and the Heritage Lottery Fund.  

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Fielding Johnson Building in the 20s
The University's Fielding Johnson Building as it was in the 1920s. This building was named after Thomas Fielding Johnson, a founding father of the University.

Cynthia Brown
Project Manager
East Midlands Oral History Archive
Centre for Urban History
University of Leicester
October 2002

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Last updated: 30 October 2002 17:00
Created by: Rachel Tunstall

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