Happy Families?

Soon I will be conducting interviews with alumni who attended Royal Holloway College and Bedford college during 1960s. What I would expect to interest me most about these interviews is the reactions of these students’ families to the announcement and implementation of co-ed study at the university. This can present a wider view of the change from single sex school and universities to co-ed programmes. It will mean covering both existing students and those who arrived as part of the first co-ed intake.


It would be reasonable to expect somewhat mixed feelings from those families who had sent their daughters to an all-girls college. It may after all have been one of the reasons that they decided upon the university and the arrival of men could have caused concern. It could also have been seen as a boon for university; experience of the opposite sex is after all an education in itself and, it could be argued, is a necessary preparation for Post-university life.


We must not forget that family is more than just parents. How did, say, older siblings feel who might have welcomed the same co-ed opportunity? Was their experience of education, a similar one? What then would families of new students have felt? One interesting aspect here is whether the parents of the new male students felt any trepidation about sending their children as part of the first intake of men? There could be no telling how warm their reception would be nor how they would fit into co-ed university life.


The growth of co-ed education affected not just the students but also everyone around them as well. A survey of the families of the Royal Holloway College and Bedford college alumni would be a good way to study the opinion of the families at the time.

Harry Blackett-Ord

Memories of Bedford social life

In this project I am interested in exploring the experience of the Bedford College alumni during the change from an all-female to co-educational university in 1965. During her childhood, my mum’s school went from being all-girls to co-educational when she was there, and she has often mentioned it as an important moment in her school life. Because of this, I feel the women who were already students at the college in 1965 may have some interesting (through being similar or contrasting) memories of this time in their studies. In particular, I would hope to find out about the social lives and attitudes of the students at the time. Would the female and male students socialise outside of their classes, and if so how meaningful were the relationships formed? Did any of the interviewees have strong opinions – positive or negative – on the change, and if so do they still hold them? Was the change even significant to the students?

By looking at this, I hope to find out about attitudes to gender roles in the mid-1960s, and the interaction between memories of this time and ideas about gender held by the alumni now. I think it would be interesting (if possible) to try and find out about the attitudes of the students’ parents to the change, and to look at any potential comparison between contemporary accounts (i.e. diaries/letters), and the memories recalled by the alumni now.

Going Co-Ed

In 1965, 100 controversial students enrolled at Royal Holloway College; the very first male undergraduates. The decision to change from a female-only to co-educational student population was not an easy one, and required an amendment to the College’s official deed. But, was the transition easier for the students themselves?

Our oral history project, interviewing alumni from Royal Holloway College and Bedford College (which also accepted male undergraduates in 1965) provides us with a prime opportunity to explore the impact of the change to co-education, and the student’s feelings towards studying in a changing and expanding university. Did the female students already studying at Royal Holloway accept their male colleges with open arms? Or did they resent- or even fear- their presence?

As Royal Holloway college expanded in response to the Robbins report, its appearance and make-up was altered- but it will be interesting to ask if the feel and atmosphere of the college changed as well. Did Royal Holloway still feel safe? – and, interestingly, would the female alumni still have chosen to come to their college if they have known that male undergraduates would be introduced?

I am aware that the number of alumni participating in our interviews that experienced the colleges as both single-sex and co-educational will be relatively small. However, students who attended the colleges before or after the change can also provide us with important insight; did the mix of men and women (or lack of) influence their choice to come to Royal Holloway or Bedford?

Although our oral history project is unique to Royal Holloway and Bedford Colleges, the revolution in higher education that occurred in the 1960s was a nationwide trend, and our interviews offer an invaluable opportunity to explore the personal impact of a wider and more open education experience.


When talking about their time at university everyone has stories about their course and what they did in their spare time but often the most memorable stories are ones about where they lived. From my own experience of university I have observed that your accommodation shapes everything you do, from who your friends are, to where you eat and how you use your free time.

I am therefore intrigued as to how this might have been different in the 1960s. The sixties were a revolutionary time for the colleges of Royal Holloway and Bedford especially considering the introduction of male students in 1965. With this in mind it would be interesting to see how accommodation differed between the Royal Holloway and Bedford colleges but also between the established female students and the new male students. Was there a particular type of accommodation that was more desirable? What was the cost? What were the rules? The exciting opportunity to interview a past student would reveal how their university accommodation made an impact not only on their lives while at college, but also perhaps on later decisions.

The choice to make the project an oral history assignment means that the memories and stories of a past generation of students can be preserved and potentially used for later projects, in particular I think it would be fascinating to discover whether the impacts of accommodation are paralleled in the lives of today’s students.

Pub Culture

Egham and Englefield’s thriving pub culture occupies the time of both students and local residents alike, with many sports and society activities based around the bar. In the last couple of years, measures have been taken by Royal Holloway to curb the growing ‘booze culture’ that now seems to be synonymous with student life. The ‘Swinging Sixties’ saw a general rise in alcohol consumption across the nation, but did this have an impact on the small town of Egham?

When interviewing the former students of Bedford College and Royal Holloway, I am interested to see if university social life was as heavily linked with alcohol consumption as it is today. Where did the students drink, and what were their beverages of choice? I am particularly interested in the 1965 introduction of male students, and if this had an impact on the social behaviours of the female students; was the pub more commonly frequented, used as a neutral meet-up spot between the male and female halls of residence? Did the students feel more pressure to drink when socialising with the other sex?

It is likely that not all students will have drank frequently, but this will allow further insight into how students spent their time, and the popular social activities at Bedford and Royal Holloway during the sixties. By examining what the students did instead of flocking to the pub, it may be helpful providing alternative routines for current students.

Having the opportunity to interview alumni of Bedford and Royal Holloway colleges can potentially show how the student social experience has changed, if at all. They can also hopefully provide insight into how and when ‘booze culture’ started to become ingrained in university life.


– Emma Leyland




Class change?

The Alumni Oral History project is especially of interest to me as a Modern British Historian. I am intrigued by the social change that the 20th Century brought with its many political developments. The 1960s is a vital decade for social change as Britain settles itself down after the Second World War and the developments this brought. I have a particular interest in upward social mobility owing to my own families change in circumstances.

The particular area in regards to the Alumni project I would be intrigued to investigate further, are those who came from a working class background and if their enrolment was shocking. I am the first one in my family to go to university, something that my extended family are incredibly proud of. My grandmother still speaks of how proud she was that she passed the 11 Plus exam giving her access to better schooling; my attendance at university within her life time is something she never thought she would see.

I would imagine, that during the 1960s the majority of attendees at Royal Holloway were from a middle to upper class background. In a decade of such social upheaval nationally, and change within the university admitting undergraduate men for the first time, investigating class change within this at Royal Holloway could provide illuminating insights to British society.

Political Activists?

Interviewing the former students of Bedford College and Royal Holloway is an invaluable opportunity to understanding the past. Speaking to those whom were studying throughout the 1960s, in particular, will be incredibly illuminating. Whilst the purpose of this project is to attain life stories of our former students, to explore their reasons for attending university and the opportunities they had, as well as their careers after graduating, there is an opportunity to focus on our own areas of interest. During the 1960s, student activism became a common occurrence in universities, but to what extent was this the reality at Bedford and Royal Holloway College?

I am very interested in exploring student led activism, and as two pioneering women’s colleges surely there was plenty to debate about. From internal college affairs, such as fees, classes, accommodation, and perhaps most significantly the enrolment of men into the colleges for the first time. It will be interesting to gauge whether there was any resistance or opposition against the decision.

We are more familiar with the existing narratives of political protest, surrounding gender, sexuality, race, war, and nuclear weapons, but did these pivotal and often divisive issues enter discussions and social life at Bedford and Royal Holloway? Were there any societies or clubs that encouraged debate? Was there any student led protests or demonstrations?

It is likely that some if not most those whom we interview were not political activists or even acutely involved in the debates, but that it itself is revealing. If students were not active in protests and debate were they at least aware of the political climate and the magnitude of the time in which they were studying?


Beyond the Lecture Theatre

Having been heavily involved in the rebuilding and running of one of my previous university’s oldest academic societies, as well as being a member of several music groups during my time as an undergraduate, I would be interested in exploring the extra curricular, social side of university in the 1960s.  I know from personal experience that clubs and societies allowed me to explore existing interests further, but also introduced me to people who I might not otherwise have met on my course. The issue of societies might be a particularly interesting area to explore amongst those who had joined Royal Holloway College and Bedford Colleges whilst they were still women’s only institutions, only for them to become co-educational in 1965.  For example, did new societies have to be established, keeping the sexes separate or did existing groups also allow men to join.  Also, what kind of range of activities were available to students, did university give them an opportunity to sample new pursuits or just build upon existing interests?

Moreover, having been a choral scholar, I would also like to explore changes in the chapel choir upon the introduction of male students.  Did the choir immediately begin to cater for lower voices or was that change made more gradually? Since membership of a choir can be quite regimented, it would be interesting to see how routines have changed – if indeed they have changed – since the 1960s.  Involvement in clubs and societies can be a vital part of the settling in process so I would also like to consider whether this has always been the case or whether, for the newly admitted male undergraduates, there was any difficulty in integrating into the existing student body.

The idea of interviewing former students of both Royal Holloway and Bedford New Colleges has the potential to create an invaluable resource about the history of the colleges academic and social histories.  Moreover if this model continues in future years of the MA programme, covering different decades it will offer insights into the expansion of access to higher education and university life throughout the twentieth century.

Gender and Social Life: The “Swinging Sixties”?

The 1960s was a revolutionary time; culturally, socially, and politically. Whilst Julie Andrews was busy making clothes out of old curtains and being “practically perfect in every way”, the decade saw the rise of Second Wave Feminism, student protests and, of course, the so-called “Swinging Sixties”. For Royal Holloway College and Bedford College, it was 1965 specifically which proved a pivotal moment: this was the year which saw the arrival of the first male undergraduates.

With this in mind, the two major areas of interest to me are gender, and student life. In my own personal experience, when I speak to prospective students looking to apply to Royal Holloway, or even alumni themselves, one of the first things they ask about is my daily routine and what I do in my spare time. It would be fascinating to know how students five decades ago spent their days, and how much this differed, if at all, to student life now. On a wider scale, and with the move to co-education in mind, I would like to know if gender and student life were in any way related. Were certain clubs and societies, or activities, explicitly gendered, or did students simply partake in events or hobbies which appealed to their personal interests? Was it easy for the new male undergraduates to integrate into the existing student body, and was there much opposition to their arrival in the first place? Did the interests of students reflect the wider social, cultural, and political changes in contemporary British society and, ultimately, did they really feel like they were a part of the “Swinging Sixties”?

Having the opportunity to interview alumni who attended both Colleges at this important time will not only benefit my own understanding of these areas, and that of my peers, but hopefully, with their permission, we may be able to document and preserve more of RHBNC’s history for the future.

Emily Petretta

First Impressions of University Life

When interviewing alumni of Royal Holloway College and Bedford college from the 1960s, I would like to question them about their adjustment to and first impressions of university life. The Robbins Report of 1963 encouraged the widening of university education to all who qualified through ability. It would be interesting to discover whether the widening of education to different socio-economic communities was immediately obvious to students starting their studies at Royal Holloway College and Bedford College in the mid to late 1960s. If this was the case, what were their first impressions of this? Did they embrace the opportunity of meeting people from different backgrounds to their own or were tensions present? Perhaps, the student body wasn’t overtly diverse, but students wished it had been.

Likewise, at a time when single-sex schools were prominent, it would be valuable to discover the first impressions of students from such backgrounds, when arriving at a newly co-educational university. I would question whether being in a new social environment made them feel homesick, or if they enjoyed being somewhere different from home.

Questions less unique to the context of the 1960s but universal to student life would also be useful for potential future research into university culture. Did the students of Royal Holloway College and Bedford College in the 1960s find it easy to make friends within their first few weeks of study? It would also be interesting to discover if university work was a daunting progression from their school work. Additionally, I would ask whether they liked their new local area and if the college itself felt like a home away from home immediately or if it took them longer to adjust, if at all.

When conducting the interviews, there is the potential for the alumni to recount their university experience as a whole rather than their first impressions. Therefore, I must frame my questions to overtly emphasise my focus on the first term of their studies.

The demographics of students attending university changed immensely during the 1960s, and it should be discovered whether this influenced individual first impressions and the ability to adapt to university life.

Becky Tabrar