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.

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?


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

Sex and Sexuality

For our oral history project this year, we’ve been asked to interview alumni from the 1960s, about their time at Royal Holloway College or Bedford College.

This decade saw a huge change come to the colleges, as in 1965 male students were admitted for the first time, forever altering the dynamic of the colleges. Suddenly there was potential for relationships with the opposite sex and finding a partner on campus, and within that, a potential for a whole lot else. This coincided with a time of sexual liberation and second-wave feminism, and women for the first time were openly embracing their sexuality and becoming able to take control of their bodies through contraceptives, such as the pill, becoming available, as well as an increasing acceptance and visibility of LGBT+ individuals. There was an increasing acceptance of sex outside of traditional heterosexual marriages, and I’m fascinated as to what effect this had on students at the time. Especially students who were at colleges that had been single sex for so long. The male students were confined to halls that kept them a good distance away from the women, but were they all creeping around campus at night and sneaking along corridors? Or was the sexual revolution kept out of college life? What was the reaction of their parents to them being at a now co-ed college during this time of increasing sexual freedoms? Was sex and sexuality openly discussed, or still kept behind locked doors?

Throughout my own time at university I’ve campaigned around these issues and rights, which are hotly contested around the globe to this day, and I can’t wait to hear what opinions were about sex and sexuality in colleges that had just become co-ed during the age that is famed for its sexual freedom.

Why get a degree?

In the next few months I will be interviewing Royal Holloway and Bedford College alumni who attended university during the 1960s. From these conversations I hope to take away a better understanding of how these women and men viewed themselves and their roles in society. In particular, how going to university and earning a degree tied into their image of themselves.

I’d like to ask our interviewees what they considered the purpose of a university degree to be when they opted to join Royal Holloway and Bedford College. Whether it was a ticket into the career they aspired to, a status symbol, a networking tool, or just a fun way to spend a few years. I would be curious to know whether they chose to apply or whether was it a path their parents picked for them, and the reasons behind this. Given that our participants grew up in a time in which women’s roles tended to be limited in comparison to what is possible today, I’d want to focus on the women’s perspective (while also comparing the women’s ambitions and expectations with those of the men). What kinds of careers were they hoping to pursue after university, and how did expectations of motherhood and becoming a wife affect these ambitions? It would also be revealing to find out about their backgrounds, such as the roles or careers their mothers and other female role models had, as well as how their time at university was funded. Whether there is a correlation between subject area and ambition would also be an interesting prospect to investigate. Did they chose subjects because they caught their interest, or because they felt that these subjects would lead to job stability and independence?

I think memory is also going to be an important factor in this, considering the extent to which a person’s narrative changes in hindsight. Did the path they eventually found themselves on after university change the way they recollect their initial reasons for going to university? Perhaps they entered university dreaming of a certain career but have since forgotten about the significance of that ambition because in reality they ended up marrying and putting their career on hold for children.

It will be interesting to see how this line of investigation corresponds with current understandings of gender roles within society during the 1960s.

Feminism and Gender

The 1960’s in Britain, whilst not as radical as the following decade, was a great time of change for women’s equality. The publication of The Feminist Mystique in 1963 and, in 1967 the availability of abortion’s through the NHS are just two examples of how the country was changing.

During the interviews with the Royal Holloway alumni, I wish to explore the issue of feminism. One thing to address would be whether or not students (both male and female) were aware of the social movement happening in the country – or, for the women at least because they were already at predominantly female colleges, the idea of gender equality was already acceptable. It will be interesting to see from those who may have considered themselves a feminist if this went on to impact their future in careers for instance. In terms of the university itself, asking questions to see if there was any sort of politically motivated women’s organisation on campus and what they were involved in would benefit the archive.

In terms of limitations with this topic, it is possible that people would not have considered themselves a ‘feminist’ but believed in rights for women in certain elements so this may need to be teased out. It will also be very important to keep in mind how I ask the questions. The idea of feminism is still relevant today in society so there is a risk of the interviewees answering questions influenced by what they believe now, rather than how they saw things then.

I think this is a very interesting area to explore given Royal Holloway and Bedford’s history of being women’s institutions to see if this had an impact on the way its students thought about gender. The addition of men into a female dominated environment was certainly not that common in the 60’s so perfectly situated to explore this topic from a male point of view too.