It’s the first Monday of October 1973. With a sense of trepidation, an 18 year-old lad leaves home, a large proportion of his possessions and a heavy set of books in a rucksack on his back. He’s off to Wolverhampton in the Black Country to join the second ever intake on the BA Modern Languages (BAML) course being offered by Wolverhampton Polytechnic.
Let’s fast forward to May 2015. With a sense of trepidation a 59 year-old man leaves his home in Bristol, a laptop in a rucksack on his back and a suit in a holdall in his hand. He’s off to Wolverhampton to reunite with the second ever intake on the BA Modern Languages course once offered by Wolverhampton Polytechnic.
There have been lots of changes in the meantime. The polytechnic has transformed into the University of Wolverhampton. Wolverhampton itself has changed from a large industrial town with belching blast furnaces and gained city status. The Black Country either side of the railway between Birmingham and Wolverhampton – once a realistic implementation of a medieval painter’s vision of hell with flames, smoke and smut – is now de-industrialised with leafy areas interspersed with pleasant housing.
Sticking with the leafy pleasantness, the reunion is being held at The Mount Hotel in the Tettenhall Wood area of Wolverhampton, not a frequent haunt of student days when town centre pubs and night clubs were preferred to comfortable, content suburbia.
The Mount is a grade II listed manor house that was originally the home of Mander family of Wolverhampton (who made their money from paint and varnish. Ed.), which acquired the Mount in 1890 for £5,000 and refurbished it extensively. In 1929 the then master of the house Charles Tertius Mander was unfortunately killed in a hunting accident, leaving his wife Mary a widow. The Mount was far too large for post-war life without servants and the house was sold by Charles Marcus Mander at auction in 1952 after being in the family for just ninety years and started its new life as a hotel.
Once settled in, the minor worries started: would I recognise anyone – and would they recognise me? The rest of the crew were veterans at reunions, having held a couple in the intervening years, whilst I was the novice tonight. Standing outside, I scrutinised the faces of those passing, trying to see if any matched features whose recollection was dimmed by nearly 4 decades, whilst that same amount of time had etched its effects on the faces of my contemporaries.In all honesty I shouldn’t have worried: as we assembled at 7.00 p.m. for pre-dinner drinks, the memory went into action and I readily recognised most of the faces familiar from of old, although most now came complete with a partner. There were even a few lecturers there. Apologies to those I miss, but these included course director Alan Dobson, French lecturer Stuart Williams and politics lecturer Harvey Wolf.
The 3 courses of dinner were most pleasant: I was seated between Jill Easton (née Marshall) and Stuart Williams. The meal itself, with 3 choices for each course, was delicious and passed in leisurely fashion. Between the main course and dessert a hiatus occurred for the obligatory speeches.
First on his feet was course director Alan Dobson. He passed on greetings from John White, the former head of the poly’s department of languages and praised him for his foresight in establishing the modern languages degree course; and once more trepidation intervened. Alan explained the sense of trepidation in establishing the course. At that time Wolverhampton didn’t exactly have a great reputation. It was the but of jokes. As an academic institution, the polytechnic didn’t exactly have the prestige of a traditional university, something not helped by the presence in those days of a sleazy massage parlour over the road from campus.
The teaching accommodation often left something to be desired in those days. Alan reminded us of the long-vanished St. Peter’s Hall, whose top floor was leased to the polytechnic for teaching. It was invariably freezing cold in the autumn and winter and the landlord’s use of the building’s heating system was a juggling act: downstairs was leased as a potato store and the stock needed to be kept cool. As students we were probably regarded as cool enough in one sense, but fingers stiff with cold are not best suited to taking lecture notes.
Alan was followed by Paul Sutton. Paul and his wife Gwenda had done most of the organisation of the event (and done it splendidly. Ed.). Of those in the 1973 course intake, most had been located and contacted: only 6 remain lost. One of our number, Viv Allum, sadly passed away a number of years ago. The development of the internet had been of great assistance in finding folk; Sheila Searle had done most of the detective work, I believe.
Paul praised the quality of the education we’d received and the skills gained, which have seen many of the alumni employed in fields far removed from languages. The fact most of us have been continuously employed since graduation is ample evidence that the investment in human capital made in those years at Wolverhampton had been amply repaid many times over with interest.
Paul recalled life in Wolverhampton in 1973 when we arrived: beer at 13p a pint in the Union bar, Derek Dougan taking to the field for Wolverhampton Wanderers F.C. (his slipping into the Union Bar for a quick pint was not unknown either. Ed.), Queen supporting Mott the Hoople at Wolverhampton’s Civic Hall shortly after our arrival on campus.
He also reminisced fondly of the polytechnic’s first halls of residence: Brinsford Lodge. These former munitions factory buildings helped accommodate students from 1964 to 1982. Others have started documenting student life at Brinsford, including Richard Elliott’s Brinsford pages and brinsfordlodge.co.uk.
Paul mentioned that there would be a further reunion in 2 years’ time to mark the 40th anniversary of our graduation. Responsibility for organising it would fall to the first member of the student body to head off to bed!
With speeches, dessert and coffee out of the way, it was time for dancing and the old crew proved that time had not diminished their enthusiasm for partying. The inevitable group photographs were taken, like the example below.
Some group photos even took a sideways look.
The dancing continued till 1.00 a.m., after which the night owls chatted the darkness away until long after dawn peeped over the horizon. However, we weren’t just reminiscing but discussing contemporary matters and the future too.
Breakfast on Sunday morning was a subdued affair for most.
It was wonderful to meet the BAML crew again. My time spent on the course with you represents an important stage of making me the person I am today. I now realise what I missed by not attending previous reunions; I’ll definitely be at the 2017 one as long as there’s breath in my body.
Thank you all for a brilliant weekend. 😀
Update 13/05/17: The comment below arrived yesterday (well after the end of the period for submitting comments. Ed.) from Gary (Gaz) Peters, another of the class of ’73.
Steve, just seen the blog on Wolves Poly 73. Really brought back memories and I wish that I had been found when you were trawling the net for BAML 73 alumni! I have sadly lost touch with everyone from those halcyon days and have regretted it for a long time. Do you know when the next reunion is? Would love to meet up with everyone. Very best wishes, Gary (Gaz) Peters
Look forward to seeing you again as the next get-together, Gaz! 😀