If you mentioned
Gandy Street to a university student in the 1950s, it
would immediately be taken that you meant, not the little lane
running between High Street and Queen Street which bears the
name, but the University building and collection of outbuildings
which existed there in the 1950s. At that time Gandy Street was
the University or at least most of it. This would appear incredible
to present-day Exeter students and indeed to generations of students,
who since 1960 will have arrived and departed from Exeter without
giving a glance to that little lane. But in the late 1950s the
Guild of Students was there and the Arts and Social Science departments
were there. Only the Library, Chapel and Washington Singer laboratories
and Hatherley laboratories were over on the new Streatham estate.
When, in 1956, I found my way to my department (Department of Government) I found that the staff were housed in a collection of long wooden huts to the left of the large brick building. My tutor's office was in one of these. I remember it had very large windows and so the staff were always on view and, when being interviewed by your tutor, you were always in full view of the passing students. Far from being a minus point, this seemed to contribute to the family atmosphere pervading the 1000 students which the University had at that time. The huts were warm people-friendly places, though maybe the staff did not think so in Winter. During 1959 my tutor moved to a brand new building at Streatham and I remember going to see him for the last time in his smart, modern office. It seemed clinical, impersonal and formal compared with the old huts. I remember thinking that the new buildings might have a distancing effect between staff and students. But this scenario was being repeated again and again throughout the country. University after university abandoned their old cozy buildings and moved to custom built estates. Some of these, though fortunately not the Streatham estate, were concrete monstrosities of near nightmare ugliness. I was to know some of them well later in my career.
Washington Singer Building
|The Gandy Street building was also important for the Guild coffee bar which existed there. This was the great meeting place for socialising and it was warm and friendly, but it was also quite small. There was always a real danger that you would not get a seat there and so be excluded from the convivial company. There was an overflow coffee bar in one of the huts and this was always quieter. There were always the small inexpensive cafes which existed then in the city centre. I remember that Watty's was always a particular favourite. Gandy Street could at times be a magical place but especially on dark afternoons towards Christmas. Coming out of the University building, its windows ablaze with light, and walking along that little lane towards the Cathedral with the Christmas lights twinkling brightly in the small shops, I often thought that there could be few better places than this in the whole world. It always seemed to me to be a very good idea to have a university right in the centre of a city. Of course in the great expansion of the 1960s this would have been an impossible concept to maintain but I am always grateful that, for my time at Exeter, it was all happening there right in the city centre.|