Epilogue for the 1950s.

By the time I arrived in Exeter the second world war had been over for 10 years but the city still bore a lot of the scars of destruction. There were vast areas which had been cleared of bomb damage but were awaiting rebuilding. These could be very eerie, especially when walking home at night. But it was not just the city which had suffered. So many of the people were only just recovering from the terrible things which had shattered their lives during the war. During my three years in Exeter I lived with Mr.and Mrs.Crocker and their family in St. John's road. This notion of living with a family has disappeared from other universities which I have known since. Maybe it still exists in Exeter. I was the first university student which this family had taken in, and I like to think that we took to each other instantly. I knew immediately that I had been very fortunate and that I would be very happy with them and so it proved. Never for one instant did I envy any of my fellow students who lived in their halls of residence. The Crockers spoke to me often about their wartime experiences and how many people in Exeter had suffered so badly. It was the Crockers who introduced me to Dartmoor. Very quickly this kindly family organised a trip to show me the Moor and the Devon countryside. They hired a large car and off we went accompanied by daughter Lillian, her husband, and wonderful granddaughter Susan (another Susan!). I was entranced by Dartmoor but I was even more entranced by this marvellous family. The photographs which I took of them that day are amongst my most treasured possessions.
One of the first shops I visited in Exeter was that of Mr.Vosper Arthur at 129 Sidwell Street. Mr.Arthur and his wife were very cheerful and friendly people who ran a very good photography business, much frequented by students. They became great friends and we sometimes managed to persuade Mr.Arthur to come to the University to talk to us about photography. I can remember riding along Prince of Wales Road in Mr.Arthur's large car on our way to one of his lectures thinking how splendidly he had dressed for the occasion (bow tie etc.) compared with our usual lecturers. Most of the photographs shown on this site were processed by him and it is a testimony to his high standards that the negatives are still in excellent condition over 40 years later. The Crockers, the Arthurs and Mr. McMartin, who drove for the local bus company and accompanied us and looked after us on so many expeditions, were Exeter people whom I have never forgotten. There was no reason why they should go out of their way to be so kind and helpful. They just did. Other students will remember them and they fully deserve a part in the history of the University. They are certainly part of mine.

Now you may think that university students today are pretty much the same as what we were in the late 1950s. And, indeed, I would agree that there are great similarities. But there is one striking difference and this difference is of the most fundamental kind. In a few words - we thought differently. Our frame of reference was different. The climate of opinion in which we operated was very different. In particular we had great confidence in the future. We were sure that it was possible to make a better society, a better world and that we were destined to play a part in this. John Maynard Keynes had (in theory) shown that the economy could be managed to provide prosperity and plenty. Sociologists could (in theory) analyse and solve the great social problems of our time. Science could solve the problems of the environment and medicine and the National Health Service would soon conquer illness and disease. As a nation we could learn from past experience and our politicians would avoid making the same mistakes again and again in the future. All that was needed was for everyone to cooperate together in building a better society and this was achievable in the not too distant future. In short progress was now inevitable. Things were bound to get better. I doubt if you would find one university student today who believed any of these propositions. But in the late 1950s hopes were high. We had the great advantage of believing that we were on the way to somewhere and we would be there soon ( just like our walks). The idealism and high hopes had to be experienced to be believed. I am glad that I was a student in those exciting times.

The winds and storms of 40 years have seared across Dartmoor and battered the coasts and estuaries of South Devon since we left. I now live on the edge of a different moor and when I climb (map in pocket) to its highest places, I pause just for moment or two and, in perfect peace, face South towards that other moor, now so far away in time and distance, and remember and wonder. The landscape will have changed. Exeter will have changed. I have never returned since the day I departed from No. 44 in July 1959. So all the photographs are the real thing. They could not be anything else.
I leave you with this final photograph of two Exeter students standing on a rock on Dartmoor forty two years ago looking confidently across the Moor and into the future stretching before them. I hope they had happy, fulfilled lives. There were some very stormy times ahead. Like our expeditions, nothing ever goes quite as you expect. So many of the high hopes we had in the late 1950s were dented by the shocks of the 1960s and 1970s and, in the next two decades, it sometimes seemed that everything we had hoped for had all but vanished into the gathering storm - and no Mr. McMartin with his comfortable coach and cheerful smile to take us back home.

For us the age of high hopes has, after 40 years, given way to the age of digital communication. We are assured by our leaders that this is the way forward now and this will provide a better, more prosperous society. So pack up the rucksacks once again as we head off together into this new digital age. I suspect it will not be as good. Past experience suggests it may not work well. But best foot forward: new paths to traverse: new vistas ahead. Time to get started while the day is new and the sun shining. Now where did I put that map?