Higher Education Postcard: Christmas special

Hugh Jones’s postbag has Christmas cards, of course

Hugh Jones is a freelance HE consultant. You’ll find a daily #HigherEducationPostcard if you follow him on Twitter.

The Christmas break comes at a welcome time for many in universities.

The first term is often challenging, both for academic and professional services staff, and also (perhaps particularly) for students: adapting to the academic demands of a new programme (or new level within a programme), making new friends, for some being away from home. For all, it’s a chance to recharge batteries, reassess priorities, mull on new approaches to old problems.

It’s also a time when campuses can get picturesque. The postcard above is from Queen’s University, Belfast, looking dramatic with a dusting of festive snow and a full moon to bring out the twinkle. This was the most popular choice in my Twitter poll to choose a card to represent Christmas, albeit that the choices were anonymised.

Universities are also significant for Christmas. For example, a staple of Christmas broadcasting is the 24 December Nine Lessons and Carols from the Chapel of King’s College Cambridge. It’s a favourite of Cambridge postcards (up there with the Bridge of Sighs as one of the most popular postcard views). Here’s one from the collection showing the interior.

This came second in the Twitter poll – an iconic Christmas building. The foundation stone was laid by King Henry VI in 1446, on the feast of St James (25 July, for those of you who aren’t Jacob Rees-Mogg). The Christmas eve service was first broadcast by the BBC in 1928, and you will either love or find tedious the solo tenor singing the first verse of Once in Royal David’s City.

Two other cards tied for third place in the poll. Remember, postcards were, back in the day, the equivalent of WhatsApp – with multiple post deliveries and collections per day, and picture postcards available from vending machines, you could exchange messages easily and cheaply. And so, cards could be used to send seasonal greetings.

This one showing King’s College, Aberdeen was sent on 23 December 1920, to an address in Edinburgh: “Palace Hotel, Aberdeen, wishing you a Merry Xmas + Happy New Year”. King’s College Aberdeen is one of the ancient parts of that University, Marischal College being the other. Founded in 1495, the closed crown at the top of the tower is an Imperial Crown, suggesting that the Scottish king – James IV of Scotland – perhaps viewed himself as an Emperor.

The other seasonal card is this one of the Technical Institute, Derby, one of the predecessor institutions of the University of Derby.

Of much later provenance than Aberdeen, the Technical Institute was established in 1892, growing out of a School of Art founded in 1853 (notice how words change over time: art then encompassed science and manufacturing – CP Snow might have been happier then…). The card was sent on December 23 1904, to an address in Derby: “To wish you a Very Happy Xmas and New Year”.

It’s been a pleasure writing for you in 2022, and there’s lots more to come in 2023. Do let me know if there’s a university or college that you’d like me to feature, and I’ll see what I can do.

Merry Christmas to one and all!

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