Higher education postcard: dinner time!

This week’s card from Hugh Jones postbag is a three-course affair

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

Tuck in, everybody!

Here’s a fantastic card showing students dining at Avery Hill College. The card was sent in 1927 – by this time, Avery Hill had been operating as a teacher training college under the auspices of the London County Council for 21 years.

Its buildings were the former mansion of John Thomas North, the “Nitrate King”, who had made a substantial fortune in nitrates when Chile annexed Iquique in Peru, and granted rights to the bondholders (of whom North was one) of the existing nitrate works in that area. (Nitrates were the key component of gunpowder: North grew rich on the nineteenth century’s appetite for explosions, in industry and war.) The college later became part of the University of Greenwich.

The ancient universities were residential – students were members of a very real, semi-religious, community, with different rules and a different justice system than those which faced the medieval laity. The refectory – most commonly used to describe the dining room in an abbey or monastery – was a communal dining space, and the habits of this live on today in some universities.

Medieval refectories also required medieval kitchens. Here is the kitchen at Christ Church College, Oxford, from an 1813 painting reproduced on a postcard from the #HigherEducationPostcard collection.

The kitchen dates back to 1525 and in 1954 was given grade II listed status. It continues to be the working kitchen for the college, although one imagines that a more modern or hygienic arrangement for cooking may by now have been installed.

Of course, most universities in the UK are not ancient, and are not collegiate, residential universities. But nevertheless students and staff have to eat. And more modern approaches are normally taken.

Here, for example, is the Writz restaurant, at Writtle University College (keen readers will recognise this from a previous blog, by the way).

More prosaic than the Christchurch kitchen, but also less intimidating than a formal dining room, you’ll almost certainly have a similar facility at your university.

Another example is this dining room within Hope Hall at the then University College of the South West, Exeter – now the University of Exeter.

Hope Hall is no longer, I think, a residence, but still provides good dining on campus in Exeter – proper cloth napkins and everything. I’ve only been there once but I suspect that the dining hall is part of the restaurant there now.

Back to Avery Hill. Although it looks pretty formal, my guess is that this was a regular evening meal at the college, with a high table for the principal and senior teachers. Probably grace would have been said, and students would have expected to join in the conversation.

The card was posted on 11 July 1927 to Miss Francis of St Margaret’s at Cliff:

Once again I’ve arrived home quite safely after a most happy holiday with you all. Pleased to say I found all at home quite well, and Ma as usual. Pa met me at station at 10.30, so that wasn’t too bad at all! Don’t feel too brisk today but cheerio. I’m looking forward to the next so hope you are better. Love to all, Hettie. (excuse card)

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