At ninety three years of age, Marjorie James was the oldest certificated student teacher who was awarded an honorary degree at a special ceremony at Goldsmiths in December last year.
She stood tall and proud in the Marquee reception afterwards, surrounded by her family and explaining to the Warden and other senior University figures how thrilled she was to visit Goldsmiths, University of London New Cross for the first time in her life.
This is because despite studying hard for the intensive two year teacher-training course between 1944 and 1946, she had never set foot in the main college building or its campus and grounds in Deptford.
In 1939, Goldsmiths’ College was evacuated to Nottingham and several hundred New Cross students joined University College Nottingham’s undergraduates and just over one hundred other teacher trainees from the Institute of Education in Bloomsbury.
In the first history of the College published in 1955, titled The Forge, the Warden at the time, Arthur Edis Dean wrote:
In the as yet unrevealed conditions of possible aerial attack some doubt had been expressed about the choice of Nottingham as a war-time refuge but it was evident from the first that the choice was a happy one.
The reception at Nottingham was very friendly, and Goldsmiths’ was generously treated in the matter of accommodation in the excellent buildings of the University College, particularly on the residential side.
A fine hall of residence (Hugh Stewart Hall) was placed entirely at the disposal of Goldsmiths’ College and housed 220 women students, together with half-a-dozen members of staff and the Warden and Mrs Dean, who lived there throughout the war […] circumstances in the shape of bomb damage in London kept Goldsmiths’ at Nottingham throughout seven sessions, during which well over a thousand students passed through the College.
Marjorie started teacher training after D-Day 6th June, and the battle of Normandy and during the ill-fated Operation Market Garden in the early autumn of 1944.
She had completed her schooling in Blackpool over a period of nearly five years of war-time conditions since September 1939:
When the time came I applied for a place at Manchester University and also at Goldsmiths. Both applications were successful. I chose Goldsmiths. One of my teachers had been to Goldsmiths and told me about the successful and happy time she had had as a student there.
Marjorie remembered being interviewed by a very charming woman who was easy to talk to and was responsible for the English curriculum. It is these first impressions that persuaded Marjorie that two years in Nottingham would be preferable to Manchester: ’She was fairly young, good-looking and very organised.’
Over the two years on the certificate course she studied English Language and Literature to an advanced level, History, Geography, Handwork, Principles and Practice of Education, Physical Education and Health.
She did her teaching practice at a junior school in the centre of Nottingham and was supported by ‘a very kind headmaster’ who was a ‘very good disciplinarian’ and would come and sit in her classes from time to time and offer mentoring and feedback.
Marjorie says life:
…did not seem to be too affected during time of rationing and shortages. I lived in College in Hugh Stewart Hall- a grand building within the gardens of the College. No male student was allowed to visit us in the Hall. Students had all their meals in Hall. We were issued with our one pound of marmalade which had to last a month. In college we could get a cup of coffee.
We still had our weekly dance in the College which I believe was in the lower Hall. The students had their own student band. This entertainment was the highlight of the week on Saturday evening.
It was a long walk from College to the local bus stop to travel to Nottingham. The bus came infrequently due to petrol rationing and students hadn’t the money to spend in Nottingham. A weekly wage could then be £5.
Marjorie James enthusiastically contributed to the Goldsmiths History project with an elegantly hand-written account of her time training to be a teacher during the last years of the war.
On April 1st 2019 she wrote:
I am now 93 years of age. I grew up through the war years. It didn’t seem to me an unhappy time. People were very kind to each other and everything was rationed. No-one seemed more fortunate than anyone else.
I very much enjoyed my years as a Goldsmiths student. It is hard to believe that I had never seen Goldsmiths College in London until I came first before Christmas to be awarded my degree in Education.
I have always been in touch over the years and had the magazine and had my book on Blackpool placed in your library.
After I was married I taught for a while and had my two children. Life was very involved, but how wonderful to have been able to visit Goldsmiths just before Christmas and to have been awarded my degree- even at my age. There was a great welcome. It was a very happy time and I feel very privileged to have been a student at Goldsmiths.
The College magazines published during Marjorie’s time with Goldsmiths in Nottingham present a very lively student culture.
They enthusiastically caricatured their lecturers:
Student artists also amused themselves sketching the sporting pursuits of women students playing tennis and rounders.
As far as she could remember, Marjorie says:
…the different cultures of Goldsmiths’ College, Institute of Education and Nottingham University College mixed very well. There were two main rooms. One for Nottingham men students and the other for female Goldsmiths, and a third called ‘a mixed Common Room’. All three rooms were used for leisure time.
The art-work produced by students hints at their preoccupations with war-time food:
the challenges of living away from home:
and the pressures of studying and taking exams:
Here I met my future husband Boyd James. He had been interviewed by the War Office, but could not be accepted due to his inability to see certain colours. He was taking a degree in engineering. He went on to become Senior Partner in an engineering and architectural practice which became the largest outside London.
We were married a year after our student years ended and were married for seventy years. He died last May. A very happy marriage with lots of memories.
The Second World War occupied all of Marjorie’s teenage years:
I was an only child. Goldsmiths taught me to be independent. The wonderful private boarding and day school I had attended in Blackpool encouraged me to work hard and have responsibilities.
My father, who was a captain during the war, was away from home, except for his army leave. I lived in Blackpool with my grandmother who was 85 years old. We had a very quiet life with ‘blackout’ in the evenings, except when there was an air-raid by enemy planes.
We had air-raid wardens who patrolled the streets to check that we had no lights showing. I can remember reading my home-work by torchlight.
When I travelled from home to Nottingham by train I remember that all stations had had their names removed so that a spy during the war would not know where he was.
At the age of 84 Marjorie completed her illustrated history of Blackpool: Progress with Pleasure.
She described the great impact of the war years with ‘thousands of troops … mainly training and marching on the promenade.
Sometimes from school we played hockey on the beach between rolls of barbed wire.
Evacuees poured into the town and the landladies had a busy time.’
Marjorie had vivid and evocative memories of the student celebrations for Victory in Europe and Victory over Japan (V-J) days during 1945:
I was still a student when the end of the war with Japan was announced. Goldsmiths’ students celebrated by joining all the people thronged into Nottingham to watch the fireworks, and as I learned afterwards, to paint the stone lions in Nottingham’s Old Market Square. I shall never forget it. There was so much noise and people were dancing and singing.
Marjorie James passed away on Friday 31st May 2019. Her son-in-law wrote:
She was at the hairdressers having just had a colour and set, put on her lipstick and dropped like a stone. If we all had a choice as to how to go, I cannot think of a better one!
She did so enjoy picking up her degree last December, albeit 73 years late.
Marjorie was one of the most enchanting Goldsmiths’ College alumni collecting her degree at Christmas 2018.
Her poise, concentration and precision of conversation left a deep impression on all people in the current Goldsmiths world who had the privilege of meeting her.
Goldsmiths is proud to have her wonderful book on Blackpool in its library and her memories of life as a student between 1944 and 1946 in its archives.
Coming soon: That’s So Goldsmiths: A History of Goldsmiths, University of London by Professor Tim Crook.