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All manor of mischief (Nonesuch autumn 2015)

Manor Hall

Image courtesy of the British Council. University of Bristol Library Special Collections DM249/8.

6 November 2015

Manor Hall opened in 1932 as a women-only residence. Here, Lilian Brown (née Oakman) (BA 1951, Cert Ed MA 2005) and other alumni share their memories of life in Manor Hall.

Lilian Brown (née Oakman) (BA 1951, Cert Ed MA 2005)

My stay in Manor Hall began in 1948. We were expected to hotfoot it back from lectures for lunch, and assemble for dinner every evening. We would wait while the staff and our warden, Gladys Morgan, proceeded to the High Table and then stand for the Latin Grace. Latecomers – heaven help them – had to adopt a penitential posture until Gladys chose to acknowledge them with a brusque nod of the head.

Food was still heavily rationed until 1951, my third year in Hall. There were national penalties for wastage, so perhaps Manor Hall could be excused its seriously bad dinners. Protests from the Junior Common Room (JCR) were useless until Marjorie Avery (BA 1950) called a secret meeting. Rebellion! The High Table arrived to an empty gallery. There was official displeasure but the food did improve.

Gladys took her loco parentis duties very seriously. Your own front door key? Certainly not. Male guests had to be signed in and out, whatever the time, and there were rumours of a tunnel under Wills Hall that enabled assignations after hours. We had to find devious means to beat the system and did, even though we faced severe penalties. Even for a minor offence, you could be ‘gated’ for a week and expected to report daily to the office.

Once, returning from a party I really hadn’t wanted to miss, I faced the small problem of the gate to the garden. Its height was not insuperable. All I had to do was place my feet between its top prongs – my legs were long enough surely – pull myself up and jump down. Simple. I transformed into a crouching Quasimodo figure, humped over the gate, trapped by my jammed shoes. It was too risky to untie my laces, but I was constantly lit up by passing cars, and exposed to the officials in Clifton Hill House. Feeling the breath of both wardens on me, I took Shakespeare’s advice: ‘desperate diseases must have desperate remedies’. Clinging on with one hand, I managed to untie my laces, get my feet out of my shoes and somehow jump down. As I did so, the gate swung open!

Ruth Burle (née Gregory) (BA 1948)

In our first term we had to invite the Warden, Mrs Skemp, to afternoon tea in our rooms – a bit of an ordeal as she was a slightly awe-inspiring figure. My roommate and I decided to decorate our room with a few calendars, fastening them to the walls with Elastoplasts (as we were not allowed to use drawing pins). Unfortunately, during the tea party, they dropped to the floor with a series of resounding clangs!

The theft of our dinner gong by members of Wills Hall was also an ongoing tradition. One day we staged a reply by climbing through Wills Hall's windows and sewing up the bottoms of several pairs of pyjama trousers. We didn’t stay to see the results!

What happy days those were! I count the four years I was lucky enough to spend in hall as one of the happiest periods of my life. My husband, who was in the forces and about to go abroad on duty, was allowed to spend part of the night before his departure with me in the Reception Room before going to catch his train – quite a concession to be entrusted with the front door key in 1947!

Jill Watkins (née Ilett) (BSc 1954, PGCE 1955)

When we were students we were not officially adults until we were 21, so Hall Wardens were in loco parentis. Consequently there were strict rules about when men could visit: Wednesday afternoons and evenings, and similar times on Saturdays and Sundays. All men had to be out by 10 pm and had to be in their Hall by 11 pm.

We were allowed a maximum of two weekends away per term and had to ask the Warden for permission. Shared houses outside Hall were rare, and landladies were known to say that young men became immoral after 6 pm, so no visits were allowed. Life is a bit different now!

I met my husband, Dr David Watkins (BSc 1955, PhD 1959), in the Fry Haldane gym in the Victoria Rooms during his Freshers' Week in 1952. Most couples met at dances organised by the Folk Dance Society, and the Scout and Guide Club attended every week. It had a bit of a reputation as a marriage bureau at the time.

David and I were married for 56 years before he died last April. We were very grateful to the University for its role in getting us together. Because of the visiting restrictions during our time at Bristol, we discovered many of the secluded seats on the Downs and which was the best place to say goodnight outside Manor Hall!

Richard Adams (LLB 2004)    

I spent three years at Manor Hall between 2001 and 2004. My stomping ground was Richmond House, one of the annexes, and we formed a close-knit group who could be counted on to make our regular pilgrimage to the Hall bar to socialise with our counterparts from the oddly numbered corridors in the main building. It’s amazing how an eclectic mix of people, personalities and aspirations can co-exist and form a solid community and lasting friendships.

Some of the best times were the events hosted by the JCR. They produced the weird and wonderful: from garden parties with paddling pools, adult Punch and Judy shows and BBQs in the rain (sometimes the sun!) to black-tie formals for the (supposedly) more sophisticated. There were also theme nights, barber shop quartets in the library and the porter dressed as Santa Claus at Christmas.

I also had the privilege of being part of the JCR and cut my 'financial' teeth as treasurer and latterly as bar manager. Working collaboratively and making a difference is something that Manor Hall fostered.

And my life certainly changed when I was at Manor Hall as I met my wife during her Freshers' Week. We have been together ever since and now have a beautiful daughter. I don’t think I will forget Manor Hall in a hurry! It is a very special place and will continue to be an amazing experience for all of those lucky enough to live there.

Howard Chan (BSc 2004), JCR President 2012/13 and winner of the Elton House Award in 2012

I was nervous living away from home at first. I arrived a day early and was clueless. Dr Martin Crossley Evans is a charismatic yet very approachable character. Everyone loved him from the moment he made his welcoming speech to all newly admitted residents.

One of my favourite places is the music room, where the piano is. I often spent my time there playing the piano and taking breaks from my busy University and Hall schedule. I did share a kitchen which was all dandy until petty thieves from other flats started stealing our Ben and Jerry's ice-cream! Guard yours carefully!

Marziana Mahfuz (BSc 2009)

Having chosen the seemingly most economic hall close to campus, my expectation of Manor Hall wasn’t much. But I was wowed by the building, the large vintage-looking room that I got and the cool crew that was waiting with a warm smile to welcome me.

Then came the rituals. In the evening, we were introduced to the JCR, heard Dr Martin Crossley Evans' speech, and were introduced to the kitchens and the Manor Bar. Forty eight hours later, we were Manorites, and I had met the people who became my friends for life.

I still have evenings when I want to be in the kitchen where I spent three years hanging out with friends, or sitting at my windowsill watching the moon go down behind Cabot Tower late at night. I miss the smell of Manor Hall, which always intensified every time I walked in to the Warden’s office for work, for de-stressing, or catching up on hall gossip. Even after I finished University, I kept going back to Manor Hall every Christmas to enjoy the Wardens' Christmas meal that he throws for students who don’t go home for the winter holidays. Almost a decade later, the story of Manor Hall and I still has a long way to go.

Shirui Zhu (BEng 2010)

It was my first time away from China and my first time in an English-speaking country. I was definitely nervous but also excited! One of the Manor Hall tutors picked me up at the reception and helped me feel at home.

My journey in the UK started in the kitchen. The kitchen was the place I got familiar with British culture. I made so many friends, and learnt how to cook so many different types of food from all over the world!  Dr Crossley Evans cared about us like we were his own children. Under his direction, I volunteered in the Manor Hall charity committee for three years, organising a variety of activities. 

Edward Beech (BSc 2012, MB ChB 2015), current Manor Hall Association Chairman

I'm now ashamed to say that Manor Hall wasn't my first choice, having been an infamous 'Goldney reject' but when I arrived at Manor I immediately fell in love with it. On our first evening, we were introduced to the one and only Dr Martin Crossley Evans. In subsequent years we played intro-bingo with his favourite anecdotes in his welcome speech: the one about the baked beans in the oven; the one about restricting noisy music and copulation; his surprising knowledge of garage, house and acid music; and of course the number of times he said the word 'community' (his record is 16). I’m honoured now, through my time in Hall, to call him a friend. 

My favourite place in Manor Hall is the garden by the main building. At the end of our first year, an unnamed faction of the University came to tell us our barbecue and inflatables extravaganza did not have the correct insurance: they ordered us to cease our garden party immediately. Our spirits sunk at the same rate as the deflating bouncy castle, until one of the committee brandished our insurance certificate. Before long, the Pheasant Plucker was once again flowing and our cash-and-carry meat tepidly cooking. 

I have so many memories of Manor Hall, all of which have made me realise what a special community (!) we have. Most of all though, I look forward to the memories we still have to make – as Bristol alumni and more importantly, as Manorites.

Amelia Parsons (MEng 2012)

Living in Manor Hall was like acquiring a massive family. In my first and second years I lived in Sinclair House and enjoyed the close-knit community of five-person flats, no doubt due to the fact that Dr Crossley Evans, the Warden, put a great deal of effort into trying to put people together with shared interests that might get on well.

I got involved with the JCR, and the formals and the summer garden parties were a particularly good opportunity to be creative. One year I perfected the art of making parrots out of socks for a 'Splat the Parrot' game for a pirate-themed garden party.

My memories of Manor Hall are made particularly special due to the fact I met an intriguing person called Frank when he was playing in the band for the 2008 Christmas formal. I ended up marrying him on a beautiful day in June 2012 in St Paul’s Church, wandering over to Manor Hall for afternoon tea in the garden, and enjoying music and dancing in the evening.

Richard Buxton (MSci 2015)

My first impression of Manor Hall was of a big, old building with huge bedrooms looking out over the city. Having taken a year out before University it wasn’t my first time away from home, but this made little difference to the shock of entering University life. I quickly found support within the community, especially in MAD, the drama society. The Warden (who was also my senior resident) lived directly below me.

My year was the final cohort before the 2012/13 refurbishments, and my room had some very dodgy plumbing. One night in October, I went out without realising that the tap in my room had become slightly stuck and was filling the sink. The drainage was also problematic, and by the time I returned, at about 2 am, the sink had overflowed and spilled water all over my floor, down the walls and down to the storey below.

Damage to the Warden’s pictures, wallpaper and CD collection was initially estimated at about a thousand pounds. Some sympathetic flatmates and I found ourselves spending the small hours of the morning with the Warden spreading things out to dry – an interesting first meeting!

Further information

Manor Hall Association celebrates its 90th anniversary this year, after originally forming in 1925 as the Elton House Association. You can keep in touch by becoming a member on their website.