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We met at Bristol (Nonesuch autumn 2014)

Chris and Betty Birch

Chris Birch (1946-50) and Betty Birch (née Andrew) (BA 1951)

Stuart and Sheila Woods

Stuart Woods (BVSc 1968) and Sheila Woods (née Carter) (BVSc 1968)

5 November 2014

It's no surprise that many alumni meet their future partner while studying at Bristol. Here four couples share their stories.

Chris Birch (1946-50) met Betty Birch (née Andrew) (BA 1951)

Betty and I met on the very first day of the autumn term in 1948, when I sold her a copy of the Daily Worker on the steps of the Victoria Rooms, then home to the Students' Union. I had been at Bristol for two years, reading Botany with Microbiology and Chemistry, and I was Secretary of the University student branch of the Communist Party. Betty was a fresher from Northamptonshire who had come to read history.

Betty joined the party, and consequently we saw a lot of each other in the following months. It wasn't love at first sight but I gradually realised that she was a remarkable woman: intelligent and sensible, serious but good company, and physically attractive. And she seemed to like me. But it wasn't until March 1950 that I proposed – not kneeling, but sitting on the front upstairs seat of a double-decker Bristol bus.

We got married in the Congregational Chapel at Rothwell, Northamptonshire, that September and then returned to Bristol for Betty's final year at university. We found ourselves a nice flat in Rodney Place, Clifton, but we weren't there very long. The November issue of Nonesuch News, the student newspaper, had a front page story with the banner headline, 'Communists get notice to quit'. The story began: 'Chris and Betty Birch, who got married last summer, have been evicted from their pleasant Clifton flat because they are members of the Communist Party.'  We moved to Cornwallis Crescent, and Betty collected her degree on 3 July 1951 from Sir Philip Morris, Vice-Chancellor, standing in for Churchill. 

After Betty graduated, we moved to London where we have spent most of our subsequent years. We have been back to Bristol many times though, including 2009 for the centenary celebrations. 

We both remained members of the Communist Party until it wound itself up in 1991. We celebrated our 60th wedding anniversary with greetings from the Queen and a big party at Fulham Palace in 2010 and our 64th at a small restaurant near our home in Fulham.
 
Betty became a teacher and retired as Deputy Head of Hurlingham and Chelsea comprehensive school in Fulham in 1985. Chris became a journalist and edited a news magazine for 13 years. He was elected a governor of Chelsea and Westminster Hospital in 2007 and hopes to serve until 2016.
 
We have two children, four grandchildren and one great-granddaughter, who lives in Bristol with her parents. We have very happy memories of our time at the university just after the war.
 

Sheila Woods (née Carter) (BVSc 1968) met Stuart Woods (BVSc 1968)

We first met in the anatomy dissection room in the Vet school (over a dead dog!). Our first impressions of each other were not dramatic - we were probably overcome by the surroundings and the smell of formalin!

Socially, we led separate student lives for the next three years until we were thrown together when we moved to the Langford Field Station for our final year. Stuart, never the most organised of students, needed Sheila’s notes to revise from - at least that was his excuse - and romance blossomed. We thought we had succeeded in keeping it under wraps until the academic staff sang a little ditty about it for the Langford pantomime. Sheila’s maiden name was Carter, which gave them immediate rhyming access to 'garter'.  The rest is probably best left to the imagination - scandalous! 

We got engaged a week before finals and married the following year.  Unfortunately our children elected to go to other universities, despite our prodding and happy memories, but perhaps the next generation might be tempted back to Bristol  in due time – we have our fingers crossed!

Karen Simmonds (née Barker) (BA 1994) met Chris Simmonds (PhD 1995)

We met through the Underwater Club; we were both novice divers. We were friends for a couple of years, but then 'bumped' into each other in Gozo where I was on a 'dig' with the University and Chris was on a diving holiday with friends.

Then, we actually got together on New Year’s Eve in 1993, when Chris asked if I wanted to come along to the White Bear for the evening. I almost turned up too late - Chris was waiting with the landlord to make sure he didn’t close the doors before I arrived. We went down to the Victoria Rooms for a crowded Auld Lang Syne start to the New Year and I asked Chris if was going to kiss me – he did!

Nearly 21 years later, we have a 15-year-old daughter and currently live in the United States. We were married at Christmas six years ago - as close as we could get to our 'going out' anniversary.

Sonia Bedingfield (née Lough) (Cert Ed 1969) and Peter Bedingfield (BSc 1970)

It was 1969.  Pete was studying Aero Engineering at Bristol. I was a trainee teacher at Barrow Court.  We met on a blind date. Pete had a spare ticket to the annual university Rag Ball; I didn't, but I wanted to go.  My friend, Lesley, introduced us as he was a friend of her boyfriend. I made my own dress. In those days, we did.

Then, the spanking new Students' Union was the hub of student life. It was where everyone met up in the Long Bar, before going to dances where the bands playing were the likes of The Who, Pink Floyd, and Status Quo. But this was not a regular Saturday night dance, this was The Ball.  The men wore black tie, the girls wore floaty dresses. Dancing was in the Anson Rooms, another room had cartoons showing, while another was for sitting and chatting.
 
At the end of the evening, we both went our own ways only to meet again a week later. I was dressed up on the Barrow Court Rag float as it meandered through Bristol with the other floats, entertaining passersby and collecting money for charity. I noticed Pete was walking alongside.  He later invited me to the Engineers' Ball. The guys had hired a steamboat, the Waverley, for the evening to sail from Bristol under Clifton Suspension Bridge to Weston-super-Mare. What an amazing, romantic, fun evening that was with dancing and a steel band into the night. It was then that we realised we wanted to see each other more often.
 
That was 45 years ago. We still regularly meet up with friends from those days. All three of our children went to Bristol University, though each read different subjects.  The two eldest are married to Bristol University graduates.  We receive quite a few copies of Nonesuch between us! The question is will any of our six grandchildren become Bristol freshers in years to come? No pressure!

Want to share your tale of romance? Then get in touch at alumni@bristol.ac.uk - we'd love to hear from you.

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