St. Luke’s College, Exeter c. 1970
To arrive at St. Luke’s one morning in mid-September ’69 was the beginning of an awareness of the strength of interaction between social groups; a selected mixture of both privileged private and state students embarking on their careers. Recognition through sporting achievement may well have influenced their acceptance at Luke’s rather than more academic and studious minds but the next three or four years would provide an introduction into the unique professional world of teaching.
This time of year was always an awesome experience for ‘Freshers’. Names of lecturers with international acclaim and distinction, past students of sporting legend, and an underlying religious mood of an establishment over a century old, all contributed to overwhelming feelings of what was to happen next. Only recently had the College accepted a small minority of female students, seen by some older lecturers as warning signs of deteriorating social change in a male-dominated world. It was a crack in the establishment, weakening its position to the expected levels of most university students beginning a far more liberal and informally structured period of learning. Appropriate dress code was still an expectancy in some areas, particularly PE, but a more informal routine was developing throughout the College.
The formality of lunch and dinner taken after prayers in the refectory had already become a choice with self-service canteen arrangements proving more popular.
The high-arched entry at the front of the College, leading through the main cloisters down the steps into the quadrangle of grass preserved all year for the lawn tennis events in the summer, was impressive. ‘Keep Off!’ notices were generally sufficient to deter those considering a short cut during the day but, under the cloak of darkness, many students returned to their halls of residence late in the evening to find their room transported to the middle of the quad minus its walls!
Buildings surrounding the immediate square soon became familiar: the Student Common Room, Chapel, Student Union Office, Baring Court, Gymnasium, Swimming Pool, Haighton, the Library, the 1st XV Rugby pitch and Redgra area which separated a corner before rejoining the Refectory, Canteen and the new South Cloisters student wing. Continuing to move clockwise, another set of steps led past the Principal’s Room and various secretarial offices back to the main entrance.
Personal thoughts and feelings were interrupted by a first day itinerary which you missed at your peril! However all freshers were in the same position and a camaraderie quickly developed alongside your initial acquaintances and experiences of College life. A more comfortable routine followed with a knowledge of the City, where to go, what to do, who to avoid. This was quickly learned as were names of students, some on campus and others who seemed to mysteriously appear for lectures from lodgings in the near vicinity, Magdalen Road, Heavitree and beyond. Other parts of the College became evident and added to this confusion; Rowancroft Court was another new residence half a mile up the road past the traffic lights. Some commuted from other towns and villages like Exmouth, Woodbury and Topsham. In the meantime I felt happy to be ‘on campus’ if only to get my bearings. Allocated to South Cloisters was modern and comfortable compared with the digs of my first two friends who shared more primitive accommodation in Baring Court, nicknamed unfortunately as ‘The Stables’.
Uniformity in most aspects of this new way of life developed with studies and friendships. Students were proud to purchase their identity with light blue sweatshirts with the black cross keys emblem of the Chapel and St. Luke’s College, Exeter boldly printed across the front. Dark and light blue striped scarves, ties, sports bags and various items determined your belonging. PE students displayed the individual colours of their sporting affiliation and clubs. With a personal timetable of first and second subjects and a study in Education, friends were not hard to find.
However, as students developed friendships in their year and through studies, clubs and social activities, there was an ever- increasing ‘rumble of drums’ from a group which had taken over a small corner of the common room from morning break until the end of each day. They appeared to be increasing in number as the term went by and were conspicuous by their alternative colours. Their dark blue replaced the light blue and their emblem was a hawk with the word ‘Killerton’ taking pride of place before St. Luke’s College. A different community was establishing itself in the common room! Moreover the hot dogs and beefburgers were disappearing fast before the end of first lectures. These students kept close together, appearing to uphold a superior status, were aloof, spoke a different language, had a leaning towards facial hair and tobacco – they were Killerton students and had taken over a corner of the common room.
Why were they at St. Luke’s?
Were they part of the College?
Where were they from?
‘Outside the City, somewhere north near Cullompton. They’re bussed in each day. They’re the same as you.’
Why are they different?
‘That’s just the way they are. They have digs on a country estate owned by a wealthy family.’
Who gets selected for this place?
‘Don’t know. It’s just the way it is.’
Killerton was like Narnia, some place possibly reached by going further north than Rowancroft and Heavitree before disappearing into the woods of Cullompton. These were the days before the M5 showed directions to Killerton; when students travelled along the A30, cross- country. This place was largely unknown territory to all but a privileged few known as Killertonians who had set up in St. Luke’s but they were different. They were the chosen few; they had their own facilities and clubs and they had taken over part of the common room!
The Invaders from the North became accepted as part of the College, albeit somewhat suspiciously at times, as they integrated through lectures and studies during the first year. They still appeared from nowhere and went back to nowhere as far as most of us were concerned. It was only at the beginning of the Summer term that the significance of Killerton and its people became clearer.
For a few weeks there had been much excitement created by the forthcoming, most important event in the social calendar : the Summer Ball – held at Killerton! Tickets were golddust, local buses were booked for students to journey into the unknown and hopefully return. The main band was Argent (Hold your Head High) and expectations were going to eclipse all previous end-of-year celebrations.
Somewhere along the line, my introduction to Killerton came a few weeks before the Ball. A sub-committee of Luke’s/Killerton students had been set up to plan arrangements and organise everything. I ended up with a party responsible for digging large turves from Killerton garden to create latrines enclosed by 6 foot high tent walls.
At some time one afternoon a message was sent for us to meet Sir Richard Acland who wished to acknowledge our efforts on his lawns. We were invited to tea (actually it was copious amounts of sherry!) inside his house. I can vaguely remember a room off the main hall as his ‘study’, listening to the man who held a high reputation as both a senior lecturer at St. Luke’s and a prominent public figure. His upper class accent, his eccentric mannerisms, whilst friendly and informative, belonged to a most likeable and charming character. I understood now that this was a special place for the chosen few privileged to share for a short period in their lives, his ancestral home, Killerton.
The Summer Ball came and went almost as quickly as my time at Luke’s. Later in my life and career as a teacher I met Stuart Leach who had been a Killertonian at Luke’s around the same time. We now share a few pints once a week and reflect upon old times. I knew he must have been one of those faces I could remember amongst the tribe that had taken over that corner of the common room forty odd years ago!
Michael Woodman was a St Luke’s student from 1969-73 specialising in PE and English
Hope you enjoy these memories!