Memories – 1965 to 1971

Tony Dobbs (1968), Chemistry, has shared some memories of his time at York.

At school, in 1964, I was considering different options for my UKAS application form. But it was pretty much a case of elimination. I was at a comprehensive school in Harlow, Essex. I had failed my German O level and Latin was not an option in my school; this took out Oxbridge from the list immediately. I wanted to study Chemistry and many Unis wanted a foreign language at O level as an entry requirement, so that removed another tranche. I had been in, just about, the first year of entry at my school and liked the idea of being ‘first footers’ in an institution, so York was attractive from that point of view, as was Lancaster. 

After putting in my application with its 6 possible Courses, I was offered an interview at York and can recall arriving in the town by train and standing at a bus stop waiting for the bus to Heslington. It was my first trip ‘up north’ and I was shocked when someone spoke to me at the bus stop. This did not happen where I came from. My interview was with David Waddington, in what appeared an empty Chemistry department. I can recall that he seemed very relaxed and the interview must have gone quite well because I had an offer from York of a conditional place based on me getting 3 E’s or better in my A levels. This was a very good offer and contrasted with, if my memory serves me correctly, 2C’s and a D offer from Lancaster. I accepted the York offer and started there in 1965 doing a BA (an influence of Oxford, I think)!

After acceptance, I was told I could have one year out of the three on campus and decided it would be best for this to be my final year. I applied for digs and found some in Bootham Terrace with Mrs Moat. I stayed there for two years. Every Sunday, it was part of my rent that I was given lunch with the family. This was another cultural shock because the first course was Yorkshire pudding with gravy, followed by roast beef with veg. Mr Moat was an ex-Rugby League player with bad arthritis and their son, still at home, was about 5 years older than me. To start with I took the bus. I think it might have been a 9A to and from Heslington, later I used a bike. My grandfather had been a postman in Southend all his life, except for service in WW1. When he retired he kept his bike and somehow it came into my possession in York. It was a real ‘sit up and beg’ style, no gears and rod brakes. There were no bike helmets in those days but I did find a bowler hat from somewhere and wore that sometimes. I wish I still had the bike, it was a classic. During the day, I used to leave it in the car parking area beneath the Chemistry labs.

I was assigned to Langwith College, at that time the only other college was Derwent. The lake was under development and Barry Thomas, a post doc in Chemistry, was active in populating it with ducks, I believe. My tutor was Bruce Gilbert. I suppose Bruce was only a couple of years older than me. The department was all new and felt it. When not at lectures, practicals, tutorials or seminars I would hang around in the common room or bar and sometimes use a vacant seminar room or visit the college library to complete an essay (the main library was built later). At the weekend and/or during the week we would visit pubs in town and a friend, Mick Shearer, set himself the challenge of visiting every pub in York; at that time I believe there were several hundred. Another friend, Jim Forsyth, and I started a frequent “Granny takes a trip” group pub crawl some weekends and most terms ended with a ‘pub walls’ pub crawl. As numbers of students increased during my three year undergraduate years, the dances were able to attract bigger names bands and I can recall the Who, Jimmy Hendrix, Pink Floyd and Nice all appearing at dances. Until recently I had an unused ticket for Cream, a gig they never made, because they suddenly succeeded in the USA and went there instead of York. I played rugby for the Uni, second or third team only, changing rooms were below the Chemistry block and I started a water polo team using the Councils’ pool by the Cattle Market. It did not take us long to discover that pubs near that Market were open all day on Market days. This was in the days of strict licensing hours. During my vacations I worked in a steel pressing mill, the post office and an employment exchange. I had a government grant but this was not at the maximum and had to be supplemented by money from my parents. All fees were paid. In term time I had to manage on about £10 per week but £1 was enough for an evening out in pubs with enough to end with fish and chips, invariably from Petergate chippy. When I was first in York it was not uncommon to find pubs with men only bars and sawdust on the floor. There were also some no-go areas in town for students. A special treat was tea cakes in Betty’s or a meal in Dirty Dudley’s in Bootham Bar.

In my third year I had a room in college and Alcuin and Goodricke colleges were opened and I believe the Central Library. I can recall evenings in Langwith bar, where White Room by Cream seemed to be endlessly on the juke box. There was even the odd excursions to Alcuin and, more rarely Goodricke bars. All the bars had dartboards, bar billiards and table football. The “foam in” night in the quad of Langwith was a quite bizarre and memorable experience. On occasions, Chemistry dept lecturers would have a pint with us in the Charles X11th and we would give feedback about their lectures. My practical partner was John Fuggle. He was a skilled worker but often we did not agree on the best approach so would work individually and share results. This suited us both very well. I can still recall going to finals in Central Hall. It was a tense time. Even after all these years, I still sometimes have dreams (nightmares?) about them and trying to do last minute revision.  

After I graduated, with a BA in Chemistry, I was offered the chance to do a doctorate (a DPhil) in York with Bruce Gilbert and Richard Norman as my joint supervisors. I had ambitions to become an academic and this sounded perfect. I was awarded the John Rex Whinfield Medal for my finals result and this gave me sufficient money to take my new wife on our first skiing holiday, as a honeymoon treat, in the winter of 1968. 

When we first moved to York we rented a three bedroomed, three-storey terraced house in Avenue Terrace, Bootham for a weekly rent of £4 10 shillings. It was so cold there in the winter that the toilet and water pipes regularly froze and we sometimes woke to find frost on the bed spread. I can recall, while there, we rented a TV specially to watch the first moon landing. Later we were lucky to be able to move into a flat in Heslington, 1 Peel Close. This was great for my work but not so good for my wife Linda who worked for WH Smith in the city centre. It did give us easy access to the social life of the University and we specially enjoyed the films shown by the Film Club.

My research work went reasonably well although I was working fairly hard; I can remember working late into the night and being last out of the lab. A friend from undergraduate times, Mike Chiu, was doing research with Brian Sutcliffe and he managed to get a computer programme from the US to do molecular orbital calculations on the University mainframe. The program came on IBM punchcards and we had to rewire a card copying machine to convert the card format of every, and there were hundreds of them, card. It was an exciting and rewarding time workwise but I managed to keep sporting, with rugby and squash, and social interests going.

The best years of my life? Quite possibly but certainly fondly recalled. 

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