Outside of joining societies, feeding the ducks, or attempting to gain a degree, accommodation is at the heart of the student experience at York. It’s also made unique by the college system, giving each accommodation block its own distinct personality and social life. As we celebrate our 60th year, Alumni Voices takes a look back at accommodation across the decades.
The student bedroom is a particularly special place: it’s where you unwind after a long day, hang out with housemates, and pull many all-nighters for those exams. We dug out as many photos as we could find of student rooms from across the years. Journey through York’s accommodation over the decades and take a look at how times have changed.
In the early beginnings of the university, there were only two colleges which students could elect to stay in: Langwith and Derwent. Both were opened by the Queen in her famous 1965 visit to campus, where it was reported that Her Majesty was impressed by Heslington Hall but ‘did not like the new colleges’.
Rooms were grouped in single-sex with shared common room and dining facilities. Study bedrooms were furnished with ‘plain, heavily textured fabric and hessian and light wood’. In the latter half of the 60s came the additions of Vanbrugh in 1967, and finally Alcuin and Goodricke in 1968.
In the early 1970s the fifth college of the university opened: Wentworth. A prospectus from the time remarks that some of the colleges had been ‘built at a time of financial stringency’, but that the architects had managed to retain ‘many refinements’ such as washbasins in all bedrooms.
Sharing a bedroom was also common for many students. The same prospectus asserts that separations between roommates ‘occur very rarely, though of course they can, if very much demanded, be arranged.’
By the 1980s the colleges at York housed 1,480 undergraduates. In 1982 a single room for three terms of undergraduate study would cost you £435. Each college boasted its own common room, dining hall, bar and library. Langwith college even had one of the only open-air chess boards in Britain.
One former student, Jim, reminisces on his accommodation: “I lived in Wentworth C block in my first year in 1984. My abiding memory is being told early on that it was known as ‘Cell Block’ because of the breeze block construction. On the 2nd day I was there, the tap on the sink in the room sprang a leak and ran hot water continuously into the sink. The same day, a kindly plumber knocked and set about the fixing the tap in prompt and effective manner, which I must say was a huge relief.”
As the university continued to take in more students, many lived off campus too. Places like Fairfax House, Eden’s Court, Halifax Court (which later became Halifax college in 2002), Garrow House, and Holgate Hall all housed students off campus.
The 90s also saw the opening of James college. Initially intended for postgraduates, the college opened up to undergraduates under the ever growing student population.
As technology evolved so did the needs of students, and it was in the 2000s that wifi was installed across campus. A 2002 prospectus claimed that ‘The University plans to install telephones in all study bedrooms as part of a major programme to improve student accommodation’.
The 2000s also brought plans to build an even bigger campus on what is now known as Campus East. In 2008 construction started and finally, Goodricke college was officially opened by the Duke of York as the first Campus East building in 2010.
In 2012 Langwith college moved to Campus East, followed by the opening of Constantine college in 2014 (after Roman emperor Constantine the Great). In comparison to the older colleges, the newly designed accommodation blocks boasted 3/4 beds and modern furniture. Campus East alumni may remember the painted walls in shades of mustard, orange, teal or purple, and pinboards jam packed with photos of family and friends.
Campus East continues to expand and in 2021 opened the doors to a new college named after diarist Anne Lister (the first to be named after a woman). Finally in 2022, David Kato college opened in honour of human rights defender David Kato. With the university continuing to grow, who’s to say there won’t be more colleges opening in the future.
We hope you’ve enjoyed looking at these photos and taking a trip back through memory lane. Whatever new technology the future brings, we’ll always have a soft spot for Derwent and its 1960s architecture.