Val and Ken Wyatt, College employees from 1974 to 2007, were interviewed by Old Member Alison Sanders.
Val started work as a scout at Queen’s in 1974. She had previously done some work in the College washing up. Like many College employees, she was following a family tradition as her Mum had also worked in the College’s Old Lodgings as a scout. Val retired when she was 60 after 30 years with the College. She and her husband now live in a Queen’s College property called God’s House in Southampton.
Ken started working at the bar in the Beer Cellar in 1978. He did part-time bar work at Queen’s for 11 years and then left to do another job before coming back to work for the College in 1998 when he and Val both managed the Florey building and lived on site.
There were only 15 women in the first year of co-education but Val and Ken thought that they had a real impact on humanising Queen’s. Val said that, as a scout, she found that some male students could be very demanding, wanting things way beyond what scouts should do.
Val sometimes helped Ken when he was on duty in the bar. Initially they were not sure how many women would come to the Beer Cellar, if any. They were pleased when they did and particularly remembered Alison, Heather, and Wendy from that first intake. They said that when the first girls came to the Beer Cellar it went completely silent and then everyone rushed to talk to them.
Val and Ken said they felt protective towards the women, particularly against the language used by the men. Women made the College a more integrated place, it was very different, with a more polite atmosphere.
Women really lightened the atmosphere of the whole College. Before women joined, the conversation in the bar was dominated by sports. Women had many more different topics of conversation. Ken particularly remembered his interesting chats with Helen, a Danish graduate. Women were generally easier to talk to and the Beer Cellar began to attract other men who previously would not have gone there.
Ken remembered a Tis Was night in the Beer Cellar when lots of drinking competitions were held, when three blonde women got locked in with the men playing drinking games. They came out of it pretty well but everywhere was flooded with water and beer and the staff had to get rid of it by scooping it into the urinal in the gent’s toilet drains.
Nigel Lewingdon, the Steward, taught Ken about running the bar. He had good contacts at the brewery and ran the cellar well. Ken also worked outside College at the Grove Cranes Works and Club and when women entered College, he organised visits of interested students to this club to play darts and aunt sally. Women made these visits much easier as they mingled and socialised well.
When they managed the Florey building, they had parties and barbeques to show they appreciated the students and to get to know them better. These were always really good and improved the atmosphere there. There were some interesting events though too. One student liked to skateboard along the corridors but went out of control on the third floor and crashed though the end window. Fortunately, he manged to hold on to the window frame but his skate board fell to the ground outside. Another time the police had to come to deal with an amorous couple doing things they shouldn’t just outside the building in a very public area! It could be difficult managing the building as there were some facilities in the vicinity which attracted potentially dangerous people.
Particular memories they have are:
- Holding a leaving do at their house for Janelle, an American graduate. It had a wild west theme and they had hay bales in their garden. Lots of people from College came and it was a great event for students and staff. Even Professor Angus Bowie joined in!
- One of the 1979 women had an all-night party in 1981 at her parent’s house in Bicester. It was in the wing of a country house and lots of people were invited. Ken remembers still playing croquet with Dave Hamill (future Australian MP) at 5 am and Val says she must be the only scout who has woken up with her students!
- Val once dusted Dr Hill’s chemistry molecule model and mistakenly got some of the pieces out of place. Dr Hill was not amused.
- Ken identified an original Lowry painting in one of the rooms in College. It was subsequently moved to a safer location.
- Val and Ken really enjoyed working on the balls held by Queen’s. Everyone was so beautifully dressed and very civilised. However, it was hard work with lots of fetching and carrying for the staff. One year the chocolate fountain in main hall was particularly messy and some guests got into a real state!
- At Val’s private 60th birthday and retirement party, Val’s very first student was invited along. Val remembered cutting his hair when he was an undergraduate. She stayed on that term to see his son also enter the College.
Val and Ken really enjoyed working in the College as it was like one big family, everyone knew everyone else and many people had relatives working there. Now the College is run less like a family, although they have found a lovely warmth and inclusiveness.
They made some very close friendships with some of the students over the years and they are the adopted grandparents to the children of one of the women students; they went to her wedding and regularly visit the family.
They have very fond memories of their time working in College, especially Val who was there for most of her working life. They now divide their time between Southampton and France and love visiting their seven grandchildren and three adopted grandchildren.
Sue Williams, College employee from 1974 to date, was interviewed by Old Member Alison Sanders.
Sue started work at Queen’s in 1974 aged just 18 years old. She got the job as an apprentice chef by chance when she asked at the Porter’s Lodge if any jobs were available. She was the first woman in this role in the Queen’s kitchens. She worked in the kitchens for four years and attended a day college for one day a week to learn the detailed skills necessary.
Later on, Sue left the kitchen and worked in the Beer Cellar serving drinks and as a scout in Little Drawda Hall. It was hard work being a scout as you had to carry all the cleaning equipment and the hoovers were particularly heavy. She loved Little Drawda as it had lots of character and overlooked the beautiful Nun’s Garden but there were lots of stairs and little nooks and crannies to clean.
Sue really enjoyed working at Queen’s as she liked seeing all the different people each in the College, it was like a big family, and there was always lots of things going on and people to talk to. “Everyone looked after everyone else” is how she put it.
When she and the other scouts first heard that women would be joining the students in the College, they were a bit apprehensive and unsure, but not negative. All the scouts knew it would be very different. The bar staff were concerned that not as much beer would be drunk!
Sue thought that women in College changed the atmosphere for the better as there was more warmth; Beer Cellar discos were more popular and the College became much calmer. For Sue as a scout, she found that women tended to lie-in less than the men so there were fewer ‘don’t disturb’ signs on doors. She also said that most of the women had lovely rooms with beautiful things and lovely bedspreads, unlike the men who generally had quite spartan rooms and just coffee mugs.
She thought that women entering College made it a more open and balanced place socially; there were fewer lonely people and people mixed well. Sue’s first recollection of women was at lunch when someone asked for a half portion of chips – this had never been asked for before! Women also challenged the type of food the rowing team got when training for races and it was changed so there was less carbohydrate content.
Before women were in College, the Beer Cellar tended to be dominated by the more sporty men who liked drinking beer. However, the arrival of women changed this and many more different types of non-sporty men started to come to the Beer Cellar to drink. This meant that the Beer Cellar needed to stock a wider variety of drinks. The Beer Cellar was manged by Nigel Lewingdon who was a real cellar man and the quality of the beer served was very important to him. He looked after the barrels of beer carefully and Wadsworth 6x was always served in good condition and the barrels needed to be tapped and beer settled.
Now in the Beer Cellar, the beer is less important to students, they want a different range of drinks and also different types of food. The menu now has Italian, Chinese, and Thai food and the kitchen staff are much more aware of the need to provide food for people with allergies. The kitchen is busy all year round too, as in the holidays they are doing food for conferences and summer schools.
Sue thinks that the use of technology means that generally students are not seen around College as much now. In the ‘70s and ‘80s there were no mobile phones and, amazingly, only two or three public payphones in the main College buildings so students had to talk to the people around them. Now with social media, people can take their friends with them to university.
Sue has been particularly impressed with current students getting involved with helping local disabled children through the KEEN project – Kids Enjoy Exercise Now. This initiative has spread from Oxford to London and the USA.
Some stand out memories for Sue are:
When the Queen Mother came to College in 1981. All the cloisters were freshly painted for the visit and she made a special visit to the Hall to thank and wave to the kitchen staff.
Sue used to do the football teas and loved to get involved in the highs and lows of all the Queen’s teams. When Queen’s won Cuppers two years in a row, the team filled up the cup from all the different optics in the Beer Cellar and it tasted surprisingly nice! They then ran around all the colleges with the cup.
Once she was kidnapped from the beer cellar by two rugby players from Jesus and Lincoln who carried her off to Lincoln for a drink and then let her go – it was all very good humoured.
Some students often asked to take their drinks with them when the Beer Cellar closed but one group forgot to mention that they lived in Iffely Road! Sue got into trouble for this.
When the weather got cold one year some of the rooms were freezing as they didn’t have heating or fitted carpets. One student complained that his goldfish bowl had frozen over, trapping the poor fish under the ice!
Sue is looking forward to the new female Provost taking up her post. When she came to interview, she talked to all the staff, including those in the kitchen, showing an interest in everyone in the College.
Sue worked in College full-time until she had children and then she worked part-time in College and part-time in a local school. She is still working part-time in the College kitchens. The kitchens have all been refurbished really well, and are now located downstairs in Back Quad where the showers used to be. She thinks she will retire eventually but still enjoys working there. She still loves the people in College and the excellent roast potatoes!