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Taking a trip back in time to the early days of Dudley's Teacher Training College

By Black Country Bugle User  |  Posted: April 29, 2004

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These demure young ladies, looking very prim in their uniform of white blouse and long black skirt or pinafore, stand arrayed on the steps of Dudley Training College in the early twenties. In front of them sit their august principal and matronly tutors, who will steer their young charges through two years of training before sending them out into the world as teachers themselves.

Our thanks go to Frank Higgitt, of Mary Road in Tividale, for this fine view of one of Dudley's oldest educational establishments. Frank is an avid postcard collector, with a special interest in views of the Black Country, so when he saw these for sale at a postcard fair he naturally snapped them up.

In the Edwardian period, the Board of Education had identified a serious lack of trained teachers in England. It was envisaged that after studying at a good secondary school until the age of sixteen, aspiring teachers would spend at least a year as a student teacher before attending a specialist training college. However, there was a dearth of teacher training institutions, and Dudley was selected as one of the appropriate places for the foundation of a new national training college. This was because Dudley was not only a populous district, centrally placed to serve the North Worcestershire and South Staffordshire areas, but also because of the huge number of schools within its boundaries. These included the boys' grammar and girls' high schools, specialist establishments such as the arts and crafts, technical and deaf-mute schools, as well as a higher elementary and some 20 council and voluntary schools, which would all be ready to receive the newly qualified teachers. It was hoped that the training college would ensure the "permanent elevation of the Castle Borough to a foremost position amongst the leading educational centres of the country".

Land in Eve Hill, belonging to the Earl of Dudley, was earmarked as the site for the new college. In 1908, a solemn agreement was drawn up between the Right Honourable William Humble, Earl of Dudley, his Dudley agent William Fossett Taylor, and "the Mayor, Aldermen and Burgesses of the County Borough of Dudley". For the considerable sum of £8,000, Dudley Council agreed to buy "a piece or parcel of land fronting King Edmund Street and Castle View, near The Parade, in the parish of Dudley aforesaid, containing in the whole eight acres or thereabouts".

The advantages of the site were not only its proximity to Dudley town centre, but also its lofty position, standing some 750 feet above sea level. It offered plenty of fresh air and a commanding view of both the castle and the open fields that surrounded Eve Hill at that time, before the creation of massive new housing estates later in the century. In fact, under the sale agreement Dudley Council were bound forever "to maintain a good and substantial boundary wall to enable adjacent land to be used for grazing or other agricultural purposes"!

A large new building in the graceful Georgian revival style was designed by the Birmingham architects Crouch, Butler and Savage, and the Dudley builders Oakley and Coulson were engaged to bring the design to fruition at a cost of £10, 799.

On 10th September 1908, a grand civic occasion witnessed the laying of the building's foundation stone, attended by the members of the town council, representatives of the Staffordshire Education Committee, and Dudley's leading residents, with the mayor, Alderman F.W. Cook, officiating.

The guest of honour was Georgina, the Countess of Dudley. She arrived in a motor car, accompanied by her daughters and daughter-in-law. The vicar of Dudley, Rev. A. Gray Maitland, opened the ceremony with a prayer, and an address by the Mayor followed, welcoming the Countess and looking forward to the advances in education that would be afforded by the college. Finally, the architect handed the Countess a silver trowel and mallet in readiness for laying the foundation stone. To the sound of cheering and applause, the Countess laid the mortar and tapped the stone smartly three times, saying, "I declare this stone well and truly laid". The stone bore the inscription: "This stone was laid by the Right Honourable the Countess of Dudley, September 10th, 1908".

Work on the college soon began in earnest, and another beautiful building was added to Dudley's architectural roster. The establishment lay on the east side of King Edmund Street, but was approached via Castle View. Visitors were greeted by handsome entrance gates and a lodge, before proceeding through the landscaped grounds, with their shrubberies, pathways, tennis courts and hockey ground.

The college buildings were constructed in red Leicester sandstocks, with Alton stone dressing, to reflect the architects' Georgian design. Upon arrival, the visitor passed through the large doorway, complete with elaborate pediment, into the entrance hall. Adjacent was the secretary's office and waiting lobby, complete with fine wood panelled walls. On the ground floor there was also a fully-stocked library which doubled as a committee room, a large assembly room capable of seating 200 people, four classrooms in the south wing, and dining room and kitchens in the west wing. The first floor, meanwhile, boasted a science lecture room and a state-of-the-art laboratory, two music rooms, and the Principal's and Vice-Principal's offices. Contact between the sexes would be strictly regulated, with separate common rooms and entrances for men and women.

The new college was opened by the Minister of Education, the Rt. Hon. Walter Runciman M.P. on 16th July 1909, and the first Principal, Ivor B. John, was appointed, and remained at the college until 1913. He was ably aided by his Vice-Principal Miss C. J. M. Hubback, senior lecturer Mr W.J. Lewis, and staff Miss E.G. Hearn, Miss M.M. Holliday, Mr R. Townsend, and Mr W.J. Holme.

Dudley Training College was an immediate success. Originally intended to cater for a hundred-strong student body, consisting of seventy women and thirty men, there was such an overwhelming demand for places that in the opening year, there was an application to the Board of Education for funds to build an extension.

By the time that Frank's photograph was taken in the twenties, J. Makepeace Forster Esq. had been appointed principal, and he sits on the front row with tutor Miss Sett on his right and Miss Wallis first on the left.

The training college was a day school, so the students who lived too far away to go home every evening took lodgings in town. However, by the twenties two halls of residence for female students at the college had been constructed. One, The Mount, was at Dixon's Green and accommodated some 23 students, while the North Hostel, built in around 1912, was within a stone's throw of the college. Shown on the bottom left is a contemporary scene at the North Hostel, again from Frank's postcard collection, with some of the hostel's fifty students relaxing around the lovely lily pond in its grounds.

As the century moved on, the college went from strength to strength, boasting professors and members of parliament among its illustrious alumni. However, many Dudley residents will remember the college mostly for its famous Rag Week, held in May every year. The colourful celebrations were held in aid of local charities, including the Guest and Burton Hospitals and children's homes. The students, garbed in fancy dress, would be up and about for "early morning raids" for donations from unsuspecting shift workers. The town centre would be plastered with bill posters and the pavements chalked. There would then be at least one procession of gaily decorated floats and lorries through the town, and there were increasingly zany publicity-seeking stunts. For example, in 1970 the local MP John Gilbert was "kidnapped" in return for a donated "ransom", and in 1973 two students claimed the world three-legged record! The money raised steadily increased year on year, ranging from £317 in 1949 to over £3,800 in 1972.

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