Hut life

Modern-day students at Keele University seem to enjoy a luxurious array of well-equipped and comfortable accommodation choices. By comparison, student accommodation in the early days might appear more rudimentary, but Keele’s Pioneers loved their "huts".

How did the campus look when the University opened in 1950? After years of neglect the estate was in a poor state and occupation by military forces from 1940 to 1948 had an even more damaging impact. Little permanence existed beyond Keele Hall and the Clock House. A sprawl of 80 temporary buildings and 60 dilapidated huts (with wooden walls and asbestos compound roofs) clung together for warmth on the barren wind-swept scrubland which formed a transit camp for military personnel and postwar refugees. These huts provided accommodation for Keele students and even some of the staff late into the 1960s. The pride and glory were the two large semi-circular Nissen-style huts which housed the original Students’ Union and Chapel until the early 1960s.

"The huts were certainly warm and well-appointed. When any Oxbridge students came to visit, they immediately remarked on how warm and comfortable we were by contrast to their chilly and apparently Spartan existence. We had Dunlopillo mattresses. And the main drawer in the desk where one would expect to find pencils and suchlike was fitted with a mirror. We understood that the desk was thus classed as a dressing table and avoided purchase tax. Coming to Keele straight from Army life, it was interesting to find in hut life something of the barrack-room camaraderie and learning of tolerance, although the relative privacy of individual rooms and a maximum of seven occupants per hut was luxury. One student whose name I have forgotten built a small properly-mortared brick wall as a divider and bedside facility in his room."

Martin Tunnicliffe (1956)

Only two of the original army huts still survive - brick ones with chimneys. The Post Room now occupies one and is located between the Chancellor’s Building and the Science Learning Centre. These particular huts were not used for accommodation but for storage and workshops - and they have a protection order on them. They are usually called the Bungalows nowadays.

Shedex adventures

kohp-huts-yeomans "In 1958-59, Hut 10 ('Shedex') held eight students including five freshers, Keith Yeomans, Alan Berry, Tony “Tub” Gibson, Brian “Mato” Withington and Jeremy Steele. Alan was especially keen on music and notably Mozart, Tub on cooking (he ran a pub in the Lake District with his mother), Mato was interested in philosophy and anything, Keith had a three-wheeler car, and Jeremy was Australian and had lived in Italy. When we enrolled in 1958 it was compulsory to wear gowns to lectures. Everyone had to own a gown, and my own gown cost, if I remember rightly, £5. In those days this was a substantial sum, about a week's wages. In our year there had been an intake of 200 students. We reasoned that that amounted to quite a bit of potential demand, and that not all students would necessarily want to own a brand-new gown. We also suspected that graduating students might not be anxious to hold onto their undergraduate gowns. So we pooled our meagre resources, and placed a notice on the dining tables, to the effect that Hut 10 would buy old gowns. Well, the sellers duly turned up after breakfast having read the slips of paper on the tables, and for a few shillings each we bought what gowns we could. Some were quite good, while others were battered and torn. And at that stage, all broke, we departed to begin the long vac, and to our vacation employment and holidays and the like. I was sick with anxiety at the amount of money I had invested in the useless gowns, and the others perhaps felt the same.

"When the 1959 year was about to begin, the Hut 10 entrepreneurs turned up on fresher’s enrolment day, a day ahead of our now second-year contemporaries. We prepared a notice for the breakfast tables in the manner now familiar to us, and while some went down to distribute them, the remainder carried on getting the gown stock ready. We had hung the better gowns on coat hangers from the exposed joists in the rooms on Hut 10. And having done this, we thought why not try to do something with the remaining torn gowns and those with paint on them, and the like. So with cotton and thread and a minimum of stitches we closed gaping holes, and with boot polish or similar we re-blacked some of the paint smears and other blemishes, and finally all the gowns — there might have been 25 of them — were all on display, at prices from around ten shillings for the worst ones to three pounds for the best. Before we had finished this preparatory work the first customers arrived, and eagerly took possession of the gowns. So much so that almost before we knew it, every last gown had been sold, even the most audaciously restored ones. And with nothing left to do, and incredulous at the fistfuls of notes in our possession, we took ourselves off to the RAF Hut to join our fellows to tell them the result, before they had finished breakfast themselves, such was the spectacular success of this business venture. This feat was never remotely approached in my subsequent professional career."

Jeremy Steele (1962)

Photo above: Yeomans, Gibson, Steele

kohp-huts-keith-yeomans "On one occasion Keith Yeomans had been somewhere for the evening and had decided to retire to recuperate. Aware of his deep sleep since he did not wake when we entered his room, we first put a doormat on top of him. When he neither stirred nor woke up we progressively added a bathmat, a holdall, a chair, a Nigerian cap, a toy kangaroo, rubbish bin, lamp, cap, car wheel, fire extinguisher, guitar, and jammed something underneath the mattress, and added who knows what else . With still no result we finally we gave up, took a flash photograph, and left him to it. Several hours later there was an understandably irate roar of rage from his room."

Jeremy Steele (1962)

Photo right: "Yeomans sleeps through it... "

We acknowledge the work of students Jess Lukat (2010) and Sam Shephard (2010), who compiled parts of this feature as part of their History studies at Keele.