Winters at Keele

All alumni recall those lazy hazy summer days on Keele Hall lawns, but winters at Keele are just as memorable but more often associated with mud than with snow!

A common experience across many Keele generations is the use of dining trays as toboggans Here are some stories - most of the "action photos" are supplied by Martin Whatley (1986).

"On a winter's day, when the hill behind Keele Hall was covered in snow, I joined an intrepid band of revellers who were tobogganing (using wooden trays borrowed from the refectory) down the hill near the hall to the lake. Great fun. Alas, one of the band was travelling too fast and slid briefly over the frozen lake, only to go through the ice. Rescue was prompt and they seemed none the worse for wear, as I recollect."

Philip Newall (1970)

"The recollection of the trays as sleighs brings back memories of 1967. It snowed on my birthday 6th December - the night Yoko Ono played Keele - and we started to sledge down the road on trays. Then the slope down to the lake behind Keele Hall was tried. So many trays went into the lake or were just lost that the catering officer had to appeal for them to come back. If you ever get short of trays, dredge the lake. However we never thought of waxing them - that is professionalism."

Richard Offer (1971)

kohp-trays "Anyone remember the cold winters and traying behind Keele Hall when we had heavy snow? The wind could be really biting. I was at Keele (Hawthorns) when the Government decided to experiment with British Summer Time and we ended up going up for lectures in the dark and coming back in the dark. Also there were bonfires in the distance (Shropshire, probably) of cattle in the Foot and Mouth outbreak. In warmer times, after exams, Market Drayton open-air swimming pool made a pleasant escape!"

Christine Shepherd (Langley) (1971)

"TIN trays - surely not? I have in my kitchen a tray stamped on the back 'made of genuine Sanenwood' (whatever that is) from Lindsay refectory which has been with me since 1972 and is still going strong. I also used to have one of the rectangular shelves from a desk unit which, being made of marine plywood (no expense spared for Keele students in the good old days of 1968-72!) made an excellent chopping-board, but that sadly has ceased to be. Refectory trays were used as improvised sleds when there was sufficient snow on the lawn down from Keele Hall to the first lake - the idea being to bale out just before reaching the Rhododendrons which grew beside the lake and which acted as a safety net to prevent those who forgot from an icy baptism. I believe that when the lake was dredged recently very few trays were found, so perhaps the bushes saved them too from a watery grave. This pleasure is denied current students due to: (a) the demise of the refectories and hence the supply of trays (tin or otherwise) and (b) the absence of the Rhododendrons as they have been removed as part of the restoration of the lake."

Peter Ball (1972)

"One Hawthorns fragment: probably in a bit of thoughtful allocation by campus admin, a fellow Cardiffian, Bob Jones, a would-be geologist, was my neighbour there in Foundation Year. I bonded with him and three other Hawthornians on a snowy night at the Lakes, tobogganing on borrowed refectory trays down to the water’s edge (in my case partly into the water, which meant an icy, squelchy walk back to change into wonderfully warm, dry clothes)."

Christopher Roberts (1972)

kohp-trays-note "I'm willing to own up to having at least three pieces of branded Keele cutlery and among them is a table knife stamped UCNS! These items have travelled with us to various corners of the world over the last 35 years, and are still in daily use. However neither Annie nor I managed to purloin a Horwood refectory tray to remind us of the occasions when in wintry weather we would slide down the sloping lawns of Keele Hall to end up in a tangle of leaves and limbs in the rhododendron bushes beside the lake. Were they or just humble anonymous items pressed into service as part of Mr Murden's grand plan to ensure the ubiquitous consumption of those platefuls of navarin of lamb?"

Brian Stewart (1972) & Annie Stewart (Cockerill) (1975)

kohp-trays-rlph-parker "Yes, we too used the refectory trays (melamine not tin) for "skiing" down the lawn - I think Roger would probably qualify as the inventor of the snow board as I do believe he went down standing up. Unfortunately after two runs the snow was worn out! Circa 1972."

Adrian Stern (1976)

"My favourite memory of Keele is sledging with friends on the refectory trays on the hill in front of Keele Hall, going so fast you shot on to the frozen lake."

Paul Austin (1980)

"I have some photos from the winters of 1983/84 & 1984/85 showing Ralph Parker and Georgina McKenzie using a mix of wooden and tin trays in the snow. I'd actually forgotten some were metal, but the picture proves it. I remember with the evening photos it being so cold that my flash gun stopped working as all the power was sapped from the batteries. On another occasion some-one got up so much speed they ended up in the lake, but I don't suppose that was an uncommon occurrence!"

Martin Whatley (1986)

kohp-trays-2 "During the mid 80s the trays were melamine and quite hard to remove on snowy days - Horwood refectory staff stood at the exits checking! For those that did manage to liberate a tray, the application of ski wax significantly improved performance. There was some sledging on the lawns, but for the more adventurous and hardy, the midnight walk across campus to the M6, then through the underpass, yielded much greater thrills, courtesy of an unsuspecting farmer with a steep field. The location was 52°59'20.64"N 2°16'16.49"W and is clearly visible from the M6 heading north. Despite the large number of people involved, we were never troubled about our trespass. Ah, those were the days..."

Jon Blamire (1986)

"I was introduced to skiing during the winter of 1950/51 on a slope somewhere above the first lake. However, my first attempt was also my last as I took fright at the speed and sat down for a more reassuring tobogganing mode of transport. Great laughter all round. Never was an athlete!"

Pam Lloyd-Owen (Harris) (1954)

kohp-skiing-1953 "The first winter after Keele was founded (1950-51) was particularly hard. The central boiler(s) for the heating system were not working or possibly not installed. It was said that they were made but had been shipped out to Germany. Probably fiction but it was a good story as we had all been taught old-fashioned Geography and knew where places were and the spelling of them. From the autumn opening personal electrical heaters had been forbidden in the huts on safety grounds which were probably to avoid overloading the system and to avoid the high and inequitable costs of the fuel. However, paraffin heaters were installed in the huts (never mind health and safety) and regular rations of the fuel had to be collected by the undergraduates. This not only marred many persons' clothing but produced the all-pervasive smell of the liquid which to some seemed a close relative of putrefaction. But overall it was the British rain which produced the clinging, everlasting mud that the building site which was UCNS became the hardest part of any winter, and, indeed, other seasons. When in the 1950's Flanders and Swann produced their Hippopotamus Song with the glorious refrain of "mud, mud, glorious mud" it was hailed as the anthem of Keele."

Bill Lighton (1954)

Photo above: "It never ends" - tobogganing on the lawn December 2010 Photo by Jon Knight (1987)

kohp-michael-payne-skiiing "I too remember the winter of 1950-51, especially as I came from the far west of Cornwall, where snow appeared only for a few days every four or five years. That first year at Keele was very hard. I remember hearing of a breakdown of heating on the men's side (Horwood Hall) in the winter of 1950-51, though not on the women's (Lindsay Hall). . Memories of cold, snow, gorgeous landscapes - and mud! - are part of the experience of that first exhilarating winter. There was a hiking and Youth Hostelling club (the Moccasin Club) which spent a weekend in Derbyshire during that cold winter. We called in at the highest pub in the Peak District and they could not serve hot tea or coffee. Cold drinks only were offered, until I suggested hot orange squash. Soon everyone had changed their order to that. I do not remember any trouble with the heating of the huts on the women's side of the road. My memory of the huts was that they were always deliciously warm in comparison with home, where a coal fire scorched our faces whilst a cold wind whistled under the door and froze the backs of our legs. Neither do I remember having any heating other than the central heating radiator in my room of the hut."

Pam Lloyd-Owen (Harris) (1954)

Photo above: Skiing at Keele hall by Malcolm Payne (1969)

"Our recollection of the winter of 1950-51 is also that the huts in both Lindsay and Horwood Halls were warm and Margaret and I don't remember any heating in our rooms other than the central heating during our undergraduate years. I also remember the winter of 1955-6, my first year as a research student, when there was a lot of snow but by that time I had a room in Tony and Annis Flew's house on the Larchwood estate."

Harry Heaney (1954) and Margaret Heaney (Rogers) (1954)

"It was the 1962/63 winter that was particularly hard, but I think we were cushioned at Keele. When I got home at Easter I hadn't realised what problems the big outside world had been faced with - my parents had suffered frozen and burst pipes and no heating. I was brought up in a granite school house, and from the age of eight had to cycle four miles every morning to catch the South Wales express from Malvern to Worcester. In cold spells, the frost would pattern the inside of my bedroom window; you had to chip it off to glimpse the wintry world beyond. At school, the mediaeval classrooms were just as charnel-like. All-day long, you were chilled to the marrow. Keele was a revelation. Comfortable beds and - most important - constant central heating in the huts. In my experience, it never failed. And considering how thin the walls were, it was remarkable how well the insulation worked, for the huts were always snug and welcoming. Happy days."

Patrick Campbell (1957)

hut-snow "Those were indeed the days. We in the huts felt strengthened by the adversity of winter, and we delighted in high summer and the grounds in blossom - some of us even waxed poetic about it! As for the" Glorious Mud" song, it lives on - I sang it in a recent stage performance, with visions of "the way things were." I could almost see the sticky red mud on my boots again."

Tony Powell (1959)

"That was truly the worst winter – we got married in Dec 1962 and we hoped to move into a newly built house - however the builders could not plaster the walls because of the ice and we were unable to move in until May. I was amazed at the heating at Keele - and at home how hard my father worked to keep the fires going, (coal, of course) with draughts and scorching down one side."

Dot Bell (Pitman) (1959)

"Centrally heated Keele was wonderful after the unheated bedrooms of home and the shortcomings of coal fires in terms of draughts and one scorched side. Coming from the south, snow was a far more regular feature of Keele than I was used to. Moisture-laden winds from the Irish Sea tended to whistle over the Cheshire Plain and discharge their load on us. We sometimes had snow when it was clear in Newcastle. I remember the enormous icicles that grew on the shady side of the huts, some almost reaching the ground. This no doubt reflected the amount of heat leaking from the huts via single glazed windows and uninsulated roofs. I also remember Prof Stan Beaver getting very excited about a combination of snowstorm and thunder which is apparently rare in Britain."

Tony Scrase (1960)

icicles "I'm sure it was 1958/59 - somewhere in the detritus of a lifetime I have a photo of myself at the Hall gate - I'm in a wheelchair with various others around me and the snow is inches deep. I can remember people tobaggoning on refectory trays. My Christmas journey to my Aunt's in Peterborough took 15 hours - 4 changes and long waits, with a porter for each stage, incredibly. It was too bad to get home to Norfolk at all that winter and my grandmother couldn't get to Peterborough. The journey back was even worse as there had been sudden thaws, then refreezes, then snow in East Anglia. Our hut was warm but the most wonderful thing for a farm labourer's son was that you could have a hot bath at any time without having to light the copper, fill it, wait, fill the tin bath in front of the coal-fired kitchen range and then toss a coin to see whether I was first or my brother. And the loos were inside! It is hard these days to imagine the shock of arriving at Keele and discovering luxury. That winter was followed by a gloriously hot and sunny summer, most of which I spent on the veranda (in bed and plaster from toe to hip) of the old Potteries isolation hospital. Keele arranged for me to borrow books from the Library: regular deliveries kept me sane and I was able to read widely."

Ned Lusher (1960)

"Students in the 1950's must have been a particularly hardy lot if they though the huts were warm and cosy in winter. I occupied one of the blue (formerly green) huts where the library now stands. The winter of 1958/59 was so cold that icicles hung like teeth from the roof. There were radiators in every room, but I think that it depended upon how close to the boiler you were, how hot they were. Ours were never more than lukewarm. Electric fires were forbidden and would fuse the system if used; however, Kathy Horsfield, ever resourceful, fitted extra thick fuse wire and we managed our illegal appliances, no doubt putting ourselves and everyone else in severe danger. We hid them during the day as Mary Wilson suspected the ruse (but did not suss the fuse!) and instructed the cleaners to search and report wrongdoers. As we were never caught the cleaners must have remained loyal to us".

Sheila Everard (1961)

budd-car "It was 1962 and a Saturday evening, either 24th November or 1st December. We'd all struggled down to the refectory for the evening meal in torrential rain and got soaked in the process, so we didn't feel like making a quick getaway. Then somebody came into the refectory and said "Have you seen the snow?" and we all fell about laughing at the joke. But then we realised he wasn't joking and looked outside. The snow was coming down so fast that it had turned the wet on the roads to ice and was settling fast. The next morning we woke up to about a foot of snow, drifted in places to fill in the hollows completely. I was in Hut 20 (first hut on the right-hand side going up from the back of Geography towards the Profs' houses), and down the corridor from me was Mike Matthews (1965) who was KUSU Treasurer and had polio as a child. He had a little red Bond 3-wheeler parked outside that he used to get around. But it was completely snowed-in. We were faced with either going to get some breakfast for Mike from the refectory, carrying him there and back, or digging the car out. We chose the last and rallied round and cleared the car itself and our bit of road down to the Geography building and the main drive from the village. We got Mike in the car and pushed him round to the main drive which already had deep wheel-ruts in the snow. "I'll be fine now," he said, "I can follow the ruts". Unfortunately all the other vehicles had been 4-wheelers, so Mike's front wheel went straight up on the ridge between the ruts, turned sideways and nearly threw the car over. The only way it was controllable was if three or four of us sat on the bonnet and a couple of others held the back down. So we made it to Keele Hall in a way that would give modern Health & Safety an immediate heart failure since those sitting on the bonnet had to call out instructions to Mike, who couldn't see a thing past us. Great fun! Of course it was a Sunday, so nobody was out clearing the roads either on- or off-campus and we were effectively cut off for about a week. Then it all went away, only to return for the New Year. Jill and I came up early, it being our Final year, and had to dig ourselves into Sneyd after a somewhat hair-raising train and bus journey from Bradford. Funnily enough, the rest of the '63 winter almost passed Keele by - we had a permanent dusting of snow barely above the top of the grass while the whole of the rest of the country was completely buried and at a total standstill from till April. But that was before Global Warming."

Jill Budd (Garnett) & Tony Budd (1963)

Photo above: Mike's snowbound car

budd-geol-bldg "I went home and my parents had no water for months as it froze underground. They were using a stand pipe! I loved the central heating at Keele but mainly I loved the country in winter."

Jean Vann (?) (1964)

Photo right: Geology Building 1962 by Tony Budd

"The winter of 1962/63 was fabulous and the huts were extremely well heated - so hot we had to open the windows! I certainly remember it being hard getting up the slight incline from what is now the Student's Union towards the road to the Hawthorns. And what I remember most, apart from the snow and the cold was the welcoming sound of 'Green Onions' and the warmth emanating from the Students Union - well, the hut which housed it at the time."

Penny Jones (1966)

budd-in-snow "Keele Winters in the first half of the 1960's (and probably all other years too) were particularly brisk. Walking up to Physics or Chemistry from breakfast in just a shirt and pullover was a strange obsession. I remember Kathleen Weir (L block) always slept with her window open and woke up one morning covered in quite thick snow. There was a very friendly jackdaw around at the time that sometimes came into the rooms. We called it Snodgrass."

Richard Tedstone (1966)

Photo right: Tony Budd in the snow 1962

"I remember coming to Keele for my interview early in 1963 and there being deep snow on the ground. I also remember being accommodated in a hut after the interview, but when I arrived as a student, I was put in Horwood Hall and stayed in that block for all four years of my student life."

Hazel Miles (Woolston) (1967)

"I had just started my postgraduate studies at Keele and was really still unsure whether I was doing the right thing or not. So for a weekend I, and my then girlfriend, went off to Wales to a hotel on the coast near Harlech in North Wales that we used to frequent. We woke up on the Saturday morning to a dull cold December day. Nothing unusual there. I put the TV on to find that the whole country was under a deluge of umpteen feet of snow that was all except where we were. We decided to head back home to Brum. One of the longest and most scary drives I have ever done without winter tyres and in an old Maestro car, not the most reliable of vehicles. First I dropped my girlfriend off in Birmingham and then me back up to my digs 10 miles from Keele, near Stone. Dodging half-buried cars and jack-knifed lorries was only half of it, ice and snow drifts another story. When I got back to my digs I had to dig my way into the car parking area of the house that I was in. For the next day or so it did not stop snowing. When the snow finally did stop it lay at nearly five feet down the lanes and higher in the drifts that had not been cleared by ploughs. This was not going to be an easy time. I couldn’t drive into college so decided to trek it across-country and lanes. What should have taken me normally three and a half hours to walk the ten miles took me nearly seven. When I got to Keele I had never seen a place to beautiful in its snowy blanket. Most students had stayed in their living quarters and not ventured out but I could not believe the transformation from drab winter colours to a translucent opaqueness of colours. A truly stunning sight. I wondered around the campus in awe at the sights and emptiness of the place. I explored the woodlands and areas that you wouldn’t normally bother with and in each there was something totally magical and awe inspiring. The bridge that goes over the lane to the Clock House looked like some entrance to a long lost kingdom in Narnia or Lord of The Rings. I actually slept rough in my department for three days until I could get home and saw only two tutors and a handful of the department’s students in all that time. I even found an old tea tray in the department and went sledging on it down by Keele Hall with a couple of friends. Great fun until I cut my hand on a sharp stone. It was a magical winter wonderland that has and will always stay with me."

Andy Glover (1993)

snowball-2017-emily-horsfall mr-frosty-andrew-cousins-2017 The lightest slow flurry is enough to build a snowball in January 2017 - Emily Horsfall (left) displays hers at the foot of the Library slope - the effort was shared by Jake Timpson, Marcus Keely, Beth Fine, Grace Alexander, Luke Everton, Chris Lo and Dom Holmes. This one on the left by the Library clearly was not finished until it was too dark to continue!

And on the right, an honourable mention to Andrew Cousins (1998) for his Keele-clad Mr Frosty, made in December 2017.

snowball-2017-group Photo left: "I was woken up one morning in the winter of 1964 by my block mates at Lindsay D block, who dragged me out of bed to look at snow, the first I had seen in my life after a childhood in South America. I took the day off, a rare event because I was very conscious of the privilege of being at university, and the fact that my father was paying the fees. After snow fights and walking round campus with my Brazilian automatic umbrella (a great novelty in those days) I went to the Students’ Union canteen, and sat at the junction of the plate glass windows in the far corner opposite the library, watching the snow flakes coming down, grey when seen against the sky, then magically white seen against the ground."

Jim Thompson (1968)

The next two photos below were by an international student, Ahmad Nizam Abbas who experienced his first snowy day at Keele around 1990:

kohp-trays-1990-cars kohp-trays-1990-gate

"Keele winters! There was invariably snow - and tobogganing on refectory trays - and snowball fights. I recall the battle of the Moberly Steps when Al Forster, Dave Radstone and I took on Nick Edgerton and John Parker. Nick was amazing at making snowballs and throwing them. John despite 1st Class Honours, was useless. There was also Horwood E versus Horwood B in 1967. The freshers in E block were also useless. They let B Block in. Phil Bradbury slept with his window open - ground floor of F block. He woke up with snow on his bedclothes, thrown in by the same useless freshers from E block. Better though, I remember the trees around the lake covered in snow. There was a brick hydrant or some such in the lower lake, attached to the shore by a bridge."

John Meager (1968)

Below is a picture taken by Richard Burgess after the Winter Graduation 2013.