Early Days

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A wet Saturday, 31 October 1911, greeted the opening of Bingley Training College for women teachers. The Keighley News noted that the principal, Miss Helen Wodehouse was received with great warmth by the students (120 present at the opening) when she spoke on the ideals of the college.

Miss Wodehouse, pictured centre above, described her view in her opening speech. She had a vision of the future and students of later years would particularly applaud her hopes on freedom, poetry, nature, reality, mental sunshine, starry nights and fellow workers:- The first was the ideal of virtuous freedom. She said they could not afford to waste any time in treating anyone as a child… It was hoped that the teachers would learn to think and act for themselves. She hoped the students would come at 20 rather than at 17 or 18. Another ideal was that of keeping open the windows of the spiritual building.

It was possible to learn to be a good citizen at college and yet fail to be a good citizen of the world by failing to realise that a college was part of the world. She hoped that mental fresh air and mental sunshine would be developed in the students through their association with green woods and purple moors and the lovely stars of night…. in conclusion… the ideals of those who worked in that building might blend into one piece of poetry not unworthy of their fellow workers, or of the West Riding, or of England. (applause).

The naming of the hostels (or halls of residence) in 1909 was not an easy task. Initially it was proposed that they should be called Alcuin, Ascham, Priestley, Birkbeck and Acland after Yorkshire educationists. However, Miss Hermione Unwin wasn’t happy about this… “seeing that this was to be a women’s college and that they had a great Yorkshirewoman’s name in St Hilda… who was at least a vastly more important figure than Birkbeck. Hild would be much more appropriate.” Eventually, Miss Unwin won through and the halls were named after prominent Yorkshire educationists:-

Hild – St Hilda abbess of Whitby
Alcuin – Master of York School 756 AD
Ascham – Roger Ascham tutor to Queen Elizabeth the First born Kirby Wiske in 1515
Priestley – Roger Priestley, the discoverer of oxygen, born at Fieldhead, Birstall in 1733.
Acland – Arthur Acland a member of the West Riding Education Committee responsible for the new training college.

The Five Hotels Cecils : The hostels at Bingley College were seen by some as a lavish extravagance. The John Bull magazine compared them to the then luxurious Hotel Cecil in London:- “I will deal with the hostels first. Each is roughly about the size of the Hotel Cecil, and contains sitting rooms, studies, bedrooms, dining-rooms, servants’ rooms, sick rooms, and every sort of room that the authorities could think of.

It is in the general fitting of the place that the lavish expenditure shows, however. Beautifully polished pitch pine and marquetrie floors, mosaic pavements, electric lights and bells for every conceivable purpose. Steam heaters, radiators, transporters and lifts are everywhere, beautifully tiled lavatories and bathrooms (one bath for every six residents).

When one realises that the money for all of this extravagance comes from the wages of mill hands, who live in the humblest way and with whom it is no common occurence to have to go to gaol because they are unable to pay their rates, such prodigal expenditure seems almost criminal. Outside there are tennis courts, hockey courts, nice shady trees and stone terraces like a ducal mansion.

In the main college there are art rooms, microscopic demonstration rooms with special lights in the floor,science rooms fitted with sinks and water supply, “a nature room, laundry and cookery demonstration rooms… Every possible contrivance that could to make the place the best on earth has been installed. I did not see a joy-wheel, but I suppose there must be one somewhere”.

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