From the archives: Men, macaque monkeys and the demise of Ricky Road

Written by Current Affairs, News

Grace Dean looks through the Courier archives to trace the more memorable moments of Newcastle’s history.  

43 years ago – Mens no more?

In 1976 a poster in the Union announced that “The Mens Bar is dead…long live the ___ Bar!” Now known as Luther’s, the name of the Students’ Union has been a contentious issue for many years, and the poster asked students to write name suggestions on it. Proposals included “The Bloody Expensive Bar”, “The Stag and Dalek Bar”, “The Fox and Gynaecologist Bar” and “The Gaping Crotch”. A heated debate, however, saw over a third of students wish to maintain the name “Mens Bar”, and so the bar was known for the next 40 years.

This was echoed exactly 15 years later as the name of Mens Bar was once again the talk of the Toon. Following the Union’s decision to rebrand Mens Bar as the Stonewall Bar, a motion was brought to Student Council arguing that this change “fails to represent the desires and interests of the majority of students”. The motion reflected a vicious feud between the University’s Labour and Lib Dem societies, and then SU President Tim Farron, now former Lib Dem leader, found the Union a hotbed of accusations and counter-accusations of vandalism, homophobia and corruption. A homophobic crowd at the Council forced the name change to be reversed, and Farran himself attracted criticism for appearing to laugh at homophobic jokes. Then AU President Richard Bennett said: “The name of the Mens Bar is famous for upholding the values of Mens Agitat Molem. I’m jolly pleased and anybody who deems it sexist is narrow-minded, from the largest rugby player to the smallest ‘tiddlywinker.”

The Debating Chamber was full when the renaming of Mens Bar was debated in 1991 by members of the Lib Dem and Labour Societies.

Nationally, students in 1976 were infuriated after the Department of Education and Science announced a substantial tuition fee hike. The decision was estimated to affect around 25,000 home students and 80,000 international students. The largest hike was for UK-domiciled postgraduates, who would be paying £750 a year (equivalent to £5,303 now), marking a 312% increase from the previous fee of £182. It was hoped that these increases would save the Government approximately £28m, but Newcastle was concerned as to how the introduction would affect its 361 overseas students.

32 years ago – Ricky won’t give you up (and neither will Edwina)

Edwina Currie allegedly wrote in to the Courier. Her letter was as follows:

Musical history was also made that week with the release of Rick Astley’s debut album featuring the hit single Never Gonna Give You Up, which was a worldwide number-one hit and was the best-selling single of 1987. The Courier was full of praise for “the boy with the golden tonsils”, and the reviewer gave Astley “nine out of ten for the voice alone”.

Nine years ago – primate predicament

The Courier revealed that 27 macaque monkeys were among 24,696 animals “used” by the University in the 2009/10 academic year. This led to a legal case between the Faculty of Medical Sciences and the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV) which left the University “fearing for its staff”. After hearing of the University’s “highly invasive” brain experiments on macaques because of the publication of research articles, the leading animal rights group submitted a Freedom of Information request in 2008 to be given details of the licences held by researchers who conduct vivisection work with macaques. The University blocked the request, citing that the research was the “intellectual property of the staff” and thus divulging such information could impede their future work. BUAV consequently launched a tribunal. Adding fuel to the flame was a letter from Berlin authorities leaked to the Courier which detailed their refusal to grant a Newcastle professor permission to carry out similar experiments there because of concerns for the welfare of the macaques. Much of that criticism was directed at the intended training methods, which involved severely restricting the monkeys’ water access to only two days a week in a period of as many as 400 days which would mean that they could only quench this thirst by having their head immobilised in a primate chair. The German authorities said that, “in order to avoid a life-long suffering (thirst), the animal has to endure another considerable suffering (being immobilised in the primate chair)”. Many students understandably spoke out passionately against the University’s actions.

Eight years ago – Ricky on the Road to ruin

Ricky Road was eventually demolished in 2016.

After years of echoes reverberating through the Richardson Road walls, the rumours were finally answered; the University officially announced the upcoming demolition of the student accommodation site. With a reputation for being the most sociable halls at Newcastle, the building was as equally infamous for its grotty conditions as it was for its party environment, with a spokesperson saying how the site had “reached the end of its lifespan” with problems with infrastructure, utilities and heating. The demolition plans outlined in 2011, however, failed to come to life; the University hoped to complete the rebuild in 2014 at the cost of £9.5m, but this actually came much later on. The last residents of Ricky Road, as it was affectionately known by generations of residents since its birth in the 1970s, closed the doors of the flats for a final time in June 2016. In September of last year, the first residents moved into the new accommodation, Park View Student Village, which offers en-suite facilities and is a marked improvement from the former site.

Last modified: 28th November 2019

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