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From the archives: Ricky opens, Philip visits and Sick Bay fights for life

Written by News

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

68 YEARS AGO – Prince Philip visits

The Duke of Edinburgh opened the Stephenson Building for Engineering students. In what was described as a “gay and colourful” ceremony, gowned professors and students welcomed the Duke, who the paper said “must have felt very much at home amongst this fantasia of pipes and girders”.

47 YEARS AGO – Ricky opens

Richardson Road halls opened to students three months after their expected opening date due to building strikes and disputes. The accommodation, which was demolished in 2016, only charged £4 per week back in 1972.

43 YEARS AGO – a hairy lump of fat

Castle Leazes’ catering appeared to have faced just as much criticism in 1976 as it does nowadays.  811 students signed a petition presented to Castle Leazes whioch complained that the food provided by the catering services was not of good enough quality. This followed threats by the Leazes catering staff to hold a walkout following complaints from individual students. At a meeting of staff and students of Castle Leazes, it was suggested that the traditional Sunday breakfast be replaced with more informal coffee and toast in the common room. The Courier reflected on recent surprise discoveries in the accommodation’s food, such as a 4.5 inch piece of string and a hairy lump of fat found in a curry.

Debate was rife over a proposal by the Government to limit the financial support given to Students’ Unions. A document released by the Department of Science and Education proposed to hand the administration of Union funds over to the universities, allowing the universities to control how the Unions gave funds out, make Students’ Union membership optional and ensure that university fees aren’t used to fund the Unions. This would have brought substantial changes to both the funding and membership of student societies and sports clubs. 5000 Newcastle students marched through the city centre in protest, carrying signs bearing the likes of “Mrs Thatcher you milk snatcher”. In this battle of Union independence much criticism was aimed at Margaret Thatcher, the Minister of State for Education. The University largely sided with the students, with then Vice-Chancellor Henry Miller announcing that any students choosing to miss lectures to attend the demonstration would not be penalised, and many lecturers decided to cancel their lectures following requests from the Union president. The National Unions of both Teachers and Students expressed solidarity with the movement.

27 YEARS AGO – keep the Sick at Bay!

In 1992 the Courier reported that debate was “raging over whether the University Sick Bay at Castle Leazes should be closed down”. Despite employing six staff, the service only admitted one patient between September and December 1992, who only stayed for one night. In the academic year 1991/92, only ten people were treated at the Bay despite gastroenteritis breaking out at Castle Leazes. The paper attributed the substantial decline in patient numbers to the Bay becoming an independent NHS practice; prior to this, staff treated between 100 and 150 patients a term. Defending the Bay, Sister Marjorie Trousdale argued that it had a “valuable support and advisory function” with the staff “always there for a shoulder to cry on” and the service being available to all students, despite its location on-site at Castle Leazes.

20 YEARS AGO – disabled toilet inaccessible

The University was criticised as the inaccessibility of campus came to light. It was revealed that students had to go down ten stairs to get to the disabled toilet in the University Ballroom. An investigation of accessibility revealed inaccessible lecture theatres, awkward kerbs and unwelcoming entrances. Despite being granted almost £150,000 to improve provisions, the University said that they did not plan to install ramps with this money, and instead hoped to use it to provide facilities for dyslexic students and those with impaired hearing and sight.

NINE YEARS AGO – Fine Arts occupied

The University was accused of cheating potential students by hiking its entry requirements. 13 courses at Newcastle raised their entry requirements for 2011 entry after the University published its new prospectus for prospective students wanting to start studying that year, including five courses for which applications had already opened. This means that many would have applied for these courses using the wrong entry requirements as guidelines.

In an ongoing occupation of the Fine Arts Building, 15 students marched into King’s Gate to express their disgust at higher education cuts and proposed tuition fee increases. The building had to be shut for two hours after the students laid down in the foyer with their mouths duct-taped shut. Two days later, a group of students, including one dressed as a cat, walked into the building armed with 9000 fake one pound notes adorned with the Vice-Chancellor’s face, which represented the proposed new tuition fees. The students threw the money in the air while the “fat cat” rolled, miaowed and crawled on all fours in King’s Gate. Despite causing controversy, the occupation was supported by the NUS, Newcastle UCU, local political groups and Labour MP Chi Onwurah.

Last modified: 4th December 2019

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