17 July 1998

Studley Old Girls happy memories

ONE hundred years have passed since Studley College was established. Almost 30 years have passed since it was closed – but the Studley Guild lives on.

The future of this association of agricultural and horticultural ex-students – originally known as the Daughters of Ceres – is to be reviewed in the autumn at its annual meeting, explains Nicky Craig, a member of the committee that made this years guild reunion such an outstanding success.

Then euphoria carried the day, she says. About 100 past students gathered at the former Studley College, Warwickshire, now the headquarters of the Rover Group which hosted the event. They met to celebrate the centenary and enjoy a leisurely, early-summer weekend of friendship and reminiscence. A video tracing the history of the college was shown and the guilds future discussed. By a small margin of votes it was decided that the guild should continue, but the binding decision has to be made in October.

Studley College was founded by Lady Warwick, a pioneer of womens social reform. It started as a school of horticulture for young ladies who were accommodated in a hostel in Reading, Berkshire with Miss Edith Bradley as warden. Term began on Oct 5, 1898 and the first 12 students gained their training through placements in local nurseries.

The story of the college – its establishment, its move to Studley in Warwickshire and accommodation in a sham castle, its further development and eventual close – was recorded by Kay Sanecki.

"It was closed for the same reason that it was founded – because it was a college for women," explains Nicky Craig. "The Pilkington report of 1966 came down heavily against single-sexed colleges and in 1969 the Treasury withheld its grant."

The college could not raise the £400,000 needed for the modernisation necessary to include male students, and was closed. The premises were sold to British Leyland (now the Rover Group) and the money invested to support both male and female students in the land-based industries through the Studley College Trust.

But many former students are not prepared to forget their days of "happiness, hardwork and hilarity", and maintain contact through the Studley Guild which produces newsletters and a programme of national and regional reunions.

The guild has a wealth of archive material stored at Reading University and one of the most outstanding items is three minutes of film recording a day in 1929 when the Duchess of York (now the Queen Mother) visited Studley. The Duchess, who the commentator described as "Our wee Duchess, idol of the Empire," was patron of the college and launched a fund-raising appeal to pay for the freehold of Studley Castle.

The Rover Group put up the fee required by the National Film and TV Archive in order that the guild could have a copy of the video in its archives, but this was not among the material that Nicky could include in the video history of Studley that she launched at the reunion.

&#42 Video idea

"The video was my suggestion," says Nicky who had no experience of this kind of work before. "It is based on Kay Saneckis book and incorporates a wealth of photographs from across the decades plus the recollections of students. There are anecdotes right from the turn of the century to the close of Studley: A student from 1925 taped her recollections and she had been taught by a former student. We had 450 photographs of all shapes and sizes and these were turned into five boxes of slides."

Nicky had "a wonderful day" at Reading video recording. "We made lots of mistakes," she says, explaining that she persuaded her equally inexperienced husband to help her. "What we have all had to learn is nobodys business!"

She took the material to Leicester for professional editor Syd Pearman to work on. She hoped he could complete the task in a day by which time the £500 budget for the entire project would be exhausted. But on the first day they only managed to record up to the end of the 1920s. The job took a total of 25hrs to complete and a run of 40 copies was all they could afford.

They were all were sold at the reunion and more than 100 order* forms were taken.

Decades of college activity have been packed into the 80min video which is a fascinating social history.

For example, changes in the clothes that the girls wore. In the early days many bound the hems of their long skirts with leather to reduce wear and make cleaning easier. Later long skirts gave way to breeches with overalls worn over the top. Those who worked in the dairy had to wear white coats, of course, but because decorum decreed that men should not see the girls wearing breeches without overalls, they were obliged to wear their white coats on top of the overalls.

&#42 Foods importance

The important part that food played in the students lives also becomes clear from the film. Cheesemaking and even jam making were among the subjects taught but these young women were not to be fobbed off with the domestic side of life. They wanted "to lift heavy stuff and drive tractors."

One of the notable achievements was the colleges success in the stockjudging competitions at the 1936 London Dairy Show organised by the British Dairy Farmers Association and held in the Agricultural Hall, Islington when the girls won the cup in the face of competition from 10 teams of men.

Such is the stuff of this video and the reminiscences of the former students when they meet. But whether or not there will be any more national reunions no one can be sure despite the result of this summers poll.

"We can only go on if we have support. Two of the officers are definitely retiring," says Nicky. "We have got to form a strong committee and have the backing of everybody. What everybody wants is a reunion and they dont realise quite how hard the work is to put one on.

"A lot felt very strongly that the guild should close at the centenary celebrations. We have done all the reminiscing. We cannot do any more. It should not become a wreath club."

Ann Rogers

*Copies of the video The History of Studley College Warwickshire 1898-1969 can be ordered from Mrs M Thomas, Woodview, Knossington, Oakham, Rutland LE15 8LT at £13 each inc p&p. Cheques payable to The Studley Guild.

Ex-students returned to Studley early this summer for a reunion at which the future of their guild

was discussed.