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Thursday, 27 June 2013

Well, here we are...

Next week I officially begin as a PhD student at Bath Spa University.

However, the process has been going on a while, and has taken a lifetime of preparation, it seems.

Let me explain...

I started at Bath Spa University in 2008, and graduated with a BA Hons in History in 2011. Having discovered a whole new world, I didn't want to stop there, so I carried on with an MA in Heritage Management, and became interested (and frankly a little alarmed) at the prospect of working on a PhD.

This was at the suggestion of my supervisor, Dr Roberta Anderson, who throughout both degrees has encouraged and inspired my efforts, and understood what, as a mature student, I needed to push me onwards. I owe her a great deal.

During my final year as an undergraduate, I was given the opportunity to work on the Newton Park archive papers, and have continued this ever since. Newton Park is a country estate near the glorious city of Bath. With origins going back to the 11th century, the core of the estate is the 18th century mansion built in the 1760s, in the city's heyday as a fashionable Georgian spa town. This house nestles in a beautiful wide valley, landscaped by Capability Brown. The family who owned these rolling acres sold it after the death of Algernon Temple Gore Langton, 5th Earl Temple, in 1940. It then became a women's teacher training college, in the period of post Second World War reconstruction, and the expansion of the English education system. At the heart of this development was the first Principal of the college, Mary Dawson.

What was a training college adapted through the years to eventually become Bath Spa University.

Alongside the BSU Archive development, I have also been involved with gathering oral histories from former students and staff of the college, and it is this dynamic combination of archive history and personal testimony which has led me towards PhD studies. I want to tell the story of what was created here, back in the late 1940s and in the two decades which followed. I am inspired by the visionary determination of Mary Dawson, and the more I find out about her, the more I have come to believe that it was her personal drive and passion which built the solid foundations of community and place from which everything else has grown.

Having spent over two years on the archive project, I've been able to amass a considerable amount of information already. But this is only the beginning...

PS. To explain the title of the blog: Back in the day, rules were strict. Women students at Newton Park during Miss Dawson's tenure were warned not to wear fluffy slippers when entertaining young men at their hostels. 1961 -1964 student Carole Venner told me this with a giggle of reminiscence "Well fluffy slippers were supposed to inflame men's passions, weren't they?!"

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