And a controversy on political education of young people from 1984
There’s an academic thesis waiting to be researched, written, and published about the growth and expansion of Cambridge’s language school sector in the post-war era. The same goes for the post-war private colleges. For anyone interested in such an undertaking, Dr James Day, a former Selwyn College student who died in 2021 would be a very interesting figure to start off with.
The crossroads of history and policy at a local level
Some of you may be aware of the History and Policy network based in the Institute of Historical Research at Senate House, University of London. What we don’t have in Cambridge but could really do with given recent local political history, is something similar at a local level. This is because local councils and decision-making bodies have demonstrated incredible levels of ignorance and a lack of curiosity about local history that it has and still is causing them problems to this very day. And that’s just with housing and transport!
‘He came up to Selwyn to read Medieval and Modern Languages (1948)’
You can read his obituary by his old college here. Selwyn credits him with transforming the provision of English language teaching in Cambridge for overseas students in those post-war years. The results of his work can still be seen in the architecture of Bateman Street (or more often than not, Bat_man Street when the ‘e’ gets painted out by local ruffians!) where his language school resided until 2019 when the building was purchased by another private school Sancton Wood, who a year before had been acquired by Dukes Education – itself only formed in 2015 – and which in 2021 acquired the St Andrew’s College private college.
Above – from Selwyn College 2020-21 p122
The building that Dr Day oversaw the construction of is around the corner/down the road from Station Road, Cambridge.
Above – Bat_man Street in the bottom left (from G-Maps), the old Euro-centres building, now Sancton Wood Upper School, with Station Road and the old British Rail symbol in the background
When we look at the history of this part of Cambridge – known as Newtown but would be considered very old in most other places, we have a history of huge social change in a single neighbourhood over the course of two or three generations. In 2015 Peter Bryan and Nick Wise wrote a history of the neighbourhood for the Cambridge Antiquarian Society – which you can read on Capturing Cambridge here.
Above – opposite Dr Day’s college – then Davies’s School of English. In A Victorian Microcosm, for the CAS by Bryan and Wise 2015.
The construction of the new building even then was not enough to meet the demand for classrooms for the Eurocentre. This advert from 1990 shows that the organisation was looking for even more premises.
Above – the Cambridge Evening News from 23 August 1990 in the British Newspaper Archive.
Demand exceeding supply was not a new phenomenon even in 1990. Twenty years before, there was a similar challenge.
Above – the Cambridge Evening News 12 Aug 1970 in the British Newspaper Archive
“One city language school, snowed under with summer applicants, has had to turn a record number away. The tourist rush started two months earlier than usual in Cambridge this year, according to a representative of the Youth Hostels’ Association in Cambridge. She said that the Cambridge Hostel in Tenison Road has been completely full since June and that most of the people were foreign students. One of the city’s leading language schools, the Davies School of English in Bateman Street, reports an unprecedented number of applications for places on their special summer courses in English. The school’s principal, Mr James Day, said: “This is the best or the worst year we have ever had – good in that we’ve had more applications than never and bad in that we’ve had to turn away so many people”
James Day the music critic
Dr Day, a viola player (I still have mind from my London years gathering dust in my room!) had a regular column in the Cambridge Evening News where he reviewed a variety of classical music performances. It was towards the end of the debate on the future of the Lion Yard redevelopment in the early 1970s that he and others wrote again and again in the local media of the need for a new large concert hall for Cambridge. That he passed away last year without seeing that dream fulfilled is, in my opinion anyway, incredibly sad.
At the end of 1970, he expressed hopes that Cambridge would, in the end, get a new large concert hall – sarcastically remarking that he didn’t want anyone to burn down the Guildhall or the Corn Exchange to make way for a new concert hall, but restated in sending best wishes to our city’s musicians, that the decision-makers would finally come to a decision on a new concert hall.
Above – James Day in the Cambridge Evening News, 30 December 1970, in the British Newspaper Archive.
Costs of living were just as much of an issue back in the 1970s as they are today. So much so that one resident wrote in saying that if Cambridge had London-style costs of living, then we deserved West-End style facilities too.
“If they would build a really good concert hall with good acoustics at the Lion Yard, instead of another car park, perhaps we would have somewhere to go in the winter time. I certainly don’t think many people want to sit in a car park!”Mrs L.A. Lubbock, Cambridge Evening News, Mon 30 Nov 1970 in the British Newspaper Archive
In 1971, Dr Day expressed further hopes for the concert hall saga to come to a positive conclusion. But, as with everything else, there were too many institutions with overlapping responsibilities and views over what the future of Cambridge’s city centre should be. This was prior to Conservative Environment Secretary Peter Walker‘s overhaul of local government under Sir Edward Heath’s Government that created the local government structures. we are familiar. with today. And the structure that Parliament said a few weeks ago was no longer fit for purpose.
Above – James Day’s further plea for a new large concert hall, and the cry from the Cambridge Evening News earlier that year in May about the state of governance in Cambridge and the prospect of yet another public inquiry into the future of our city.
Why there is much more to research and write about James Day
Part of my research today uncovered an article by Dr Day in the Times Higher Education Supplement from 22 June 1984.
Above – James Day in the THES from the Internet Archive – 22 June 1984 p16
It is the final column of the trio that for me needs exploring both from a local history perspective and from a local public policy perspective.
“By  the number of Schools of English in Cambridge had risen from the original one (Davies’s) to at least double figures. Some of the schools had been recognised…others had not; and Cambridge felt itself somewhat in danger of being swamped by students from overseas”.THES 22 June 1984, p16
The part that needs researching from a local history perspective is the interrelations between local residents, the language students (many of whom resided with local families and home owners such as my late grandparents in the 1980s) the language schools themselves, and local councils. Note this was inevitably a time when racism all too often raised its ugly head in the media – and inevitably caused tension between residents and students over easily avoidable things like not stopping at zebra crossings or pedestrian crossings because the schools and cycle rental firms did not put on mandatory cycling training for students, and austerity meant that in the eyes of residents, there were no police officers around to enforce the law. Sound familiar?
Not that my generation of children were actually educated about what the law actually was as a concept, let alone politics!
The same set of digitised copies from 1984 exposed an Education Minister called Peter Brooke MP (later Northern Ireland Secretary in John Major’s Government) who had been presented with a report about youth services that had been commissioned by the Conservative Government.
Above: The Thompson Report – digitised here
It’s really worth browsing through – especially from paragraph 5.30 on Community Involvement, and 5.34 on Political Education.
The minister’s response prior to the publication of the formal Government reply is striking.
“The Government is likely to reject the Thompson Report’s recommendation that young people should be encouraged to become actively involved in political and community affairs. This will mean challenging, or ignoring the central thesis of the report – that social and political education should be the main priority in youth work. Mr Peter Brooke, an education junior minister, told a conference of senior youth service staff last weekend that political education remains a sensitive issue and refused to discuss it.”THES – June 1984, p15 (p7 online)
Even more depressingly was this byline.
Manchester City Council issued a memorandum in 1984 to education welfare staff that racist remarks would not be tolerated.
“Gordon Hainsworth, Manchester’s Chief Education Officers said: “If you have an anti-racist policy, it is no good keeping it in terms of slogans. You have to work at it.” But Tory spokesman, Mr John Kershaw said that the terms of the memo were far reaching. “This action seems to be an attempt to control the way people think and express themselves. It is like the methods used in the socialist totalitarian states and I hope it will be repudiated” he said.Above – THES June 1984 p10 / p6 online
On such sixpences the education of a generation is shaped. Fast forward to the mid-1990s and the only session my generation had at secondary school on politics was 15 minutes with a local county councillor in Year 11. That was it.
If we don’t learn from our history, good and bad, local, national, and international, we are cursed to repeat it.