Churchill College Oral History Project

Graham Pledger

 

Graham Pledger, currently the College's longest-serving member of staff, driving a tractor in 1972. ©Cambridge News.

The College Archives hold a number of recordings made in the 1980s and 1990s with key Fellows and members of staff involved in the setting up of the College in the early 1960s and 1970s.  These recordings are now being supplemented by further recordings which capture reminiscences of these early days of the College. 

The new recordings, which are being carried out by the College’s former Registrar, Paula Laycock, portray the life of the College over the past half century, and cover topics as diverse as the admission of women and the acquisition of the Churchill Papers, through to the work of the grounds and gardens team in the 1960s, working in the kitchens, and the reminiscences of two former Bursars. 

Extracts from some of the recordings can be accessed below:

[20:59 – 23:49] And on the opening day there was to be a ceremony in the Exhibition Hall which is quite small and most of the Fellows were to have lunch afterwards in the College dining hall. Now my wife and I were receiving VIPs at the Exhibition Hall. The Duke of Edinburgh was coming to open the building by helicopter, and he was going to land on the College playing-fields where he would be greeted by a very special group, notably the Master and the American Ambassador. Now as I was shaking hands with distinguished guests at the Archives Centre, a man said to me, as I thought, Annenberg. And if this was so, this would be Walter Annenberg, the American Ambassador. He was then in the wrong place. What had happened was that he’d arrived with all his bodyguards and so on, and he’d somehow given them the slip and he’d seen the group going into the Archives Centre so he’d lined up. This put me in a problem because I couldn’t really say to somebody, are you the American Ambassador? Anyway, I found an American who could confirm that this was indeed the American Ambassador, so I got my secretary and said: the American Ambassador and Mrs Annenberg to the Master’s Lodge at the double! Anyway, after the initial ceremony, my wife who I’d put in charge of Lady Churchill, then in her nineties and in a wheelchair, took Lady Churchill to a quiet room where she could have some peace, and there they were joined shortly by the Duke of Edinburgh and Walter Annenberg. Walter Annenberg was noted for putting his foot in it, and this was the time when Princess Anne was going to get married, and Walter Annenberg was keen to assure the Duke that he was not so much losing a daughter as gaining a son, so he said to the Duke ‘I hear you’re expecting an addition to your family!’ [Laughter] which startled the Duke considerably!

[21:07 – 22:06] Well, in an architect’s office they’re a fairly liberal lot and we thought it was outrageous that the College should be what they called a ‘closed’ [one entry-point] College. Early on we’d built a little prototype room at the front of the College here, and the College were worried about the students coming in at night and being able to climb though the ground floor windows if you can believe that. And we designed a prototype. We tried out steel bars, so you couldn’t open the window, or the girlfriends couldn’t come in … and we all thought that was terribly out of date as architects [laughing] but in the end, the College dropped the idea and decided that it was not practical and times were changing, attitudes were changing.

[06:49] In the summer of 1967 I met Canon Duckworth for the first time and thought he was a labourer because we had [placed] an advert in the Cambridge News applying for manpower to assist on site. This chap walked up to me one day, [dressed in] [an ordinary jumper and baggy trousers and he started asking me how the project was going]. I thought this a funny sort of approach for somebody who’s looking for a job! I said to him: ‘Have you come in in reply to the advert in the paper?’ He said: ‘No’. I’ll be taking this chapel over when you’ve finished it!’ He also said, "but I might take you up on your offer". "I might get paid more making your tea than I get paid".

[07:53] Later on - I met him several times - and as I said, he christened our daughter and my colleague’s son, and when the College put on a special dinner for people that had worked on this site - this was after Stage VI and the Chapel had been finished - Canon Duckworth sat on the table the other side of me, and I’ll never forget it, because he was a character. He didn’t stand on ceremony. If he wanted to swear, he’d swear. He’d been through life, at the hands of the Japanese and I don’t think many things would phase him after that sort of an experience in his life. He was a great character. When the waiter brought the Port and the Brandy around after the dinner, he put his hand up to the waiter and said, "When you’ve finished the table bring those bottles back and leave them just here!" - not that he’d drink a lot. [Laughter] But that was the sort of character and personality of the man! [09:05]

[00:34 – 03:18] Before the College was built basically I lived in Wilberforce Road, with my parents, obviously, from the age of about nine. My father used to farm this field and I used to come on in the summer evenings as a ten, eleven year old boy and with my father perhaps drive the old tractor while he was putting the bales of straw on, and then as time went by, Churchill was starting to be built. I watched it being built for the first few years and then I left school. I wanted to be a Groundsman and so I applied for a job at Fenner’s with Cyril Coote who was the Groundsman there. He gave me the job, a starting date, at £4 a week. So I was nearly taking it and then I enquired at Churchill and I heard that Churchill wanted a trainee Groundsman.

Where was this advertised?

Now, I’m not sure, now … my father actually told me about it. So whether he saw it in the paper or whether he spoke to somebody … so I then came and I met George Orr who was the Head Groundsman at the time and he said, yes we do need a trainee, but you would have to go and see the Bursar at the time who was Major-General Hamilton. In those days there wasn’t much College here then. All the College offices were in Flat 1 and Flat 2, and everything else was up there, the College kitchen, the old pavilion. So anyway, I came and I saw Major-General Hamilton. Frightened me to death. Always remember that.

What was the interview like?

Well he frightened me really. Silly to say but I was fifteen years of age and there was this big Major-General, with big sharp eyes and he was very abrupt. But it was all right. It was the first time I’d ever had an interview or anything. Anyway, he offered me the job and he said it’s £5 a week. And I thought, oh, £5 a week, that’s a pound more than I’m going to get if I go to Fenner’s, so I accepted the job. I started Easter-time. My first job with another lad, I can’t think of his name at the moment, was stone-picking on the main field because there wasn’t much grass.


The Churchill College Association is also working in partnership with the College carrying out interviews with alumni with an initial focus on those who came up in the 1960s.

For further information, please email the College archivist.

college.archivist@chu.cam.ac.uk