The College That Started It All (27 September 1974)
At the end of the 1939-45 war, there was a dire shortage of teachers. Auxiliary teacher-teaching-colleges were set up and two-year crash courses were instituted to take the place of the normal three-year curriculum.
During the war, a large number of government buildings had been erected in Bletchley Park. For various reasons, all these were now not so urgently needed. So one group of buildings was vacated and a temporary teacher-training college set up there.
It could hardly have been anticipated that that group of buildings, with additions, would still be in use for (the) same purpose today.
Actually, there have been two colleges. The first was for women students only. This was so successful that after a period of years it was uprooted to provide the nucleus of and the cadre for the brand-new, much larger, purpose-built Lady Spencer Churchill college at Wheatley, Oxford.
Shortly afterwards, another college was set up in the same old buildings. I believe I am right in saying that at first this was for men only, though only a little later married women students living in the district were enrolled also.
This college has developed into the Milton Keynes College of Education for both sexes. Like the first, it is to be moved – though not to some distant place, but to new premises in another part of the new city. This story, however, is about the earlier college; the one that really started the whole thing.
Appointed Principal was the never-to-be-forgotten Miss Doris Cohen, a highly-intellectual woman of powerful yet charming personality.
Backed by an energetic staff of tutors, she set about the task of accomplishing in two years what normally would take three years. She kept her students’ noses very much to the grindstone. She also felt keenly responsible for their welfare in all other respects. The students seemed to me to lead an almost convent-like existence, yet they obviously adored this Mother Superior and from the start they were like a happy family.
The college had been set up purely on a temporary basis to meet an emergency. It was so successful, however, that quite soon it was put on a permanent footing and when the teaching situation eased and courses reverted to the normal three years, the college began to play a significant part in the life of the town.
Highlight of the year for the college was Going Down Day. This was the day when those students who had successfully completed their courses received certificates as qualified teachers.
On these occasions, Miss Cohen also gave a report-cum-address-on-general matters. Sometimes these were so interspersed with literary and other allusions they had me floundering in deep water. Fortunately, I could usually get her notes afterwards.
A glorious event in the history of the college was the opening of a new assembly hall by Princess Alexandra. I think this was her first-ever “public engagement,” though it was really a private one with the college and not with Bletchley as such.
It was a delightful occasion, but it was spoilt for me by the county official who staged-managed the college proceedings.
Everything had to be just so and he was as worried as a nettled hen that the free-ranging Press would somehow get in the way and upset matters, notwithstanding that the only representatives to be allowed in were Ivor Leonard as photographer and your humble servant as reporter.
There was a deal of tip-toeing, ducking and weaving while various presentations were made at the door and in the college. Then, when the platform party processed into the new hall, with myself tagging along behind, I found myself allocated a seat in the front row of the audience right next to the be-sworded Chief Constable.
But when the princess stepped down from the platform to unveil the commemorative tablet, Ivor marched down the middle of the hall with his camera, and the first thing she did after the unveiling was turn round to Ivor with her hand on the cord and smile sweetly for him to take his pictures!
Her deputy principal, Miss Mary Gillett, became a councillor for the Whaddon Ward. She was particularly concerned that the development of the Rickley Lane area should leave as good a view of the church as possible from all sides. She was also the first chairman of the present Bletchley Archaeological Society.
Music master was the talented Mr. Rose. He became organist and choirmaster at the church. Sad to say, he died before many years had passed. Before his death, he asked that he should be buried near the west door “where the choirboys can jump over me” – and there he lies.
I have read recently that Miss Cohen is now retired and living on the south coast, where she is on her local district council. No doubt prominent in her home will be the fine portrait which past and present students and staff commissioned and presented before the college left this town.