SETTING THE SCENE
The History of Hodgkin House is a reflection of the changing position and understanding of equality and diversity in the UK in the 20th Century. The following extracts come from others who have contributed to the historical recording of how Hodgkin House came into being, with especial thanks to James Gibbs, and Bob Roberts.
THE IDEA OF A HOSTEL
It was one thing to arrange for overseas students to attend regular or special courses in Britain, but quite another to find suitable places for them to live. None of the institutions offering higher education in Bristol had spare capacity, or even sufficient residential accommodation for their growing numbers of British students.
The University, which grew rapidly to a total of over three thousand students in the nineteen fifties, faced a further growth to five thousand early in the next decade. It decided that its first obligation, as far as residence was concerned, must be to first-year undergraduates.
Mature students from overseas might not settle down easily among eighteen year olds, even if a few places could be spared for them.
The main agency to which responsibility for overseas students welfare was entrusted, nationally, was the British Council, which was then shifting a great part of the emphasis in its work towards the developing countries. But the Council itself did not provide accommodation and had to compete for it in the open market on behalf of its clients.
Possibly even more important a problem than the pressure of numbers was the fact that many of the new overseas students came from countries which had sent hardly any students abroad before the war. Those who came during the nineteen-fifties, therefore, were pioneers, coming from widely differing cultural backgrounds, with very limited preparation for the experience of life in England. The great majority of English people were equally ignorant as to what to expect from them. The circumstance that many of the newcomers were considerably older than most English students, often fathers of families and people of quite high standing in their own countries, made it quite inappropriate to treat them like students fresh from school. Yet their unfamiliarity with English ways and conventions made many of them unusually dependent on understanding help.
(In this, they were markedly different from their successors of today, a generation later, who are following in a tradition which is now well established, and usually arrive with a fairly clear idea of what to expect, and confidence in taking their places)
Their need to gain broadening experience of the world, at the same time as to attain higher academic standards, made it appear most desirable to many people concerned with their welfare that they should be received into English families. But this was by no means easy to arrange in the required numbers of cases. Many householders were understandably, if regrettably, doubtful about receiving into their homes people whose ways of life and thought were quite unknown to them. Some were actively biased against people of other races. Others, who were themselves a little more open-minded, were afraid of the reactions of their neighbours. All the more credit is thus due to those who did make these strangers welcome in their homes, often to their mutual benefit and happiness.
Particular mention should be made of a few Bristol householders who found a special interest and satisfaction in taking in overseas students, not singly, but in as large numbers as their houses would accommodate. They made an invaluable contribution in the first ten or twelve years.
Private accommodation was thus greatly needed and valued, as it has continued to be, but it became clear within a few years of the first arrival of numbers of overseas students that private sources were not likely to meet the need, despite repeated appeals from churches to their members to regard the offering of rooms to people of other races as an expression of Christian hospitality.
Several groups, generally inspired by a religious motivation, came to the conclusion that attempts must be made to establish hostels specifically for overseas students, though perhaps with some mixture of British students to avoid their becoming foreign ghettoes.
In 1961 a hostel called “Meridian Hall” was established in numbers 5, 6 and 7 Meridian Place for male international students. This was due in part to a lack of suitable accommodation for international students in Bristol at that time.
Two years later the “St Brigid's League” bought numbers 3 and 4 Meridian Place and opened a home for international female students. The two establishments co-existed as separately managed hostels for more than 20 years.
Besides the gender difference there was one big difference between the two establishments. The male establishment, Meridian Hall, had a strong and active group of “Friends” and supporters. The female establishment St Brigid's House did not have a matching group of Friends to socialise with and raise funds. It had always suffered a shortage of funds and the habitable conditions did not match the quality provided for the men.
In 1984, following the retirement of the Warden of St Brigid's, the management of St Brigid's realised that they were unlikely to get anyone to take on the post as Warden unless a large sum of money was raised to improve conditions. As this additional funding did not seem to be forthcoming a merger with the men’s hostel was an ideal solution.
In 1985 the Bristol Diocesan Development Program donated £100,000 of church money to link the buildings and bring them to the required standard. The buildings were renamed in the same year to commemorate the work of Thomas Hodgkin, an archaeologist and specialist in African and Arabic studies and his wife Dorothy, who was a former Chancellor of Bristol University.
On the same day as the signing, interviews were held for the posts of warden and domestic bursar of the new house. Gordon and Grace Sollis were appointed to start work on 1st August 1985.
Dorothy Hodgkin had a distinguished career as a chemist where she pioneered research techniques in X-ray diffraction crystallography. She was part of a team who revealed the structures of penicillin, of Vitamin B, of vitamin D, cholesterol, and, most famously, insulin.
She was also an early user of computers, vital in unravelling the complex structure of insulin which took her 34 years to complete. She worked at the very frontiers of knowledge. Before coming to Bristol, whilst at Oxford University, Dorothy was awarded the Nobel prize for Chemistry. Dorothy Hodgkin even had a British 20p stamp printed in her name. You can read more about her here.
In the same year, The Friends of Meridian Hall were renamed the Friends of Hodgkin House and became registered as a separate charity.