Starting University, early 1950s. – Bill Goldthorp
Society was still very restricted and we had spent the last five years paying for the 1939 –1945 war, setting up the Welfare State and running newly Nationalised Industries, which without investment would cause trouble in the future. Two recent elections had altered the political landscape but not the country’s problems. The tensions of two great Nuclear Powerblocks loomed over us and problems of empire were also stretching our resources. But secondary and tertiary education was now free, at least for those who could pass the exams. That is for those after 1944, who passed the 11 plus for Grammar School and then were accepted for University, although a means test was attached to that.
I regret the passing of the Grammar Schools but would not have done if every Comprehensive had achieved the goal intended, that is being the equivalent of a Grammar School instead of the opposite.
I do not recall any master at Grammar School acting as a “Career’s Advisor”. Four classes of 30 meant an annual intake of 120, of which two thirds left after School Certificate. We did the last School Certificate examination, which was replaced by the General Certificate Examination the following year, 1950. There were no complicated grades as now. A pass in GCE was equivalent to a credit in the School Certificate. I know because I had to resit English Language the following year, having upset the English master by only having a pass in English Language to complement my distinction in English Literature
Most left because they were starting apprenticeships and other training programmes and sometimes because fathers resented the fact that their child was not contributing to the family income. When I started Grammar School the school leaving age was 14 rising to 15 in the late 1940s. There was still the odd girl whose parents, usually the father, refused to allow them to enter Grammar School intent on them starting work as soon as possible. At 16 very bright students would enter the steelworks’ laboratories, be paid to attend night classes and then supported at university studying a science appropriate to the steelworks, all of which had been nationalised.
Those who entered the sixth form, about one third of the year, 40, were all self-motivated, had a career or subject they wished to study in mind and parental backing.
In the upper sixth form, the year for university application, again I have little recollection of careers’ assistance. Probably there was some, but was mostly investigated by our selves assisted by the odd third year sixth form student, who had observed his friends in the previous year going through the same procedure. Outside lessons we tended to congregate in the school library for extra study, plan and discuss our applications and interviews. There were always 2 or 3 in the third year sixth form preparing for Scholarships to Cambridge. Not Oxford, we were a Cambridge school taking the Cambridge University Board Examinations. There were several of these boards. Manchester was part of the Northern Universities Board, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester, Newcastle and Sheffield.
Two in our year stayed into the third year sixth, an attractive tall blond girl, who was awarded a State Scholarship, Head Girl and Victrix Ludorum two years running on the School Sports Day, achieved a Scholarship to major Cambridge college and got a 1st. Class Honours in Chemistry. The other a friend of mine got a maths scholarship to a minor Cambridge college. He was also a pro-am for Scunthorpe United. Pro-am is a paid part time player not exactly professional.
Matriculation was necessary to go to university, that is a credit in maths, English, a foreign language and three other subjects. I never actually matriculated. My results distinctions in chemistry, maths, geography, history and English literature, credit in physics and passes in French, oral French and English language. I got the equivalent of a credit in English the following year, when I passed at ordinary level in the new GCE.
London, Scottish universities, Cambridge and Oxford still required a credit in Latin so they were out. Always read the small print, Northern Universities Form R. If you have not got the required credit in one subject for matriculation, but the other results are good and show that it is only by pure accident that you did not get that credit then you can apply for Form R, which exempts you. I got Form R.
I ended up with interviews at Birmingham, Leeds, Manchester and Sheffield. A panel of seniors mostly medics but other academics, who decided if you were suitable then all you had to do was pass your subjects. I think most thought I should stick to farming, Birmingham definitely said no; there were several Birmingham noes in my intake at Manchester.
I immediately felt at home as I walked up to the Lavatory Brick Palace at Manchester.
No longer the medical school but a massive yellow brick building alongside the Dental School behind Owen’s College. It had large slightly dingy corridors with portraits of Deans and Professors smiling down on you. The interview in the Dean’s office, Professor HS Raper, just him not the usual bevy of academics glaring at you and he did not ask that Bloody Stupid question we all hated and had no adequate answer for.
“ Why do you want to be a doctor?”
He answered most of the questions himself from my CV. I think his main purpose was to ensure I was sane and healthy. Manchester had adopted a policy that all medical schools were to adopt. He told me that Manchester had stopped selecting students at interview. Manchester wanted academic ability, whether I got in was entirely up to me, if I got top grades in my subjects I would get in, if not I would not. That was OK by me; I left in great spirits, knowing that Manchester would be MY medical school
I took the second lot of A-levels; we were not given grades, just passed. There must have been some record of marks allowing me to be awarded a County Scholarship.
I took and passed Chemistry and Zoology at Scholarship level and Physics and Botany at Advance level, and General Studies at ordinary level. I was only allowed two subjects at scholarship level. I would have liked to do Botany at scholarship level, that year I won the school Botany Prize. The scholarship level was not recorded on the certificate issued.
As well as the usual intake of 100 to 120, 40 of us were selected to go straight into the second year. The first year was a delightful relaxed year full of social life, two terms chemistry, physics and zoology, starting anatomy and physiology and a term of botany at the start of the summer term. The 1st MB, was in chemistry, physics, zoology and botany, you had already learnt it, a bit of revision was all that was necessary. If that year could be eliminated the course would last five years instead of six.
Most eventually regretted this. The exemption was not complete; only one person was capable of teaching zoology properly. Professor Cannon himself, who had his textbook of international fame to sell. I had already got a copy from my Scunthorpe days. Botany, we were told without the medical students fees the department would close.
We took our 2nd MB in June 1953 together with those who had already failed it once in April and started our clinical work with the group who were traditionally known to be failures. At times it showed in the quality of our tutors, which we rapidly complained about. We qualified 6 months early in December 1956 amongst the failures qualifying 6 months late. It showed again when applying for House Officer posts, very few were selected for the major Manchester hospitals. In the long run, this turned out to be advantageous; being a House Officer in the rarefied atmosphere of a teaching hospital speciality did not give widespread experience. There was not much point becoming skilled in the management of diseases you would never see again.
Shortly after 1945, Student Grants became available so that all who were selected for entry were not prevented by lack of funds. These grants were means tested to reflect the parent’s income. We were not adults until we were 21 years old, so the grant was paid to our fathers who doled it out to us as they thought appropriate. Our numbers were in fact small, barely 5% of our age group.
I would have still fulfilled my ambition without the new welfare state, taking advantage of previous state provision.
1944 I was awarded a Lindsey Junior County Scholarship for Scunthorpe Grammar School, means tested of course.
1951. I was awarded a Lindsey Senior County Scholarship for Manchester University Medical School again means tested. The scholarship paid all my University Fees plus an allowance, which was worth about £10 more than a grant. After means testing my allowance came to £180 per year, £ 60 per term, with a very inadequate supplement of under £50 for the five extra months when I became a full time Clinical Student.
Fortunately I was a country lad from a farming background long before farming became mechanised and labour in short supply so that my Post Office saving account was accumulating from about 15 years of age, continuing until I was 20. It contained about £250, a year’s wages for a labourer, when I was 18. The labour was casual paid daily in cash no record kept by the farmer. I was a cashman, cycling to or being dropped of in pea fields with £200 in half-crowns, 12.5 p., to pay the pea pullers and day labourers, keeping a record of bags pulled, destination of loads etc. Pay rates half a crown (2 shillings and sixpence) for a 40 lb bag, labouring £1 per day, half a crown per hour. Who would allow a teenager to wander around the countryside with the cash equivalent of 200 hours minimum wage these days?
Income tax and National Insurance did not bother me until I was actually qualified. I never asked my parents to supplement my grant apart from visiting my father’s Gentleman’s Outfitters (Dyson’s corner of High St. and Cross St) when I was on holiday and putting the purchases on his account. I still believe his grumbling to his friends about it was actually boasting.
As well as local wives and families, gypsies, itinerant Irish labourers, gangs of miners’ wives from nearby towns, University Students were recruited in large numbers for the agricultural workforce, July to September, being the time of maximum demand. They were usually accommodated in the village pubs. Only if recruited by an agency was any record of earnings kept.
A further major social point, the sexual revolution was almost twenty years in the future. Contraception limited, condoms, Dutch caps fitted and supplied by the Family Planning Association for married women only, the Roman Catholic’s equivalent of Russian roulette, known as the Safe Period, for which you need an IQ of 120 and a degree in biology to understand. Abortion illegal, not the easily available social choice it is now. It was available of course for those prepared to take the risk and there were numerous illegal practitioners of variable skill and gynaecological wards, full of exanguinated young women being dragged back from the jaws of death, with severe pelvic infections, abscesses the size of melons and a future lifetime of chronic illness.
For those with the contacts and the funds to spare legal terminations of pregnancy were available. I only know the 1960’s prices, when I was a junior doctor, 150 guineas (£157: 10s.), when a bus conductor was paid £15 per week plus overtime. I remember being “pissed off” seeing that advertised on the buses, when my salary was £750 per annum (£30 less) with £150 deducted because I was compulsory resident alternate nights and weekends.
10 guineas consultation fee, double the usual fee, to two tame psychiatrists, who would declare you would go permanently insane, commit suicide etc., etc., if the pregnancy continued, 10 guineas for the aneasthetist, 20 for the Nursing Home or hospital, the gynaecologist pocketing the rest. We did notice that the operators in Manchester were all London graduates, where such Harley Street activities were common. It was rammed home to us for the whole of the course and in my years of training “ Thou shalt not do abortions”, which caused great personal problems when all changed in 1968.
An accidental pregnancy caused problems not only for the girl concerned but the young man. If the university authorities knew of the incident and he failed to marry the young woman he was sent down. (Expelled). If he did then he had to support a wife and child, a very few had family support the rest had to leave and get a job. If it happened to a medic in his final years, funds could be found, sometimes a bank loan or joining the army for 14 years or more, with the rank of 2nd Lieutenant and a marriage allowance.
The result was a very strict attitude on both sides to actual intercourse, a young couple
very fond of each other would indulge in what was called “Heavy Petting”. Best described as everything but.
Working in pairs, 16 students would be involved in dissection of cadavers, 2 pairs, head and neck, 2 arms, 2 legs and one each abdomen and thorax. In our group was a very attractive, shapely, dark haired Jewish girl with a great personality, Pat H——. The surname starting with H being the reason she was with our group, her partner David H—, a vicar’s son. I must admit I was impressed but being from a Primitive Methodist family, born near Epworth in the Isle of Axholme where John and Charles Wesley were born, she was definitely out of bounds. Where I was brought up it was bad enough for a Protestant young man being friendly with a Catholic girl and vice versa.
Pat became friendly with a charming, handsome R/C Dental student very much the “Lady’s Man”, as he proved in later years as a married man. The inevitable happened, Pat became pregnant was disowned by her family, but fortunately she had an uncle with no children who had always doted on her. He came to the rescue; Pat married had a little boy, but was never able to take the Second Professional examination, 2nd. MB, but had done sufficient to take the 2nd, LDS examination.
LDSRCS, Licentiate in Dental Surgery of the Royal College of Surgeons, whereas a Batchelor of Dental Surgery did an identical course in anatomy and physiology to the medical students, a licentiate only required head, neck and thorax in anatomy.
Passing the second professional examination for BDS was often used as back door to studying medicine. The 2nd BDS examination being the same as MB ChB allowed them to start clinical medicine and if they could not do a medical degree they could still do the conjoint diploma, MRCS and LRCP. (Member of the Royal College of Surgeons and Licentiate of the Royal College of Physicians.) The examinations were just as hard but not financed by student grants etc.
I and my friends observing the behaviour of Pat’s husband during the later years of his course doubted if the marriage would last very long.
Student Accommodation was either in digs or Halls. Halls were expensive £3 to £4 per week mostly used by those who had been to Public Boarding Schools, whose parents had the funds and where most felt very much at home. We only had one such in our group who had been to Eton, father a Harley Street ENT Surgeon; he must have thought he was slumming it in Manchester instead of a London Medical School. He returned to London and like dad became a Harley Street Surgeon. I cannot remember his name and it has been beneath his dignity to attend any reunions. The rest of us were in digs and later flats of various salubriousness.
The best lot of flats were in a mansion with two wings in Victoria Park. The rooms in the two wings converted into bed-sits a communal kitchen and several bathrooms. It was full of medical students, constantly replaced when one left. It was owned by the wife of the most senior gangster in Manchester, whose name I cannot recall, but I do recall the most senior female barrister Rose Heilbron QC, coming up from London to successfully defend him on a charge of murder.
From the time when Freddie M— a medical student, resident at the mansion, became President of the Male Student Union there were some strange stocky characters with thick necks sitting quietly in the entrance hall reading newspapers. These ensured that the union was always a quiet peaceful place. There had been problems with rowdy non-student interlopers.
Two friends, one eventually Professor of Psychiatry in Newfoundland, found a cheap delightful, flat on top of a large building on Great Western Street, the lower part occupied by several friendly young ladies, who offered to do their laundry, made occasional meals and took messages from girl friends. After a little while they realised whilst not exactly a brothel it was a sort of hostel for ladies who worked at one. Eventually they found a small room in the basement kitted out for a certain operative procedure and decided it was better to move on.
My first digs were 130 Manley Road, where my name caused ructions with a middle-aged secretary daughter, who objected to her mother and sister taking in a Jewish man. GOLDTHORP. It was the Gold bit, Goldman, Goldberg, Goldstein etc, and the first of many occasions that has happened. Look at the Thorp(e) bit, I belong to the vicious axe wielding, looting, burning and raping Vikings as much as anybody. Thorpe means outlying farm or settlement outside the village. Guile is a Danish Viking’s male name, Guile’s Thorpe, Goldthorpe, a horrible little ex mining town this side of Doncaster.
My name dates from 1361, when Robin son of Robin Lord of the Manor of Goldthorpe married Esabul half heiress with her sister Dionyssia to William de Shepley, Lord of the Manor of Shepley. Unfortunately I descend form a long line of younger sons and the odd bastard.
Anyway my dad’s ability and instinct to impress soon proved otherwise, when he drove my trunk and self over at the start of Fresher’s week, he also brought 6 strings of sausage links, a massive pork pie and a large piece of ham. Rationing was still on; it was more meat at one time that they had seen since 1939. After that they were convinced he was the local squire.
The cost, full board at weekends, breakfast and dinner weekdays was £2 and 10 Shillings. (£2; 50p.) Seven shillings and sixpence per week retaining fee during the holidays, 37-½ p. per week.
Work the inflation out yourself.
I spent two years there with Gordon Evison, also from Scunthorpe Grammar School sixth form doing medicine like myself, although he started in the first year whilst I went into the second. The evening bus service was poor, my social life non-existent, but the intensity of being thrown in to studying anatomy and physiology gave me no time. When age 20 and about to start the clinical course, I knew the best area to be in and did not want to pay a retainer for three months of summer. October 1953 I moved to Clifton Avenue, Fallowfield, about 10 different bus routes went down Oxford Road every ten minutes or so, with Express bus services and all night buses.
Fresher’s week, very active lots of social life, I joined the Chess, Bridge and another club, life seemed very pleasant, after the first week of term I never attended any of them. Each term ten weeks of hard graft, I began to realise what reading for a degree meant. It was more than reading it was instilling anatomy and physiology into your memory. I lived two lives, one three terms of 10 weeks hard graft and in the other five months vacation that of a young countryman, the textbooks I had optimistically taken home never being opened.
Halfway through the first official week of term.
“ Have you been to the Dissecting Room, yet?”
“ Don’t forget you have viva voca in anatomy every three weeks.”
Not having done Latin.
“ Viva voca! What’s one of them?”
“ An oral exam.”
There were three viva vocas per term in anatomy, marks S = satisfactory, S+, S- and NS not satisfactory, each anatomy part had to be passed an average of S was expected but you may get away with an S-. NS meant taking that part again which resulted in dropping back a year, which could lead to running out of funds in the final year for those on a grant.
A source of funds for those with a driving license was the export drive. Cars were still made in Trafford Park and car transporters still to be invented. A student could drive a new car to Liverpool docks and have a free return train ticket. It might take an extra two or three years but a student who had reached as far as the three part Final Exams or the Conjoint Board could eventually qualify.
I located my anatomy partner, Dave Farquhar, absolutely ancient, aged 23, a GP’s
son. Dave had done his National Service then spent three years at night school repeating his exams until he got the required grades. Dave needed two attempts to get through his 2nd Professional examination in anatomy and physiology. His father financed him and he joined his practice, but hated it and as soon as his father died headed of to Canada where he became Head of Pathology in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. Successfully taking up a speciality when approaching forty was now impossible in the new NHS. He joined the 30% of new graduates who immigrated because of the lack of opportunity for promotion to the consultant grade.
Dave and I entered the dissecting room a large barn like area at the top of the medical school with a glass roof. Never having seen a dead body in my life, I now found about 20 of them lying face down in two rows. We had been allocated a leg and had to start on the buttock, we spent about 15 minutes gallantly offering the other the opportunity to start. Eventually I agreed I took my highly sharpened scalpel, knowing how delicate skin is gently cut, nothing happened nor again and again as greater force was applied. At last with a force that would cut through plywood the skin parted. The cadavers after being injected with formalin fluid had been floating in a large tank of it for a year or more. The divided skin revealed a layer of fat with a distinct but not unpleasant aroma.
Having to catch up we worked well into lunch hour, but finally headed of to the refectory. Rationing was still on and the catering staff needed a certain amount of imagination, that morning I chose rissoles, god knows what was in them but they tasted just like that buttock smelt. I have never touched rissoles since.
The refectory a massive hall with a cafeteria, numerous long tables seating eight or ten people, open for most of the day. Here would be found the “Caf Queens” young ladies with strong, personable, lively personalities of variable beauty and variable reputation holding court with their entourage of admirers. Mostly Arts undergraduates, usually avoided by most science and certainly all-medical and dental students.
If recognised medical and dental students were not welcomed in the refectory. Having collected your lunch searched the refectory for somewhere to sit and found a table with a couple of seats.
“ Do you mind if I sit here.”
“No help yourself.”
A few minutes later a fellow medic would be searching. Invite him to sit down.
“ What have you been doing today?”
“Oh! We are doing the upper arm. The brachial plexus. Do you know we found that strange variation for of the medial branch of the ulnar nerve.”
A fascinated discussion would occur for a few minutes, then when we looked up the table was empty.
It was surprising how blasé we rapidly became, fascinated with what we were studying, finishing by gaily covering our work with SLOSH with a large brush then wet cloths. Slosh, a solution of formalin. The medical course alters you, roughens the edges, even could be said to coarsen you converting you into a different person with the capability of withstanding the recurrent stresses that will occur in the future.
Something happens to enable you to close the consulting room door on a patient and family you have as sympathetically and kindly as possible told has an untreatable cancer and cheerfully with a broad smile inform an infertile lady her pregnancy test is positive. But I still do not like the pathology post-mortem room. Under no circumstance will I gown and glove up to assist the pathologist, I hate the cold sensation. My bodies are warm and wake up.
There were several notices “Please remember these cadavers are the remains of Manchester people deeply loved by their families. Respect Them.”
One added. “ DO NOT DOCK YOUR CIGARETTES IN THE ABDOMEN”
Smoking was still common the first papers associating the increasing incidence of lung cancer with smoking were in the future.
Always expensive, those used after the 2nd MB studying Clinical Medicine, were always bought new, to be up to date as possible, even then by the time a book was published it was several years out of date. Anatomy and physiology does not alter much so a recent second hand book would suffice.
When I was accepted for the medical course my mother asked our GP if he had any textbooks. His wife took the opportunity of clearing out a tea chest full of ancient useless textbooks. There was a series of six Cunningham’s anatomy atlases that were still useful and three on the history of medicine. Always having been a history buff, it was a subject that I regretted dropping, I immediately read them; a modern history book only goes on for another 50 years.
The first week of the new term, extensive trading was carried out in the locker rooms in the basement. Those who had passed the 2nd MB trying to sell their books for as much as possible and Freshers trying to pay as little as possible. I cannot remember what I bought but decided to buy a brand new Grey’s Anatomy and Starling’s Physiology. I still have the Greys a rather stolid hard back 1000 or more page volume in contrast to the current paperback with multi coloured diagrams etc.
I also acquired a half skeleton with complete skull for £10. The skull proudly returned home with me every vacation where it sat on top of our now old-fashioned radio set which was about two foot tall in a corner of the lounge. Transistor radios where about 10 years in the future, I bought my first in Aden, an open tax free port in 1959. Some TV sets were available but did not become widespread for another 6 or 7 years.
My mother a very reserved strict Teetotal Methodist ex schoolteacher never to my surprise objected. It was as if entering training for the medical profession put me on a new social plane. Sucking peppermints after having a pint with one’s pals no longer became necessary. Our garrulous neighbour Mrs. S–, chatting to my mother in the lounge, suddenly spotted the skull, her eyes widened, her mouth continued talking but nothing came out.
My mother, “ Oh! Don’t worry about that. It’s only Bill’s skull.”
Mrs .S–, promptly fainted.
I kept my skeleton for two years until after my 2nd MB exam, in fact it increased in size as I added a few variously acquired bones to it. I made a profit on its sale for 10 guineas. For many years half skeletons had been supplied from Dublin, but new ones were now said to come from India.
Now skeletons of varying complexity, made of white plastic can be bought, prices varying from about £80 to £800.
Boris cost me £190 in October 2011, a Christmas present for grandson Tom. Tom graduated B.Sc. Physiotherapy at Manchester Metropolitan this year. He has been appointed a junior physiotherapist at the same hospital I was consultant at for thirty years.
These are the only documents I can find copies of on my computer. All my school documents and exam papers, I found had been filed and carefully kept by my father, when I was sorting out his effects after his death, including every school report. These have been donated to the North Lincolnshire Museum at Scunthorpe.
I really enjoyed your insights into medical school and becoming a doctor in the 1950s, thank you so much for the post. I’m a historical novelist and my newest book is set in the 1950s, about a young woman training to be a doctor. I wondered if you might be able to help me with a few specific questions about medical school and education at that time? I’ve already done some research but personal insights do make such a big difference and I’d appreciate any help you might be able to give!
All best wishes,
I will forward your email to Bill although I have not heard from him in a while. Thanks
Yes Ashdale became a hostel for male evacuess from Hull. Most evacuess went home after a few weeks but a small number remained throughout the war.
Our rivals the Ashdale Gang. We being Tetley based.. After the war I believe it was divided into two. One of the Fretwell brothers lived there. I cannot remeber his first name. It was the one who shocked everyone by returning married to an Austrian lady.
Fortunately she turned out to be a first class choice and evrybody was delighted to know her.
Best wishes Bill.
I am doing some research for North Lincolnshire museum in Scunthorpe and hope you may be able to help. I am trying to find out all I can about the Ashdale hostel and Crowle wharf. Did a farmer called George Kelsey live in the house that became the hostel ? He died in 1940 . Was it used as a hostel during the war? I would be grateful for any help but I do understand that you may not be able to. Yours hopefully, Brian Neville.