Our Centenary Year

Civil & Structural Engineering

University memories 1961 to 1964

I was the first girl to graduate in Civil Engineering when I received my degree in 1964. I started at the university in 1960 in the preliminary year as I didn't have the necessary A levels. There was one other girl who was reading mechanical engineering. When I joined the "proper" civil engineering first year another girl started with me but she left after the first year. I never knew whether she failed the exams or was just unhappy around all the boys!

In those days there were hardly any women in Saint George's Square, mainly secretaries and a third girl in second year electrical engineering. The ladies cloakroom was about the size of a broom cupboard and quite adequate for all of us. Life was much more formal then, we addressed the lecturers by their titles or "sir" (don't be silly, there were no female lecturers!) and they in turn called us "mister" or "miss". Dress was more formal too and the boys often wore jackets and even ties and I wore skirts and high heels for just about everything - even mixing concrete! To wear trousers was a bit avant garde. The daily time tables were very much like school with a full day and we even worked on Saturday mornings! Our lunch and coffee breaks were usually taken in the coffee bar in Portobello, brilliant for spaghetti on toast with a poached egg!

During the Easter break in 1963 we all went on a residential surveying course in North Yorkshire when we stayed in The Black Swan at Helmsley for two weeks. Can you imagine them filling the hotel with over 30 students these days!? We were put in groups of four or five and each group had a particular area to survey and map. I was fortunately in a group with two of the brightest boys in the year so when our check base line proved to be several inches adrift after we had covered our allotted area no-one could explain where we had gone wrong. Thank goodness that none of us went to work for the Ordnance Survey! The days were actually very long and every evening we took over the hotel ballroom to do our calculations and drawings. Of course there were no computers so it was all done with slide rules and logarithmic tables; very time consuming!

I joined the Engineering Society and ended up as secretary. Every year we held a formal Engineering Society Dinner at a local hotel and in 1963 we dined at the Marquis of Granby in Bamford. Unfortunately at the end of the evening there was a misunderstanding with the management over a bottle of liqueur so we were, not very politely, asked to leave and never darken their doorstep again! As we climbed back into the coach the driver was listening to the radio reporting on the assassination of John F Kennedy. Not the best of evenings but memorable for the wrong reasons!

Rag Day was always a big event and we spent many evenings working on the Engineering Society float down in the labs. To ride on the float was fun but it could be quite dangerous! In those days, offices were open on Saturdays and the secretaries would throw pennies out of the upstairs windows onto the float as we travelled through town. Flying pennies are fairly lethal and I was lucky not to be blinded when one struck me in the eye. Fortunately, I was wearing glasses with the new plastic lenses.

During the first two years the course covered a wide range of subjects and we joined with the other disciplines for many of the lectures. Maths I remember particularly. We were in two groups and our lecturers were Dr Bourne and Dr Abson. The former was not much older than we were and Abson had been there forever! When exams were approaching it was very noticeable that the latter’s lecture theatre was crammed full and Dr B's almost empty. Why? Well Dr A thought that exams were a waste of time so if we asked to revise a subject he would either say "Don't bother with that" or else work an example. In other words the first subject was not on the paper and the worked example was an exam question!

As each year had its own drawing office, most of us would stay on in the evenings to work there until the department closed at ten o'clock, except on Thursdays when it was darts match night at The Raven pub with free food! I seem to remember black pudding sandwiches.

When I graduated I started at Ove Arup & Partners in their Sheffield office, on the strict understanding that I would not be given any site work as there were too many male graduates (I was actually the first female graduate they employed!).

I never felt left out or discriminated against as the lone girl in the year and if anything I probably received more support and attention than many of the boys. I enjoyed my time at the University of Sheffield and I am delighted to see how many women are now going into Civil Engineering. Alison Moore nee Patrick B.Eng. 1964.