Walk Leader: Kate Dunton
Text by: Kate Dunton
Photographs by: Rowena Macaulay
The University of Essex, founded in the early ‘60s, looks like a tough London council estate that’s been ripped up by a freak tornado and dropped, high-rise towers and all, into the middle of a country park.
Staff, students and local residents, ranging in age from early twenties to seventies, took an oral-history walk around the campus, sharing eyewitness accounts of the coming of the University.
We started at the old house where Constable stayed in 1816 when making his now-famous painting of the park, then walked down into the concrete squares where student unrest in ’68 almost closed the university down.
An elderly local resident remembered watching the construction of the campus as she passed by on the top deck of the bus, and how shocked the locals were to learn that male and female students lived together in blocks of self-contained flats.
One of our student tutors took us to see the padlock that still hangs from the door at the end of the admin corridor, put there to keep out marauding student protestors in fleabitten afghan coats.
The story that we discovered together was about the end of one way of life, marked by hunts and servants and Christmas jollies given by the squire, and the beginning of another, marked by the new “plate-glass universities” intended to educate the franchised masses. We began to see our concrete campus in a different way, and felt more connected to it and to each other.