The University before Bath

Posted in: Bath

Inspired by John Connolly’s account of the first year at Claverton Down, alumnus Nigel de Bray shares his memories of the University before it came to Bath.


"As an aviation-mad teenager living under the glide-path to Heathrow, I applied to the Bristol Aeroplane Company Limited (BACL) and passed selection to become a Student Apprentice. I started in September 1961 aged 18 on a four-year ‘thin sandwich’ course – alternating six months in the company and six months in college.

"The course as proposed would have earned me a Diploma in Technology (known as a ‘Dip.Tech’), which was more or less equivalent to a degree but with a strong practical side as well as the academic one. However, with the transfer to the University of Bath on its formation, I was awarded a degree.

"In those days, BACL had its own technical college on the site now occupied by South Gloucestershire and Stroud College in Filton, Bristol. This included a comprehensive training workshop where we spent the first six months of the course learning the practical skills that the company used in the manufacture of aircraft and aero-engines.


Testing it out

"My subsequent six-month ‘company periods’ were spent in the various production facilities and technical offices. I spent time in the wind tunnel, structures design office, system reliability office, and systems design office. The idea was that at the end of the fourth company period, you’d be in a position to choose the department to you wished to be assigned to – after the course, I joined the Hybrid Computing section of a systems design department.

"The college periods were spent at what was then the Bristol College of Science and Technology (BCST), which was based in buildings erected for the Muller Orphanage in the Ashley Down area of Bristol, the orphans having moved out some years before. I thought the buildings bleak and intimidating, but subsequent conversations with ex-orphans showed they didn’t share that view!

"The BACL students at BCST were taught in two groups – with those training as electrical engineers and those training as aeronautical engineers in separate facilities and specialised laboratories. We only came together for ‘general studies’, which were held in a lecture theatre.


Two from one

"Two universities have come from those buildings – BCST morphed into the University of Bath, with its own campus at Claverton Down. The buildings themselves became the Bristol Technical College, which eventually spun off the University of the West of England. The buildings are currently still occupied by the Bristol Technical College.

"Outside of classes, our facilities were minimal – only a swimming pool and a library – but we did have the opportunity to watch matches on the adjacent Gloucestershire County Cricket Ground. BACL had its own Apprentices Association, though, which meant we could join the association sports teams and take advantage of the company pavilion in Filton for other sport and social activities.

"Our graduation day – the first one for the University of Bath – was on 11 November 1966 at the Assembly Rooms, more than a year after our coursework ended!"


Posted in: Bath

Share your memories of Bath on Facebook


  • (we won't publish this)

Write a response