Runnymede Memorial: Part 1

Runnymede

This post is the start of a series that will only be of interest to a few readers, but it’s about a subject that means a lot to me, and about a place which, in one way or another, has had an impact on design, and design education, in the UK and beyond. Brunel University has just sold its Runnymede campus to Oracle Residential, part of the Epsom-based Oracle Group, a property and investment company.

Oracle’s announcement on its website, under ‘Latest acquisitions’ (it’s Flash-based and unlinkable) is a little more detailed than Brunel’s rather terse statement – even if it skirts the issue of what they’re going to do with the place – and at least recognises some of what’s interesting about it:

Acting on behalf of oversees investors, Oracle Residential are pleased to confirm the acquisition of the Brunel University Runnymede Campus for £46.5m. Situated on the outskirts of Egham town centre, the 67 acres of mature parkland and woods is currently occupied by Royal Holloway, University of London for student accommodation. The site currently contains around 350,000 sq ft of buildings, some of which are listed.

With far reaching views of Windsor Castle, the site has extensive grounds which include an Area of Landscape Importance, Ancient Woodland and a Site of Nature Conservation Importance – all of which will need to be protected in any development proposals for the site.

Regional Director Scott Hammond believes that the site’s significance in terms of nature conservation and historical importance means that any proposals would need to be of a highly sensitive nature; “once occupation of the building is secured in September, we will begin the process of restoring some of the dilapidated and unsightly buildings, and seek to enhance the Green Belt nature of the site”.

King Sturge acted for the University in the disposal of the site.

I was a student at Runnymede from 2000-4, and a member of the last graduating year to be based there. Runnymede – once the Royal Indian Engineering College, and later Shoreditch College – was Brunel’s design school: a self-contained, single-subject campus out on its own, on top of Cooper’s Hill, Englefield Green – the first piece of high ground to the west of central London, with views over Heathrow and the Staines Reservoirs as well as Windsor Castle, Magna Carta Island and the Thames. It was a very interesting place to be a student, in many ways: there was enforced isolation, but we could call it ‘hothousing’; there was clearly never much money for buying new equipment, but there was a pride in using what was there to produce astonishing results; there was a lot of stress, but also proof of the total miscibility of work and play. And indeed workshop and kitchen, swarf and carpet, spray-booth and corridor, daytime and nighttime.

I know that to a large extent, I fell in love with the location before I really ‘got’ the course; the Open Day I attended, in June 1999, was sunny and beautiful, and the whole place struck me (and still strikes me) as one of the most perfect places in south-east England: a hilltop idyll with Elizabethan oak trees and Victorian parkland, yet close enough to the lure of London. Certainly many of the student halls of residence were decaying, but no more so than many, many others. The Royal Holloway students living there at present are right to complain about the place not being up to what they had been led to expect, but from what my girlfriend tells me of some of the (now demolished) halls at Holloway, Runnymede wasn’t that bad.

Runnymede

Of course it is much, much too late now to dwell on the decision to move the Design department to Uxbridge – one of the seemingly few concrete [sic.] decisions made about Runnymede during Brunel’s 27-year tenure of the site, since absorbing Shoreditch College in 1980. The department is merged into the School of Engineering & Design, it’s a very different set-up, they’ve taken me on to do a PhD, and I’m very pleased about that.

As for Runnymede – even in the early 1990s (gleaned from reading old documents in the library) there were proposals for selling the campus to various other organisations, such as an independent schools’ association (to use as an HQ), and in the last few years, suggested uses included temporary housing for Heathrow Terminal 5 workers, a new ‘Brunel Academy’ for underprivileged inner-city teenagers, a conference centre, a permanent expansion for Royal Holloway (both teaching and accommodation), and an administrative HQ for Brunel itself, away from the construction-site hubbub of Uxbridge. But in the end, it came down to this: sale to a property company, just as Brunel did with its (equally historic) Osterley and Twickenham. I don’t know (yet) what Oracle’s plans are: I do know that Englefield Green has a lot of executive homes and apartments already and surely doesn’t need too many more.

This is the first in a series of posts looking at some of the history of the Runnymede campus, both long past and recent, the plans for the site as they become clearer, and how it will all affect the local area. I intend to do some research in that vein, and report back semi-regularly. In the meantime, some photos of the campus: from ‘Hostler’ (2001), part 1; part 2; and some of my own, from 2004, in no real order.

Runnymede

26 Comments

  1. Red

    Runnymede was unecessarily sold by Brunel University, it was still paying for itself with Conferencing, accommodation rented by Royal Holloway and rent from incubator companies. So much has been squeezed onto the Uxbridge Campus, how long will it be before they have to buy land to grow into, having lost such a beautiful area as Runnymede. The trouble with Universities is they are run by academics, they needed someone with entrepreneurial skills that would have made it viable with minor alterations. Instead the planning permission will go through and a lot of houses will make a lot of money for Oracle rather than for Brunel.

  2. Melissa Roberts (nee Lehmann `73 year)

    Yes, another blunder for posterity. Money ruling heads rather than heart. I can remember it as a wildlife haven with many grass snakes and other creatures (apart from us students). It`s a very sad day as it was a magical place , so near London yet so relatively peaceful.
    What an absolute catastrophe for `the future`.
    Former student at Shoreditch from 1970 to 1973.
    Former English teacher at Magna Carta School, Egham 1973 to 1975

  3. Naveed Mohammed

    I was based at Runnymede in my 1st and final year. 1999-2003

    Being one of the displaced (Uxbridge based course) made it even more the sweeter coming back to the Monastery. A charming place to live, difficult to get to and from, insular, the hill climb to and from semi civilisation and good for just wandering around intoxicated.

    I’ll remember the fair on the golf course, rabbits, ground floor Bradley, musty library. eccentric design students, the timetabled coaches and the at times quieter than quiet. There’s more but I’ve reached my nostalgic quotient.

    It’s a shame the way it’ll probably go but I’m glad I was there when I was.

  4. Tom Watson

    I was a tutor at Shoreditch/Runnymede from 1972 until I moved to the Uxbridge Campus in 1997 in order to take on the running of the Education Liaison Center. However, as a member of the Department of Education and Design I retained a personal office on the Runnymede Campus (in President Hall) right up until the handover to Oracle on the 28 September 2007. So my association with the campus has been continuous for the past 35 years and I’m very sad to see the end of an era stretching back to the days of the Royal Indian Engineering (and Forestry) College. I would have liked the HEFC to have come up with the money to enable RHC to have purchased the site. But realistically there was no way they were going to be able to match Oracle’s bid. £47M is a lot of money and it was the need for that to capitalise developments at Uxbridge that was the main driving force behind the Brunel Senate and Council’s decision to divest themselves of the campus. Despite the fact that the Chairman of the HEFC had told Brunel,following a visit some years ago, that it was a gem of a site which they should hold on to !

  5. Kevin Pitt

    Just happened on this site as I was trying to show my staff where I got my Degree. So sad to learn the Runnymede site has been sold.

    I have to say I think you are spot on with your description of what it was like being a student at Runnymede. It brought it all back. Some fantastic stuff was produced there in quite difficult circumstances. The all nighters, and stress leading up to the cut-off time. I graduated in 1995 (Ind Des) and it is nice to see you where still using the toilets as spray booths. I suspect the university was still valiantly issuing notices about it right up to the end. I used to think how lucky I was to have ended up in such a nice place. I think for me the Uxbridge Campus would have been a bit of a nightmare.

    I will always be grateful for the opportunity the University gave me. I came there as a mature student and was not really a full part of the main student stream as I was about 12 years older than the rest of them. It was always a struggle for me but they got me through. I am now doing very well with my own company.

    As for the delapidated parts of the Campus, that will be where we lived I take it. I always liked the rather grunge nature of the halls of residence. I hope I am not being too ‘old’ in saying anything better would have been by and large wasted. It did the job and like most things it was as nice as you made it. Even the nicest kitchen looks bad with a weeks worth of washing-up lying about. I helped clear out the 1960’s furniture in the summer breaks in 1993-95, and when the students returned and did their thing on the new furniture, it did not look any better. I thought the old style chest of drawers were much more practical, and rescued two units and still have them now as a reminder of my time there.

    I have often thought about going back one day to have a look around, walk around the grounds again, and then down to the river, rekindle memories. Looks like unless I am prepared to splash out on an ‘exclusive apartment in a sumptuous setting’ that is not going to happen. And that is the sad thing about it, thousands of people from all types of backgrounds for 3-4 years of their lives had a chance to live in an environment they may never experience again, and now it is to be restricted to a privilidged few, oh hum.

    Kevin Pitt BSC(Hons) Ind Des 1995

    • Martin Ryan

      Oh hum indeed Kevin. I was at Ditch from 75-79 and gained my Sert Ed and B Ed there – but so so much more as well. I returned today to show my partner a part of my life that remians incredibly special only to find it locked and bolted.How funny you should mention the furniture! I was in Reed 206 and have often commented how well the funiture was designed. it got hammered by year after year of would be interior designers re-organising rooms for almost anything other than studying! It didn’t seem to matter which way round you put it, or what you did with it, it still worked – even after a night or two outside if it’s ‘owner’ had transgressed some unwritten law!!
      it is an absolute travesty that its tranquil spirit will now only be felt by the fortunately wealthy. It would be great gesture if Oracle would open it up and hold a ‘Goodbye to Ditch’ event. I wonder . . . .

      • jenny Sussex

        Hi Martin

        A small group of us from 75 year have been meeting up every year since 2002, usually at the Air Forces Memorial, prior to a walk round the grounds, lunch at the Barley Mow etc. You will be familiar with the shock experienced on seeing the barred gates and Octagon notices. However, yesterday, on returning home I duly sat with my laptop and tried to find out the latest developments on the site only to find that the Runnymede Campus site now seems to have disappeared and I am just hoping that this may mean Octagon did not get permission for their planned travesty. Fingers crossed…
        Does anyone know what has happened?

        • Jon Woollons

          Hi there, came across your comments and wondered if you could let me know when next you are holding a college reunion. Regards Jon W (77Yr)

  6. Andy Miller 86 Year

    I have fond memories of my time at “Shoreditch Campus” Some course orientated most revolving around the Student Union Bar, Rowan (Womens!!) Hall and of course the Barley Mow on Englefield Green.

    We worked hard and played hard, getting up to all kinds of hijinx from restarting the old clock in the main building late one night, to locking security out of his office in the old lodge! Good old days and sorely missed.

    Now working in the Aerospace industry my time at Uni really did stand me in good stead.

    Anyone reading this who remembers me and wants to get in touch can do so via friends reunited website.

    Absolutely appalled to see the site has been sold to Oracle, we all thought it would go on ad infinitum….

  7. Adam Bernstein

    There are times when I hate progress and this is one of them. Although Uxbridge based I lived at Runnymede from ’86 to ’88 and thoroughly enjoyed myself. The memories are legion; Andre the South African security guard, Chessy Walk, the magic mushrooms, sledging on car bonnets, dozing in the library, Reed 400 Jungle Parties… It took me a year to come back to earth after graduation.

    It was a privilege to live on such a beautiful site with such close proximity to the Barley Mow and the Great Park.

    Rest in Peace Runnymede

  8. Dave Pittom 62-65

    All good things must end, but just think how many GOOD things will be remembered."DITCH" lead me to a wonderfull life hence life style,from which I hope many young lives were influenced.
    Best Wishes to all of 1965

  9. Clare Stimpson(nee Duggan 73yr)

    My three years at ‘Ditch’ were some of the best of my life. I lived in President hall on the ‘fabulous fifties’ corridor with a view over to Heathrow and Windsor, with Jemp, Annie, Teresa, Jude and Issy as neighbours.I fell in love with the place the minute I saw it and whenever life became too much, a walk in the wonderful grounds full of listed trees and georgeous rhododendron bushes soon put the world to rights.We loved the pranks,the parties, the bird cage discos down in the bar, the chats and coffee sessions in each other’s rooms and I even have fond memories of my three teaching practices and preparing my ‘vis aids’ all through the night.I am very sad to think of this beautiful place beig taken over to house the rich and it’s a real pity that students will never grace (or disgrace) its corridors again.I just hope that Oracle don’t knock down President and College Halls – that really would be a sin!
    Goodbye Shoreditch – you taught me loads and formed three happy years of my life.
    Best wishes to all in 72 and 73Yr

    • I can only concur – those were very cherished moments for all of us – affirmed and sustained us through the hard times – together we can keep all these good memories alive.

  10. Jemp Vincent

    Such enjoyment at Shoreditch from 1970 -73 (with Clare, as above). The views of the ‘planes as they seemed to follow the lines of the window during a lecture, (and the horror of seeing the flames from the crashed jumbo jet on the Staines bypass from the college grounds). In 1970 – the first year that women had been admitted to the college, we joined 700 men – all 80 of us! What a first year away from home!

    Elton John played the piano and sang – (free of charge), in the chapel – and I missed it!

    It was possible to climb up to my window (in President block) using the hot water pipes – and boy, were they hot! I remember pinching rhubarb from the vegetable gardens (as they were then) and leaving the leaves suspended to cover the theft.

    The cleaners would look after us if we were ill – quasi-mums! Ahh, what life-lessons. I still miss it.

  11. Mandy Shand (McShane 1990 DT)

    Is there a part 2 to this article? If so where can I read it? Very much enjoyed this article which I found almost by mistake. Happy memories.

  12. I stayed in the Brunel campus at Runneymede for two years from 2005-2007 whilst doing my degree at RHUL. Have many fond memories of the wonderful grounds, especially getting up early to watch the sunrise, as well as memories of the buildings.

    Was just looking at the plans that Oracle have and it looks like all of the buildings are set to be demolished except for president/college hall and the mews. Real shame – would have thought that the chapel and dining hall were worth keeping (if I remember someone told me that the dining hall design was unique – only three buildings in the country were built using it and the Runnymede was the only one still surviving or something).

  13. Bruce Gregory( 69yr)

    Three weeks ago we had a reunion at the college (40 years after leaving)and this included a visit to the college grounds and Archives. It was very enjoyable occasion, seeing old friends and reliving the enjoyable times spent there. It was also very, very sad to see the old buildings and gardens falling into such a terrible state of disrepair and neglect and it would be better if a developer did move in and rebuild the place, as it is no longer the college that we lived in and enjoyed so much. As an after thought 1 week after visiting it the college showed up on the TV in a programme called ‘Waking the Dead’ – an apt title don’t you think?

    • Claire Fisher

      My dad was a lecturer at Shoreditch in the sixties and early seventies and I lived in the grounds in a house called Oak Lane Cottage until I was seven.
      It was an incredible place to grow up and I loved walking up the hill to the campus to see my dad’s workshop and be lectured about putting my hands in a vice! He taught woodwork among other things. We played golf on the course, ( my clubs were plastic) went to bonfire parties on Oak LAne and up in the bracken nearer the main campus. A student used to play the bagpipes in the memorial garden I think it was called – a sunken garden that looked down the hill. I sledged down the hill when it snowed with other campus kids and we played houses inside the rhododendron bushes. I also occasionally rode the horse from the farm at the end of Oak Lane – I don’t know how many of you would have strayed down that way adn of course we often walked down to the memorial. I experienced my first Chinese food when i was about four because students would sometimes come for dinner and bring a course. And I learned about brunch when I had hotdogs for breakfast at Red Gables where another campus family lived. I think they were called the Doves. My dad moved away in the later seventies and is no longer alive. But I have so many lovely memories of Shoreditch I am very sad to hear that much of it may be torn down and would very much like to keep in touch with anyone who was there in the sixties and seventies. I don’t know if the kids of former lecturers are included in reunions if so I’d be very interested

  14. Suzanne Bray

    Ditto all the comments above. I went for an open day here in 1989 and fell in love with the place. I studided Industrial Design from 90 to 94. It is magical, not only in terms of the countryside environment but also in terms of the atmosphere of putting hundreds of creative people together. Students rooms were fantastic..there was almost a competitiveness to producing radical room designs. I think the furniture reained unchanged for nearly 40 years and thats what made it so great! I have so many magical memories of living here going down to the workshops, the student union bar, the amazing fireworks displays that were held, midnight walks down to the Thames and spending hours in each others rooms. I was so sad to hear it has been sold. How far have oracles plans gone? Lets hope that they are really badly effected by the recession!!

  15. David Pearce

    I’ve been very interested to read this site and the changes planned for the college and its grounds. I was a student at this site then Coopers Hill College in 1947-48 when it was being used as an emergency teacher training college. Of course the students of the time were all ex service men and I recall an occasion when I had to explain to the geography tutor why I’d missed a previous lecture, due to the fact that I’d become a father.The site was a wonderful one with the hill leading down to the river and it would be sad to see it under houses.

    • Penelope Donegan

      I was interested to read the above e-mail , because as a child, I attended a nursery at the college , probably about 1948/49. I was one of the children invited to attend the nursery, as part of training for the students. Even though I was only about 3 at the time, I still have happy memories of the nursery, the wendy house , sand pit and toys etc. I cried when it was time to go home, so it must have been a very happy experience for me. I have never met anyone else who was part of this training.

  16. John Reid

    Sitting here on a Saturday night, the Ditch from 81-85 was a true college…loud music, lectures when you rememered and a great staff. The bunnies on the golf course provided necessary protein and the security staff were there to advise and assist – scaffolding, roof walks etc. Rocket fireworks between Reed and Bradley, Christmas caberet (Serena – you should have seen here!), banger racing down Chessy Walk, 6 up up on a CBX Honda Supersport over the golf course etc. HAPPY DAYS

  17. Tom

    Just been looking for pics of the old campus and came across this site. Such a shame it is now sold, why didn’t Brunel realise it was such an asset above the 46M they sold it for. Looking at the oracle plans and sketches it looks like the chapel is to remain with president and college, the rest is at least greatly modified…
    The only reason I went to Brunel was for the magical campus and the Bauhausism of having 600 design based students all on the same campus. OK some of the facilities were a bit ‘weathered’ but that added to the charm of the place and was perfect for a bunch of students! In the first year we had to bring our own carpet, and only had a tiny 2Amp plug to run all the 4 gang sockets from…
    Photos bring back great memories seems like only yesterday! funny thing was when I was first shown around the campus on an open day, the students shouted out of the top floor kitchen window – ‘don’t come here it’s sh**’ how wrong they were.
    Tom – ind. des. 94-98

  18. Peter Badcock

    I was based at Runnymede Campus between 86 and 90 studying Industrial Design Engineering as it was then known. Truly beautiful place, shared with all too fondly remembered beautiful folk. Runnymede campus was in the midst of much, but apart, and encouraging of young souls to venture where and how far they wished creatively, intellectually and often wildly but not involuntarily under those influential psilocybin shrooms. The bar was was my chapel though not as lively an educator as an evening class (not curriculum) in woodwork where a lovely gent known as John Penfold, who gave his time freely, introduced my fellow two students and I to woodwork by fulfilling the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds of planing. He finished his furious efforts n bent over his piece of wood and shavings, drew the woody scent deeply and rapidly through his nostrils, and said “never understood why drugs are so popular”…genius. It was a wonderful place Runnymede, temperate toward kindness and fond of mild eccentricity. What a pity, but what wonderful memories. ( That Adam Bernstein who posted above owes me £15 for breaking a Scrivens hall window with my skateboard on a weekend I was away! Anyone know where he is?)

  19. Aidan Fisher 1962/65

    Magic to read all of all the above–what a magical place! I was there (with Dave Pittom above-Hi!) when the paint in the new hostel blocks was barely dry-we also worked hard/played hard –but we had no bar so the local hostelries were much sort after at 10pm (workshop chucking out time)
    I re visited the place just by chance some years ago and was appalled by what I found -at the time I had no idea it was “closed”. That such a magical place to live and work should go is a crime that Brunel should be ashamed of–lets just hope the spirit lives on with the new development, whatever this should be.

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