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Durham University

Grey College


Grey College was founded in 1959 as part of the University’s drive to expand its student polulation which in 1951 stood at 1,150 (compared to 17,505 in 2014). Syd Holgate, the then Secretary of Durham Colleges, was employed to be the new Master. He and his wife Bel were concerned with building a family for the students here, and that community ideal that has since become part of Grey College’s DNA.

Eight months before the College opened, there was a terrible fire leaving questions as to whether the College would open. Grey’s first students, 47 men were undeterred, and took the phoenix as their mascot for obvious reasons. With the support of the staff they had to create every aspect of college life from scratch, setting up a JCR, a calendar of events and a number of sports teams - the rugby team was a particularly big ask, requiring just under a third of the student body.

Many things began then which still happen today with Syd panelling the dining hall at his own expense and a procession of College Days consisting of films and dances. From the beginning, the JCR has wanted to “get things done” with an attempt at a Campaign For Nuclear Disarmament Society put forward in 1961 and discontent about the rules about kettles in rooms still being debated in 1975.

Grey expanded dramatically in the early years with 358 students studying by 1964. In the 1980s there were concerns that Grey was too insular due distance from Durham town centre, proving that students’ aversion to walking is no recent invention. The College was still all-male at this point and while the JCR voted to become mixed in 1970, women were not admitted until 1984. Not long after their introduction this perception began to change.

By the early 2000s the calendar would be recognisable to students today, with the President’s Guest Night (PGN) and the famous Grey College Fireworks all in place. The College has lost none of its enterprising spirit either; in 2011 students set up Grey In The Community which has run events for the both the elderly and the disabled in Durham and recently the Vice Master, Peter Swift, has focused on non-academic learning to create the GrEAT skills program.

This information is taken out of From the Ashes by Nigel Watson. The image is Fire Pheonix by Thetis Blacker and hangs in the dining hall. For more information get in touch with or visit the JCR website.