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Durham University

Welcome to John Snow College

The late John Lindley - John Snow's Birthday Greetings

On the Occasion of the 200th Anniversary of the Birth of Dr John Snow


My name is John Lindley. I add my greetings, on the John Snow’s Bicentenary, which falls today. It is a day of celebration, too, for John Snow College, now in its 12th year. I speak firstly as a relatively humble member of the College’s Senior Common Room but also as a retired member of the University staff, who witnessed the very foundation of Queen’s Campus just over 20 years ago and then in the mid 1990’s worked in the Campus for three years.


Let me take you back to the 1980’s. As an initiative of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, the Teesside Development Corporation (TDC) is formed to lead the large scale redevelopments of decaying industrial sites in Teesside, including the whole riverside area, where we are today. At that time I was for a good number of years Director of Durham University’s academic computing service in Durham, subsequently known as the IT Service. The Vice Chancellor at the time was Prof Fred Holliday, later Sir Fred. I first heard the idea of a suggested development of the University at Stockton mooted by Fred at a meeting of Senate in the late 80’s

The University and TDC, quickly joined by Teesside Polytechnic (now Teesside University), jointly agreed and found funding to establish a new university college, to be known the Joint University College on Teesside (JUCOT). Progress was breathtakingly rapid and within a period of less than 12 months the Holliday Building, and the residences, which later became John Snow College, arose. Four new course streams were established and students recruited, and teaching began in October 1992. For the University, as I recall, there were three main objectives:

  • To make a contribution to encouraging more young and older folk from the North East region to take up a university education;
  • To have a research base in a major industrial area;
  • To provide space for the University to expand.

JUCOT was opened by the Queen in 1993 in the Waterside Restaurant, which was then the embryonic library. JUCOT grew rapidly, both in student numbers and physically and the courses evolved, though it was about ten years before the medical school was established. Teesside University, as it was now, backed out of the project in 1994 and the college became Durham University Stockton Campus (later, in 2002, to be Queen’s Campus).

I joined the campus from my post in Durham in 1994, in a bridging role as Director of Information Services, with the task of evolving both Library and IT services and IT teaching into a form appropriate to a Durham University establishment, finally retiring in 1997.

The Senior Common Room

The decision to create in the Campus, two colleges was not taken until around 2000 and so John Snow and Stephenson Colleges emerged in 2001. It was around this time that Mr Charles Porter and I met Professor Martyn Evans for a discussion of his ideas for the College he was establishing and for its relationship to the Teesside community. A new and exciting era began as the two Colleges quickly took shape, and John Snow developed, first for nearly ten years under Professor Evans leadership and subsequently, of course, under that of Professor Summerbell. The Junior Common Room was established and also an SCR.

Charles Porter, a leading member of the local community, agreed to act as first President of the SCR, continuing until four years ago when former Councillor and Mayor, Mrs Ann Cains, succeeded him. Last year she in turn was followed for all too short a time by Mrs. Janet Atkinson, who sadly died unexpectedly only a few weeks ago.

Tutors (later called Mentors) were recruited, many from the local community as well as from the staff, and they formed part of the core of the new SCR. Other playing active roles in the local community were, and are, also invited to join the SCR along with academic staff members. The stated aims of the SCR were and are:

  • To support the College in providing an academic and social environment where students can flourish in pursuit of their studies and research;
  • To create links and foster relations between senior and junior members of the College and between the College and the community;
  • To achieve these goals by promoting educational and social activities, providing facilities for meeting and encouraging members to participate in college life.

Over the years the members of the SCR have attended and participated in many student events, have contributed significantly financially from time to time to student facilities and organisations (e.g. rowing, musical instruments etc), and have also enjoyed their own social programme. The SCR has always been rather limited by having too few academic staff members participating actively or serving on its committee. But now, with a recent College review behind us and under our present acting President, Mrs Barbara Hawkins, we are seeking to move forward again. Developments such as participation in Scholars Dinners and Formal College Dining are part of a new pattern.

One significant development, as far as the local community was concerned, was the initiation very early in the life of the College through the SCR of the Cafe Scientifique. This, as you know, is a monthly meeting held at the ARC, open to the public and addressed by a range of distinguished speakers from academia, industry and the public services on broadly scientific topics and issues. With an audience of between 75 and 100, and always guaranteed to engender lively discussion and questioning, the Cafe continues to flourish and to be a significant and valued outreach by the College into the local community.

College Life

My own student experience was in a collegiate university. In more recent times, I was actively involved in college life as a Tutor at Hatfield College for nearly 20 years. So I know how much college life can enhance the lives of its student members in ways which are not possible in non-collegiate institutions. With students from all disciplines, along with post graduate students, mentors, and staff and local community SCR members, a college, as John Snow already proves, does form a real community which enriches academic life and learning which lasts long after one “goes down”.

No less than any other, John Snow College has realised, and is realising, these benefits, despite being younger and perhaps less well endowed physically than its sister colleges up the road. Sporting successes, cultural achievement, community and charitable services feature regularly. Each new year group of students brings new impetus and there is a very clear sense of belonging and affection for the College among its members, present and past.

Of course there are many challenges and with them new opportunities. There are physical limitations with the buildings and with funding at the present, the need for more active participation. We are still leading in new directions in a still very young college but one playing its full part in the life of a hugely successful university. But we are also a college which has a real part to play in the local community of Stockton and Teesside just as our colleagues up the road are important to the city of Durham.

Tailpiece on John Snow

In researching and thinking about what I was going to say I did a bit of internet research on John Snow himself. One thing turned up which surprised me. As we heard, John Snow was born in York 200 years ago today. But a few years later, and before his formal medical training in London, he was apprenticed to a surgeon in Newcastle, William Hardcastle for several years. And among Hardcastle’s patients were George Stephenson and family. So, as well as administering chloroform to Queen Victoria in childbirth, our John must earlier have also ministered to George and his family. It’s a strange link that brings us back to this campus and our sister college, Stephenson!


So here’s to the memory of John Snow and to the growing prosperity of John Snow College, perhaps not forgetting also our sister college, Stephenson.

John Lindley

15 March 2013