Oration for the Warden's 30th Anniversary

A transcript of the oration given by Mr Christopher Didcote in honour of the Warden, Dr Martin Crossley Evans, who this year celebrated his 30th year as Warden of Manor Hall & Sinclair House. It was delivered at the conclusion of our 2014 Summer Ball and was a complete surprise to all those present, including the Warden. Upon its conclusion the Warden was met with rapturous applause and a standing ovation before he responded. Mr Didcote then presented the Warden with a gold plated full hunter pocket watch inscribed with the Hall's motto on behalf of the alumni.

Apologies for one final, but most important addition to this evening’s proceedings, and one that has been purposely omitted from your programme of events. Tonight we have celebrated 80 years of this most magnificent of halls, we have heard tale of how even after such a small proportion of our lives is spent within these walls the values of trust, loyalty and friendship it bestowed in us have remained steadfast. But we forget one final piece of what it is that makes Manor Hall hold such a special place in many of our hearts. 

Tonight marks not one but two anniversaries, and we can’t rightly acknowledge one without the other. Thirty years ago, when our predecessors were marking the half century point in Manor’s life and the opening of the newly constructed Sinclair House, the Hall unwittingly welcomed a young man in his mid twenties, as it’s new Warden. This is the time we stop and pay homage to a man who has dedicated much of his professional life to this great University and in particular to this truly great Hall, this is the time we stop to say thank you. 

Martin John Crossley Evans first came to Bristol as an undergraduate to read for a Bachelor of Arts in Archaeology and Geology, which was conferred upon him by the University in 1978, for the record as an undergraduate he resided at Wills Hall – and since Manor was a female only Hall at the time we can’t really hold this against him! Upon his graduation he continued his education at the University of Keele where he undertook studies to become a schoolmaster. After which he taught at Shrewsbury School and Gresham’s School, Holt. >But his schoolmaster days were to be short lived as he was soon called back to Bristol by a vacancy that had arisen, the wardenship of Manor Hall and Sinclair House; he applied and to his surprise was appointed Warden in 1984 being one of the youngest people to hold such a position in the University’s 105-year history. How grateful we are today that even at such a young age the University could see his potential?

Martin’s influence has been felt far beyond the walls of Manor, after his appointment as Warden he became increasingly involved in the life of the University. Becoming the University’s first Alumni Officer in 1989 working tirelessly to build an extensive alumni database, if this weren’t enough to keep him busy in the same year he was appointed as Clerk to Convocation a position he held until 2008. He is a past president of the Barneys Club and Honorary Secretary and Treasurer to the MacInnes Club, and even managed to squeeze in time to read for a PhD in Ecclesiastical History, which was conferred upon him by the University in 1990. I haven’t even touched upon the roles in the wider Bristol community and charity work he also, somehow, managed to juggle with all of this. Being appointed as one of Her Majesty’s Justices of the Peace in 1999, as a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire in the 2001 New Year’s honours list for services to higher education and finally being recognised by Convocation with the Convocation Medal in 2006 - as I’m sure we’d all agree all of this was very hard earned and very well deserved!

Even whilst doing all he did for the wider University and the City of Bristol his first priority, some might even say his vocation, was always the welfare of those who were fortunate enough to come under his wardenship. I was one of these lucky people who first sheepishly walked through Manor’s doors in 2005 to be greeted by the bark of the then Hall Bursar demanding my name and room number, it was a stark reminder that my life was about to change, although I wasn’t sure if for the better or worse! As with many of you here, I first caught sight of the Warden during the obligatory Warden’s Welcome seeing him dressed resplendent in full academic dress and if I’m truly honest was a little confused as to what to make of him, he spoke passionately about the community of this place yet seemed somehow inapproachable himself. Almost like a headmaster saying my door’s always open but not having the first clue of even your name yet alone how to solve your problems. How wrong first impressions can be.

Later on in Michaelmas term I would get to know him very well, albeit, not under circumstances I would have liked. My parents never allowed me to drink until I was 18 so I entered University life a little less well prepared for the effects that the fruits of the bar had to offer than most, and I soon developed a reputation for being an idiotic, albeit (I think) comedic drunk and then one fateful night some friends and I returned to my room in Sinclair House after a night out. Spirits were high and one of my party wanted to call a friend in Goldney on his internal line. The only problem was that none of us knew the number, to our inebriated minds this proved as nothing more than a challenge; we knew the telephone numbers were sequential so we started by calling random numbers claiming to be University Security and asking what Hall we’d gotten through to, under the pretence ‘we were testing the lines’. As soon as we found a number that was in Goldney we knew if we went up or down in increments of 10 or 20 we’d soon find the right block then we’d slowly work through the numbers of that block until we found the friend we were seeking. Brilliant you might think and undoubtedly evidence of the level of cognition that got us into Bristol in the first place. However, the plan wasn’t without it’s flaws, first it was 4 o’clock in the morning a reasonably unlikely time for any form of telephone maintenance, second our system wasn’t entirely as fool proof as we thought as we managed to call the Warden of Goldney twice on his two separate lines and finally we, by chance should have it, managed to call University Security claiming to be University Security. Suffice to say I was not a popular boy and was soon summoned to see the Warden for this act of ‘telephone terrorism’ as he so eloquently put it.

I had many such run ins with the Warden during my time here as a student and managed to perfect the writing of a letter of apology to a near art form. But through these meetings I soon began to learn that the Warden really is as far removed from that first impression of an unapproachable figurehead as could be possible. He often says about me, that he guided me from the dirt track back onto the straight path, and in many ways he’s right. Our friendship grew from such an unlikely acorn that had fallen into dirt, over the years we learned more and more about each other. He became the person I’d go to for counsel when life inevitably put obstacles in my way, he taught me the most important lessons I learned whilst at this University, the values of humility, kindness and true friendship.

Many of you might not realise it but he does the same for each and every one of those who walk through Manor’s doors. It is by no accident you get along with your corridor or flat mates, he spends literally days, weeks even reading your personal statements and trying to lay the foundations for these lifelong friendships to be formed. Community is what makes Manor such a special place, but if community is the fabric, then we are the threads and the Warden is the weaver. For this we should all be truly grateful, for the result is this majestic tapestry of cultural and social diversity we see before us today.

I feel in recent years I have failed in my duty as a friend to the Warden, I let messages go unanswered and avoided opportunities to meet. I let my own personal problems cloud my judgement when what I really needed was good counsel and to be told everything was going to be OK, what I really needed was the Warden. He once used to refer to me as his surrogate son and I don’t know if this still holds true, but I do know I view him with no less paternal affection than I ever did. Of our friendship he said to me recently ‘our friendship is like a lake, although there may be ripples across the surface what lays below remains still and unchanged’ – advice to us all I think about what true friendship actually means.

So as we continue our festivities and celebrate 80 years of this great Hall let us not forget the one man who often sits silently in the background, the gracious puppet master who only holds us up long enough for us to find our feet before cutting the strings and letting us dance freely, yet always remaining close by to catch us if we should fall, the stoker of the fire of community spirit in which so many lifelong friendships have been forged. Warden, in Manor you have lived your vocation, you have changed lives for the better, you have been a constant inspiration to us all. 

Martin, my worshipful brother, Crossley you have been so much more than a mere Warden of a Hall of residence, for everything you have done for us, every sleepless night you’ve spent worrying about us and for every word of wisdom you’ve imparted – we thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Manor Hall, nah the University of Bristol would not be the place it is today without you. I would not be the person I am today without you. On behalf of all those lives you’ve touched over the last 30 years, you have our most sincere thanks and our enduring gratitude.