Transcript of the Response Given to Mark 90 Years of the Association

A transcript of the oration given by our Vice-President, Mr Christopher Didcote, to mark the 90th anniversary of the Association.

Thank you Mr Chairman for those kind words about the Association. I want to take this opportunity to spend a short while talking about what the Association is, why it exists and why it is so important. The Association was first formed in 1925 by Miss Winifred Mabel Armstead as the Elton House Association to provide an alumni network for Elton House, one of the female student hostels that merged to form Manor Hall in 1932. The more observant amongst you may have noticed a bench in her memory takes pride of place in the gardens under the pergola behind the birdbath, aptly overlooking the Hall for which she worked so hard to keep united.

Over the years there have been many key players involved in keeping the Association moving forward, in a time where remaining in contact with old friends from university wasn’t quite as easy as it is for us today. In the days when Mrs Ruth Mary Burle was at the helm, she would personally carryout voluminous handwritten correspondence with the Association’s 300 plus members. Collating news from every member into a tome of an annual yearbook that would be distributed amongst the membership to keep everyone abreast on what their fellow Manorites had been up to over the last year. Needless to say today the Association is a very different beast; but in an age where we’re never more than a few mouse clicks away from those with whom we want to remain in touch why is it still so important? Perhaps it serves for me to illustrate this by explaining why it’s so important to me, in the hope that at least some of this will resonate.

I first came to the University as an undergraduate in 2005; unbeknownst to me at the time, this was also the year that the Manor Hall Association entered into abeyance as the incumbent committee had started to grow too old to continue to cope with its considerable workload. All members were transferred to the Wills Hall Association and assets transferred back to the Hall – in 2005 the Manor Hall Association fell silent for the first time in 80 years.

Back then I was a very different person, painfully shy, even more awkward and a bit of an idiot when drunk; well a lot of an idiot when I come to think about it but unfortunately that last point hasn’t overly changed! I like so many Bristol students came nursing the wound of being an Oxbridge reject, and this wound was still bitterly sore, here I was in a City I never wanted to be in, at a University I never wanted to attend in a Hall I chose mainly based on its proximity to the precinct. Little did I know that in a few short months how much this opinion would come to change. 

I remember coming into this very hall on the evening of the 2nd October 2005, cramming around a table with my recently acquainted flatmates from Sinclair House awaiting the Warden’s Welcome. This was the first time I caught sight of the man that is our Warden, the man I would one day come to call a friend, clothed in the garish Bristol lower doctorate gown he opened with the words ‘On behalf of the Vice-Chancellor I would like to welcome you all to the University of Bristol’ then added something suitably sycophantic about the level of our intellect to qualify us to even be in this room before waxing lyrically about the community of this Hall. This was the night the wounds that other place had inflicted on my pride began to heal.

And heal they did, I spent two years living in this place as a student and a further two as a tutor with a group of friends that I now know will remain my closest for the rest of my life. These people, some of whom are here tonight, got to know me better than I ever knew myself; they are the custodians of my deepest secrets, the players in my happiest memories and truer friends than I ever had any right to expect or indeed deserve. As previously mentioned when I first came to Bristol I was an idiot; I spent so much time getting into trouble, at times rather as though I was playing a game of chicken with the University and the Warden’s patience. But I was never so much of a fool as I was when I thought that ending up here was a failure, the City I never wanted to be in became my home, the University I never wanted to attend became the University I would be proud if my children attended and the Hall, well the Hall gave me everything I now hold dear and to which I owe the greatest debt of gratitude and so we come back to the Association.

It was when I was on the JCR back in 2006 and 2007 that I first learnt of the existence of the Manor Hall Association. As JCR Treasurer I had to sit on the Hall Advisory Committee and it was in June of 2006 that I first had the good fortune to meet Mrs Lilian Edna Brown who had been so actively involved in the life of the Association before its abeyance. This set me thinking as my time here was drawing to an end I knew I didn’t want to let it go, and as I saw it the Association served as a kind of JCR for the alumni and my golden ticket to never really have to say goodbye to this place that I had grown to love.

So I started speaking to some friends about their views on trying to bring it back to life and was pleased to hear the idea was met with some enthusiasm. We worked over the summer of 2007 to try to find a way to bring it back; however, with no money, no members and just the ideas of a group of still reasonably immature students behind it; this seemed like rather a tall order. Especially if we were to stand any chance of getting it back to the status which it used to enjoy. But we persevered and in December 2007 the Manor Hall Association was reborn and in a triumph of the Manor democratic process, that Mugabe would be proud of, I was installed as its first Chairman.

The Association is there to keep us all connected to this place and more importantly to each other. It has come about as the result of countless hours of hard work by countless individuals over the last 90 years and it is bigger than any one of them. Together we can achieve so much more, besides the social aspects of why we exist we are also a united branch of the Convocation of the University of Bristol meaning that through our membership we can actually seek to protect all these things that we hold dear so that future generations of Manor Residents come to learn exactly what it means to be a Manorite.

I hope that in the fullness of time many of you come to look back on your time spent here with the same fondness that I do and yes of course there are many ways you’ll stay in touch with the people with whom you forged that bond of friendship with within these walls. But, meeting them here, be that once a year, or once a decade even, at events like this, surrounded by the ghosts of the memories of your time here – this is special, and this really is why the Association exists. 

I stand here today and I see an Association that is vastly beyond what I imagined back in 2007. An Association that has nearly 500 members spread across the world, that plays a role in the Hall that I never thought possible and most importantly that is known and respected for what it is: a group of Manorites, old and new, united in their fondness for this place we have all had the privilege to call our home.

And this is why the Association is important, this is why tonight we rightly come together and celebrate our 90th anniversary and as we do so let us not just look back to the past, let us also look forward to an Association that through you will continue to grow from strength to strength. Committees will come and go, people will change, but what we have all built will remain steadfast for generations and that is the true test for success; and succeed it will. All those years ago when I first stepped into this room the Warden was right, community is what comes naturally to Manor Hall and the Association is just the natural extension of this, and may it continue long into the future, may it forever be the treasure trove that keeps our memories of this place safe and may it always make Manor Hall a place that we can call our home.  For where our treasure is, there our hearts will be also. So look around you now, see the friends that you have made here, think back to the good times that you have shared and know, that whatever life may bring, it will be these people that will be there to safeguard your deepest secrets, play their parts in your happiest memories and carry you through any of your troubles and this, is what it truly means, for you to be able to call yourself a Manorite.