1946: a recollection of the University of Glamorgan

Have you ever wondered what the University of Glamorgan looked like 50 years ago? Glamorgan alumni David Price, C.Eng. MIET, tells us how he remembers it.

From left to right at a S.W.S. function: David Price, W. Marczynski (a Polish engineer who later emigrated to Canada), and Brian Jenkins (who did some part-time lecturing at the School - now deceased)

What we now know as the University of Glamorgan began life as the South Wales and Monmouthshire School of Mines on 8th October 1913, and later became the School of Mines and Technology in 1940.

by David Price, C.Eng. MIET

After starting my engineering apprenticeship with South Wales Switchgear (S.W.S.) (later Hawker Siddeley), I enrolled at the then School of Mines at Treforest to study electrical engineering part-time. It was 1946 and I was 17 years of age.

The war had not long finished and we were in a period of austerity with food, clothing, furniture, etc, all rationed. Fuel shortages and power cuts were normal and accepted, expectations of material improvements were low and, in this, we weren’t disappointed. It took our politicians a long time to realise that the war was over, and some rationing was to go on for another eight years.

Private car ownership was almost non-existent so dependence on public transport was total. I travelled from my home in the Rhondda Fach to South Wales Switchgear (at the southern end of the Treforest Trading Estate) by the bus service provided for the large workforce commuting between the valleys and the Estate. This made for a long working day which became even longer when I transferred to the design office at the Blackwood site. By comparison, a day at the School when on day release was easier and I travelled on the regular Cardiff to Maerdy service bus.

The work/study experience applied to many of the apprentices and the interaction between us made the pressures more acceptable. The advantage of the arrangement was that experience of practical engineering was gained in parallel with the theoretical knowledge. The downside was the amount of time taken by the commitment; there were quite a few dropouts and the number of students tapered off significantly in the later stages of the course. Later in my career, I encountered many engineers who had taken a similar route to their qualifications. Generally, they were well-rounded engineers with a certain maturity gained from their experiences in the workplace.

The School comprised of the main building with some low-level, hut-type extensions and a separate refectory building. Robert James was the Principal if my memory serves me correctly, but his is the only name that I can recall.

At the start, I was not aware of a strong sense of community at the School. There were usually groups of students from the main engineering employers in the area: S.W.S., the Electricity Board and the Coal Board. As time went on, these groups merged and friendships were formed so a sense of community developed in the course rather than in the School.

I enjoyed my time at the school, the staff were friendly and helpful and the fellow students companionable so, overall, it was a good experience. Apart from some meetings of the IEE student and graduate section, there weren’t any out-of-hours activities. Facilities for leisure activities were scanty and I can’t recollect any organised social events. Looking at all the student lists in my old exam results, I can see the name of only one woman student so the ambience could best be described as cheerfully monastic!

Most of my student friends were also fellow apprentices and some of these I did keep in touch with for some time. After I had left S.W.S., I occasionally met them in the course of business or at functions such as trade exhibitions. Gradually, virtually all contact ceased but now I think it would be good to re-establish contact. I have searched some websites that I thought might yield some results but without success so far.

After five years of part-time day and evening studies, I obtained my Higher National Certificate then spent another year of evening study to obtain the remaining qualifications required for Graduate membership of the Institution of Electrical Engineers (IEE). In 1952, I left the design department of S.W.S. for a brief spell at the Nelson Research Laboratories at English Electric, Stafford before getting a post in the Technical Department of the Central Electricity Authority at Leicester.

The power supply industry was an exciting place to work at this time with its huge power station construction programme and the development of the new 275kV network and, later, the 400kV network. Moving to the East Midlands Division’s headquarters at Nottingham, I was involved in many of the technical aspects of these projects and there was never a dull moment.

Reorganisations are never far away in the supply industry and in 1960 the East and West Midland Divisions were merged to form the Midlands Region of the Central Electricity Generating Board and I took up a post in the headquarter’s Engineering Department in Birmingham. A number of changes in duties ensued: I was accepted as an Associate Member of the IEE in 1966, and in 1977 was appointed Regional Protection Engineer. More reorganisation was to follow and in the mid 80s the transmission and generation functions were separated, the five Regions of England and Wales were changed to form three Areas and I was appointed as Area Protection Engineer for the Central Area of the National Grid Company.

I retired in 1991 in the run up to privatisation, carried out some consultancy work for a few years but now devote all my time to enjoying my retirement. Full time retirement has allowed us to indulge in quite a lot of travelling and, when at home, my wife and I both play golf at our respective clubs. I am involved in the activities of the local Art Society and that, together with socialising and gardening and household jobs, keeps us both busy.

There were not many openings for young people wishing to make a career in engineering and I was fortunate to get a placement at S.W.S., a company that was new to the area and was developing rapidly. I was also fortunate to have access to the School, which was acknowledged to have a very high academic standard. The qualifications I gained were essential for the advancement of my career: at the time, the subjects within the course were not an exact fit for my requirements having, been selected to suit the needs of the power supply industry. However, this turned out to be a stroke of good fortune since I was destined to join the power supply industry in 1953 and remain there until my retirement.

When in South Wales, I occasionally travel through the Treforest area and find it hard to pick out any of the old landmarks. The physical extent of the University is impressive. I’ve tried to see if the beam engine is still in the grounds in front of the old School but I’ve had to resort to Google Earth, where I think I can just make out its cast shadow. The Treforest Trading Estate, which was entirely industrial, now appears to have a mixture of restaurants, leisure complexes and commercial premises and I can’t find any trace of the factory locations that I used to know. Change is everywhere of course, at no place more so than up the valleys where the pitheads have disappeared and the landscape has been greened over.

If you’re interested in finding out more about the University’s past, visit the History of the University of Glamorgan page and the Rhondda Cynon Taf Libraries Heritage Trail website.