Post-War Trent Park: Training College to University

Post-War Trent Park: Training College to University

1945 would see the end of the Second World War and bring peace to the United Kingdom. However, Trent Park did not stand still. In the immediate post-war era, to the backdrop of demobilisation, austerity, continued rationing and reconstruction, Trent Park would find a new purpose – education.

In 1947 the house and parts of the grounds became Trent Park Training College’, one of several emergency training colleges’ used by the Labour government to rapidly train new teachers who were in incredibly high demand. These colleges also provided routes to peacetime careers for the many ex-servicemen who made the majority of the first student cohorts.

The house was taken over by the Ministry of Education for use as an emergency training college for men teachers. Mr HAT Simmonds, formerly headmaster of Tottenham Grammar School, became principal.’ – Quote from Winifred Walles, The Story of Trent (1958).

These young men were rushed through six-month crash courses’ under the firm leadership of Hattie’ Simmonds whose end-of-term speeches in the old Sports Hall became the stuff of campus legend. Times were tough at Trent; accommodation was often to be found in grim ex-army Nissen Huts (even if lectures took place with the mansion house itself). But the college carved out a niche for itself providing specialist qualifications for the teaching of art, drama, and music, earning itself the nickname, the Bohemian College’.

In 1950 the college began to admit women and its reputation for educational excellence grew, broadening the range of subjects offered to mathematics, science, geography, and classics. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s Trent Park grew to become of the largest of its kind in the country. New facilities were built to facilitate this, such as the Hannah Gubbay’ and Philip Sassoon’ halls of residence in 1964. The historic Ludgrove Hall was repurposed as additional accommodation for male students who preserved the traditions of this former prep’ school, including formal dinners every evening at 7 o’clock sharp. Grace was said in Latin. Naturally.

The mansion’s forecourt became a staff car park. On the western side a state-of-the-art teaching block was constructed, and on the lakeside lawns a new library. The stables, once home to Sir Philip Sassoon’s prized polo ponies, were turned into art studio and workshops. The 1973 college prospectus would report:

A major building project recently completed provides a new dining hall, library and study accommodation, specialist teaching areas for music, art, craft and design, education and a Student’s Union building.”

The early 1970s also brought the winds of organisational change as the college integrated with the larger Middlesex Polytechnic on 1 September 1974, reflecting changing political moods, thinking within higher education and a reduced need for new teachers. Trent Park would become one of 15 sites providing some 150 courses for thousands of students each year. Further changes to the higher education landscape in the 1980s and 1990s would see Middlesex Polytechnic become Middlesex University in May 1992. On the occasion of this change the Vice-Chancellor, Professor David Melville, remarked:

It recognises something we have known for some time – that polytechnics are universities. We are taking the step of assuming our university identity early – in this it is our intention to maintain Middlesex University at the forefront of higher education.”

By 1994, the University was serving a student body of 16,800. Professor Michael Driscoll, appointed as Vice-Chancellor in October 1996, would write in the July of the following year:

Since the Second World War, Trent Park has played host to a teacher training college and a leading polytechnic. It is now the premier campus for one of the largest universities in the country – and major centre for dance and drama education. […] Middlesex University extends the warmest of welcomes to everyone who would like to pass through the campus as part of their trip to Trent Park.’