England, c. 1963

August 16, 2012

Back in the first half of July I spent a few days in Leeds where I attended the International Medieval Congress, the big annual gathering of medievalists from all over Europe (and elsewhere) which has been hosted by the University of Leeds ever since 1994. The whole thing took place at Boddington Hall, one of Leeds University’s students halls which has been the congress venue for many years in a row now.

One of the many buildings that make up Boddington Hall…

Boddington Hall wasn’t only where most of the papers and presentations were happening, it was also my place of accommodation, and while it didn’t have that Brideshead Revisited-feel provided by my lodgings in Oxford earlier this year I found it surprisingly pleasant. I say ‘surprisingly’ because I had heard people who participated in the Leeds Medieval Congress before speak rather dismissively about the place: What I had expected was some bleak and dire architectural atrocity, but what I found was a rather charming piece of 1960s architecture…

I know there are horses in the foreground and they probably take up all of your attention, but in the background you can catch another glimpse of Boddington Hall

Located among woods and meadows outside of Leeds’ city centre, Boddington Hall was built in 1961-1963. With its clear, cubic volumes and its combination of red brick and blue and green panelling, of brown ceramic tiles and metal staircases and balconies, to me it almost looked like the backdrop of a Wes Anderson movie. I must say I really liked the many buildings that make up the complex of Boddington Hall and I wasn’t surprised to learn that its architect Denis Mason Jones (1918-2010) won the Leeds Gold Medal for its design in 1964. [Admittedly, I have no idea what exactly the Leeds Gold Medal is, but apparently it’s some kind of prize, so ‘yay, impressive!’]

Boddington Hall again. Now just imagine Bill Murray with a bleak look on his face standing on one of those balconies and voilà, it’s a scene from a Wes Anderson movie!

Yep, another shot of Boddington Hall…

But of course, at the end of the day it is a student hall, so the accommodation it provides is rather basic. Also, like so many fine buildings from the 1960s, it looks as if it has been a bit neglected during the last few decades and is need of some adjustments/repair. While the bathrooms have been brought up to date in more recent times, the buildings definitely have a problem with air conditioning/ventilation: The rooms and corridors were incredibly hot and stuffy, even when outside temperatures were pleasantly cool. And while the few traces of the original furnishings of the rooms looked quite stylish, they have been refurbished more recently by people who didn’t have any taste or interest in interior design and/or simply lacked the financial resources to satisfy it.

Anyway, as you can see I was sufficiently fascinated by the place to take lots and lots of photos, and I found the architecture of Boddington Hall to be one of the most fascinating aspects of the entire congress. You could say that I had set out to fully immerse myself in the Middle Ages but found myself submerged in the early 1960s instead! And this didn’t stop with my stay in Leeds…

…and another one…

After the congress I spent a few days with [m] in London and one of the first things we did there was to go and see the then newly opened exhibition The Rolling Stones: 50 at Somerset House. Celebrating the Stones’ 50th anniversary, this fine photographic exhibition shows pictures from all stages of the band’s career, but there is a definite focus on their formative years, i.e. c. 1962-1965. What’s more, many of those early photos don’t just show the band onstage or in a studio but e.g. shopping for clothes, having tea or hanging out in the streets of London, Manchester and New York. So what you get is not just pictures of the Rolling Stones but also some fascinating glimpses into life and material culture in the early Sixties. Best of all, in some of those images drummer Charlie Watts really looks like a character from one of the first seasons of Mad Men – and come to think of it, he actually did work in an advertising agency before the Stones got famous, so there you go…

…and Boddington Hall again – notice wood panelling, that’s a feature we haven’t had before…

As if that wasn’t enough, we also went to Saddler’s Wells Theatre to see Matthew Bourne’s Play Without Words, a stunning dance piece based on the 1963 film The Servant. Bourne’s adaption is set in Chelsea in 1965, and just like the Rolling Stones it was very much about sex and social change. And I imagine to a certain extent these two topics must have been prominent back in 1960s Boddington Hall as well. After all, it is a student hall…

4 Responses to “England, c. 1963”

  1. The whole thing took place at Boddington Hall, one of Leeds University’s students halls which has been the congress venue for many years in a row now.

    But no longer, as you probably gathered! I couldn’t gather what will happen to the old campus, but I doubt it can be long for this world, so it’s rather nice to have this memorial ready for it. Thankyou.

    • [c] said

      Yes, I gathered that this was the last time the congress was held at Boddington and that the University of Leeds will stop (has stopped?) using the place as a student hall. However, I don’t have any idea what will become of it either, but I’m afraid some major investments would be necessary to bring the buildings ‘up to date’ while still retaining their original appearance, and I doubt that anybody will be will be willing to spend that kind of money on it. In cases like this it’s usually much cheaper to just knock down the building and build something new than to preserve the existing structure. So, sadly, unless Boddington Hall is actually a listed building (which I doubt) its chances of survival are scarce and I’m glad I got to see it, so to say, just in time.

      • Some people were told, apparently, that they shouldn’t take souvenirs of the accommodation (!) as it would be being used by students next year, but I think that may be the last crop. I would have thought a developer would pay large large amounts of money for land that close to the big city, on a main bus route and road but with that kind of `rural aspect’ to it, I’m not sure there can be an economic case for not selling the place for demolition as long as they get to keep the sports fields (and have somewhere else to put the students…).

  2. […] any further, I’ll merely point out that [c] of The Pen, the Brush and the Needle already did a post about it, so if you miss it you can direct yourself […]

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