Background | This website project | Why a database? | How can you contribute? | Who we are

wreath laid at Governors' Demo November 30 2012

‘Their records may have been trashed, but we do remember and celebrate the lives and achievements of the many thousands of our Ruskin comrades’
Wording on the wreath placed on the memorial bench at the lobby of the governors 30th November 2012

This website is a collective archive bringing together in one site information about former students – alive and dead – who were students at Ruskin College, Oxford since its inception in 1899.


When Ruskin College moved away from its Walton Street building in central Oxford, where it had been based for over one hundred years, much of its archive of student records was destroyed. Many dissertations written by Ruskin students were likewise disposed of. Artefacts, including paintings, were dispersed to other institutions.

No legal advice was taken prior to this destruction. No copies were made of the destroyed material. Such trashing of material of the past lives of former students was entirely unnecessary and its motivation remains a mystery. As Nicholas Kingsley, Head of Archives Sector Development & Secretary of the Historical Manuscripts Commission at the National Archives, confirmed ‘it would have been acceptable to retain these records indefinitely for historical purposes’. The Bishopsgate Institute offered its space to ‘anything and everything’ the College no longer wanted. (The Institute already holds the papers of Ruskin’s former history tutor Raphael Samuel and of the History Workshop that had been so closely associated with the College.)

There was much press coverage of the scandal and widespread criticism of the actions of the Principal, Audrey Mullender. A background article written by the former Dean of the College, condemning the destruction, was placed on History Workshop Online. There were further articles by Ruskin’s former librarian and by a former student, who described being asked to take rare pamphlets from the College library, and bin them.

An online petition drew international wide support of over 7,500 signatories. These included: Sarah Waters, Alan Bennett, M Lewycka, Sir Brian Harrison former editor of the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography; Dr Nick Mansfield former director of the People’s History Museum; Dr Eve Setch History publisher at Routledge; Professor Alison Light (widow of Raphael Samuel); Professor Jonathan Rose author of The Intellectual Life of the British Working Classes; Stewart Maclennan, chair of the Scottish Labour History Society; MPs John McDonnell, Dave Anderson and Jeremy Corbyn; Harry Barnes, former Labour MP and former Ruskin student; John Hendy QC; Professor Geoff Whitty, former director of the Institute of Education; Professor Pat Thane, co-founder of History and Policy; Alice Kessler-Harris former President, Organization of American Historians; Dr Andrew Foster, Chair of the Public History Committee of the Historical Association; Professor Geoff Eley, Chair of the History Department at the University of Michigan; Dr. Serge Noiret, Chair of the International Federation for Public History, Italy; Dorothy Sheridan, former archivist of the Mass Observation archive; Dr. Roger Fieldhouse, joint author of A History of Modern British Adult Education; Keith Bilton on behalf of the Social Work History Network; Bob Price, leader of Oxford City Council; former governors including David Buckle and Brian Cohen; and hundreds and hundreds of former Ruskin students and staff, family historians and descendants of Ruskin students. The petition was presented to the governors in November 2012. However the vast bulk of the student records, as well as dissertations (which were often based on students’ trade union activity) were destroyed.

This website project

We realise that it will never be possible to ‘recreate’ the  material stored in the ruined archives. However, we think it important to acknowledge the life experiences of people whose memory has been treated so shabbily. We also want to ensure that the destruction of the archive is not forgotten. As one signatory commented poignantly ‘My father was lucky enough to gain a scholarship to Ruskin from the NUM after WWII. His studies there are a large part of the reason why I am not now a miner… these records are of international importance.’

We have called this effort of restoration a public history project. Raphael Samuel wrote that history is the ‘work of a thousand hands’. The History Workshop and the Public History group, strongly associated with Ruskin, work in that spirit. This project, too, aims to create ‘history’, outside an academic institution, through (potentially) the work of thousands of people, contributing their own knowledge and experience.

Why a database?

We are very aware that the lives of many former Ruskin students have been recorded in prestigious biographical collections such as the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography or in the various volumes of the Dictionary of Labour Biography. But such existing material has never been gathered together in one, searchable, place.

We are also very conscious, of course, of the important contributions former Ruskin students have made to the lives of their countries and communities and families – contributions that have yet to be publicly recorded and memorialised collectively.

How can you contribute?

We are asking people to contribute as many entries as they can of the lives of students who attended the college (or participated in its correspondence courses). Please fill in the form available from Database Entry in the main menu. If you are entering details about someone who has been previously written about at length you can  fill in the minimum and refer the reader to other material. If you are writing about someone who has not been written about before you may feel the categories set out in this form are rather restricting. In this case please add further material under the section headed ‘contributor’s comments’. Do not worry if you cannot fill in all the information. By creating a database in this way we hope that others will be able to add further information.

We also welcome ephemeral material including photographs of groups of former students. If you wish to contribute please email a JPG and a short description/caption to: newruskinarchives [at] gmail [dot] com

This website has only been possible through a generous one-off grant from History Workshop Journal. In order to maintain the site and its online presence we are seeking further financial contributions. We believe that this crowd-sourcing approach to fund-raising (an approach successfully taken by campaigning organisations like 38 Degrees) fits well with the way that we conceive the website, as the work of the collective intellect.

Who we are

We are a few people who came together to try and stop the destruction of the Ruskin student archives. With many others we wrote articles and letters, composed petitions and lobbied the governors. We are intending to establish an advisory group once the project is up and running. We also welcome the involvement of those with time and energy to assist in developing the website.

19 thoughts on “About

  1. Harry Barnes

    Congratulations on the web-site, I have encouraged two ex-students and an ex-tutor to contribute.
    A source that you may wish to make use of is obituaries. Examples are –
    a. John Hughes, a former Principal – http://www.theguardian.com/education/2013/nov/22/john-hughes
    b. The above links to his wife Vi Hughes who was a Lecturer.
    c. Mick Welsh who became an MP and was a student in my time 1960-2 –
    Photographs to pursue include those annual ones taken at Walton Street where over a 100 students and various staff assembled. Some may even hold records of their names. Ex-students will normally have kept them. I have photos taken in the summer of 1961 when a number of us visited the Workers University at Zagreb, with Billy Hughes – the Principal. I will try to scan and send a couple some time.

    1. Annie Skinner

      Thanks for this Harry, very helpful. If you have visited the site since your comment about John and Vi Hughes you will see that there is now a piece about them which Katherine Hughes and I wrote. We have also given links to their obituaries.
      People have certainly been scouring the obituaries for former students and we hope others who discover new ones will write entries for them.
      Thank you for your help and support. I look forward to seeing your photos.
      Best wishes

  2. Emma Tait

    A very impressive beginning to what will be a valuable website archive. Congratulations and thanks to those who have put it together, starting the process.

  3. Alison Light

    I am delighted to see the website – the project is such an excellent idea and absolutely in the spirt of public and people’s history. I shall tell as many people as I can about it. I will hunt out some photos – Raphael and I had a wonderful wedding party with students at Ruskin and it would good to include those. And I hope I can be supportive in other ways.
    Warmest congratulations,
    Alison (Light)

    1. Hilda Kean

      Thank you so much – we look forward to your input and images! To date under ephemera we have an image of Raphael with history students on a visit to Ironbridge in the summer of 1994.

      Hilda Kean

  4. Rob Turnbull

    Dear Comrades. What happened with regard to the Ruskin archives was an awful exercise in cultural vandalism, similar to the destruction of the South Wales Miners Libraries in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s. I am currently writing a book on the Plebs League, and those records would have been of immeasurable value in my research. However we are where are, and I will do anything I can to help.

    Yours in the cause

    Rob Turnbull Ruskin 1994/1995

    1. Annie Skinner

      Rob, thank you for your comment and offer of help. We wish you luck with your project on the Plebs League and look forward to reading the book. Do keep us updated. Maybe someone will contact us with information that may help you.
      Annie Skinner

  5. Susan Rose-Wray

    By your dedication you have represented what I believe to be the best and true spirit of Ruskin and in so doing you have reinforced that, despite the thoughtless vandalism of those who perpetrated the destruction and removal of these valuable records, Ruskin College still encourages the individual to shine. In this you have gone a long way toward overturning the actions of those who were derelict in their duty to the college and should have known better.
    You have all clearly worked so hard to put together a form of replacement for that which was so heedlessly destroyed. I salute and congratulate you all.
    (Ruskin College 2007-2010)

  6. John Creaby

    Well done comrades ! What was done to the Ruskin Archives was sheer vandalism and a loss to the historic data base of the labour movement. In 1968 , 23 year old and newly married, I nearly went to Ruskin , having had my submission accepted and a scholarship offered. I had the pleasing opportunity of an interview by John Hughes and Roy Jackson (TUC) and a week there in the process. But as luck( or otherwise) would have it I became , unexpectedly noting my age .a full time official of the Clerical Union CAWU the same month. My contact then and since with students and ex students and their work leads me to welcome this initiative but also with history an essential element of my academic discipline this deliberate destruction of working class accessible data is a great loss.
    I wish you every success and have Tweeted the information.

  7. Parris Crausby

    Congratulations on this brilliant archive and resource. We will never know what was destroyed but we do know it was the hard work of many many men and women. People who came to better themselves and left us all a written record of their thoughts and achievements. Why anyone would collude in destroying their hard work and the fact that they ever existed is beyond comprehension This has of course been done many times before throughout history. Maybe without written records they thought they could deny us, as we know they can’t. Well done Comrades.

  8. Harry Barnes

    On 9th December 1961 (exactly 52 years ago today), the Oxford Committee of 100 held a mass sit-down outside the Brize Norton H-Bomb base. A list of 73 members of what was then called the Committee’s “Provisional List” was published on a leaflet which was “An Appeal For Your Support”. Around 25% of these were students from Ruskin College. There were 18; namely – Nick Brady, D.M. (Doug) Chewter, W.F. (Bill) Cooke, I.J. Graham, Karl Hedderwick, Catherine (Cath) Law, Joe Law, Maurice Lee Jr, M.C. (Mike) MacKay, Terence (Terry) Murphy, W. (Bill) Niven, Stephen O’Donoghue, I.R. (Ian) Pickard, W (Bill) Skillington, Brain Weekes, M (Mickey) Welsh, H (Bert) Williams and myself – as Harold Barnes. When the stewards of the initial march, were called over by the police at its start (seemingly for advice), they were arrested. Others were arrested at the sit down. I saw the police move in to arrest the late Mickey Welsh (who later became a Labour MP), but they decided he was a bit on the large side and grabbed a smaller man sat near him.

    1. Ed Coker

      Harry – this brings back some memories! I might say I was/am not small but the police found no difficulty in lifting me up when we were all arrested in Witney on the way to Brize Norton! A highlight of that arrest was when we were fingerprinted and put into a cell in what was then the police station in Witney, we discovered the police had forgotten to lock us in! After finding us wandering in the corridor, rather red faced they put us back in and locked us up. It is interesting that none of us tried to escape, being imbued with a non-violent frame of mind. Subsequently most of us were bound over to keep the peace and I still have my little notice to that effect. One person who surely was on that Committee of 100 list would have been Will Warren who refused to plead “technically guilty” and consequently spent six months in Oxford prison. I fondly remember the breakfast we had at the old St Giles Cafe to honour his release. Now, I live in Witney and am constantly reminded of the event when I drive past the place where we were arrested.

      1. Hilda Kean

        Hi Ed Thanks for this comment. It would be great if you could, like Harry and many others, do your own database entry as a way of building up the archive of former Ruskin students.

        1. Ed Coker

          Hi Hilda – Thanks for that, but sorry to be so stupid but how do I do my own database entry [which I am quite willing to do!] Ed

  9. Tommy Gee

    Todays Gdn leader reminded me that on my return from Africa in 1965 In search of a new career I was interviewed by the governing body of Ruskin in Vauxhall Bridge Road, London to succeed ?John Ennals as college secretary. i was offered the appointment and the principal Billy Hughes aware that I had also been offered the secretaryship of Barbara Castles embryonic Institute of Development Studies was willing to wait until a final decision on the Institutes foundation. It came into existence on 31.12.65 and was located on the Sussex campus despite strong claims to locate it in Oxford. we had a cottage in Oxon and our two sons were at school there.
    i note that Ruskin’s archives have been lost .
    Question :
    Was John? Ennals the brother of Martin and David?
    I am now 90 and putting together some personal notes for family whilst there is still time, and am conjecturimg about what might have been.
    Tommy Gee.

    1. Hilda Kean

      Thanks, Tommy. Not all the archives were destroyed by Audrey Mullender, the former principal – only those relating to students. I suggest you contact the new principal Chris Wilkes to see if there are details in the college’s annual reports. Hilda

  10. mel price

    I went to ruskin college in 1994 as a committed conservative. I came out still a tory but with pink edges. The destruction of the archive was a blatent attack not only on students written histories but on students personal memories. These memories can never be recalled nor the lessons of them learnt for future reference nor as a warning to those who would try to subvert democracy.
    As someone that failed the 11+ i had at the age of 50 the privilege to study under raphael samuel and hilda kean. Ive since written a book and had several poems published with no thanks in small part to ruskin and having lived the ruskin experience.

  11. Harry Barnes

    “North East History” is the journal of the North East Labour History Society. In its 2016 edition it carries four articles by former Ruskin students on their periods at the College – Archie Potts (1956-58), Nigel Todd (1967-69), Ruth Todd (1967-69) and Bob Turnbull (seemingly 1994-6). It might be worth you contacting the Society to arrange for a link to the articles or their re-production. They can be contacted here – http://nelh.net/

    I have a smaller piece about my own period at the College from 1960-62 on page 11 of the current 2016 issue of “Inspires” – the magazine for Oxford Politics and International Relations Alumni. See page 11 here – http://www.politics.ox.ac.uk/materials/alumni/inspires2016/ On page 10 they state they are after similar sized profiles for their site from others who obtained the Oxford University Diploma in Economics and Political Science.

  12. Harold Pollins

    I was a tutor at Ruskin 1964-1989. I know that two student files survived as in my presence Audrey Mullender handed their files to John Prescott and Baldwin Spencer (when Prime MInister of Antigua.


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