Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Interview for Emmanuel College, Cambridge

Emmanuel College
John Grinsell, 1999.
Studying Art at 'A' level helped me develop a keener interest in Architecture so I was encouraged to apply to study Architecture at university.  I received information from a number of Schools of Architecture and one of Betty's earlier boyfriends was an architect who had studied at Birmingham University so he brought all his student work round for me to see.

The most significant help I received came from my school's Headmaster who, as an academic, had good contacts with a number of universities.  He was a tall, imposing man who had previously taught in New Zealand and, like many teachers in those days, had served in the armed forces during the war.  The advice he gave me and my father was against the trend in attitude towards further education.  Most people aspiring to achieve a place at Oxford or Cambridge were channelled through the official entrance examination system. He suggested the more modern 'conditional entry' system as more appropriate; being interviewed before taking 'A' levels and hopefully receiving an offer on the condition that certain levels are met.

My Headmaster had some contacts in Cambridge so suggested Emmanuel College. Cambridge, Oxford and Durham Universities are run on a collegiate system rather than the departmental system.  This means the intake of students into departments is based on allocations given to the colleges.  Emmanuel had an allocation of two Architecture students per year but the School of Architecture at Cambridge did not attract a large number of students as it only ran a three year degree course whereas the larger schools of architecture (e.g. Liverpool, Sheffield and Manchester) were recognised for the full five year qualification to become a practising architect.  So competition was likely to be far less than if I were hoping to study law or medicine.

It came about therefore that I attended interview at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, when I was 17.  It only took an hour by car to get there and although I can’t remember what took place before or after the interview I have a clear memory of the encounter with the Senior Tutor, who at the time was Edward Welbourne (he later became Master of Emmanuel).  He was a large, shambling man with heavy, jowled features.  He looked unkempt, wore shabby clothes and appeared to me like the proverbial absent-minded professor.  Our discussion about architecture seemed to centre on a book of country houses and guessing the dates when they were built.  I also recall he sent me out to look around the college while he spoke to my father, who never did tell me much about what was said.  When I came back he asked me directly the date of the college chapel.  I knew it was designed by Sir Christopher Wren and gave it my best shot.  In reply he pointed out that the date was carved in stone just above the clock face!  I don’t remember anything else except that I thought I had blown it.

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