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Fifty year association with City

Mathematics, Computer Science & Engineering News.
Students' Union booklet circa 1970 (Photo 1)

Students’ Union booklet circa 1970 (Photo 1)

Post by Dr Peter Harding

It is 50 years since my first association with City. This period coincidentally covers the time from its birth, or transformation, from Northampton College of Advanced Technology until now, when it is proposed to join the University of London. In these 50 years there has been considerable change.

A picture taken from the Students’ Union booklet circa 1970 (Photo 1) shows the view of the Thames looking east (Photo 2). Some two years ago I visited the Shard. I took a photo from a similar angle to the aerial shot. It shows the massive amount of building work that has taken place in the City and the Isle of Dogs (Photo 3).

London has been on a journey beyond anything that could be envisaged 50 years ago.





View of the Thames looking east circa 1970 (Photo 2)

View of the Thames looking east circa 1970 (Photo 2)

My first recollection of City

My first recollection of City was as Northampton College of Advanced Technology, knowing that within a few months it would become ‘The City University – TCU’. I arrived to interview  on a very cold day in December 1965. As I was early, I killed time walking around the local streets for the best part of an hour getting colder and colder. Finally I decided to enter the main building and found it beautifully warm, and wished I had the courage to enter earlier. I was taken to a part of the main building off St John’s Street, where I sat an exam. One of the questions was how you would plan a new road system to go through/around an existing town, as shown on a map. Probably nothing to do with electrical engineering but testing knowledge of systematic, thoughtful decision making! As part of the admission screening process I had already submitted an engineering/science report. I chose to write about the possibility of sending geostationary satellites into earth’s orbit. I am not sure that it was the type of answer that was expected but at least it showed that I was interested in technology. Interestingly, I later worked at the Rocket Propulsion Establishment designing an instrumentation system for testing static rocket motor firings, establishing my interest in the exciting area of rockets and satellite technology which was a hot topic in the 60’s and 70’s.

Recent view of the Thames from the Shard (Photo 3)

Recent view of the Thames from the Shard (Photo 3)

Confirmation of my place

I received confirmation of a place in January 1966, one of the first offers in my sixth form group. This indicated to me that a highly efficient administrative system was operating at the University. Concurrently with obtaining a university place I had to find an industrial sponsor for the six months work experience every year when I was not undertaking study. I settled on an offer from Eastern Electricity Board and found the training very diverse, giving me experience in many disciplines. I now realise that I had an exceptional opportunity including workshop training (where I was able to make a range of tools that I still use); work at a Power Station; manufacturers works in South Wales; planning and construction departments, commercial departments as well as working with engineers, linesmen and jointers and liaising with the public.



City of London map circa 1969 / 1970 (Photo 4)

City of London map circa 1969 / 1970 (Photo 4)


What my experience at City gave me

My experience at City gave me an education in the widest sense of the word. I not only finished my course but also appreciated the annual Gresham lectures; the chance to listen to the lunch time concerts given by the Guildhall School of Music and watch many of the shows based on NASA films about the Apollo space programme. I also became fascinated with the City of London and the student accommodation was ideally located on Bunhill Row,  which I was allocated to in my last year and so was able to explore the City at the weekends (Photo 4). The final year module on Management Studies at the Guildhall was a wonderful experience.



Peter Harding

Dr Peter Harding


50 years since

It has been fifty years since this first interest in the City and now, fifty years later, I have been able to walk around the City to discover again some of the interesting places and small passage ways and alleys that interconnect many of the streets and buildings.

As I have inferred, after working for the Eastern Electricity Board I worked at the Rocket Propulsion Establishment. Later on I moved into education and started lecturing at an FE College and also tutoring for The Open University. I then moved onto what is now known as Buckinghamshire New University. During my twenty five years at this establishment I was able to take part-time courses at City in MSc Engineering (1996) and then a PhD in Information Engineering (2007). My research gave me the opportunity to write academic papers which were published by the ICPR and my research student published by the IEEE and IEE.

I hope I have briefly shown that the changes and developments that have occurred for me have been in considerable part due to my experiences gained at the City.  I have gone from an undergraduate to an alumnus gained two additional degrees, both beyond my expectation some fifty years ago.

My advice to current students:

  1. Keep an open mind – don’t reject ideas out of hand as it is surprising where the next inspiration comes from
  2. Revert to first principle to solve or understand problems
  3. Theory and practice do agree it maybe is your model or measurements at fault
  4. Beware of excessive ‘hype’ as it can be detrimental to good science and engineering
  5. Appreciate the positive aspects of colleagues – shrink the negatives
  6. Understand how your company works and where power lies

4 Responses to Fifty year association with City

  1. Peter Porter says:

    I too started my Electrical and Electronic degree at TCU in 1966 and my sponsor was the London Electricity Board. Some years later I moved to Eastern Electricity where completed my engineering career Subsequently I trained as a secondary school teacher specialising in Physics Reading Peter’s account of his time at TCU brought back many happy memories I think that the course is the 1960s was more rigorous and had more breadth than many current courses including those of my two sons. Social studies, finance, organisation behaviour modules, for example, gave me a solid grounding for my future management roles.
    A few years ago I attended a reunion and not only were there many changes to the University but to the surrounding area also. I even lost my way when walking from the Angel station to the University. I no longer live in London so it is difficult to become more involved in University life but I still try to keep in touch from afar and am pleased that it is still going from strength to strength.

  2. John Rae says:

    It was in ’66 that I also attempted to reroute traffic around the fictional village, but this time I was destined for the Measurement and Control Engineering course. My recollection of the new university construction was hanging out of the union bar windows watching the hole that would eventually become the electrical labs getting deeper and deeper. Northampton Hall in Bunhill Row was a great place for a 1st year student, with (quite literally) in-house residents of the opposite sex (I recall someone saying it was the first mixed hall in Europe) and an excellent bar and refectory. My weekends were usually spent with the floor tutor, Roy Vipond, as a member of the “Task Force” team doing painting and decorating for old folks in the Angel area. Some may remember (with a smile) the fire scare we had one Saturday night when a head-count after evacuation indicated 150% room occupancy !!
    By today’s standards we sandwich course students of the time were extremely well off, being paid by our sponsoring employers, many of us also getting a grant from local authorities and course fees being unheard of.

  3. David Harrison says:

    It was in September 1953 that I enrolled on the London University internal Engineering Degree evening course at Northampton Polytechnic. The five year course ran three evenings a week and there were 12 of us who started it, mostly just post-National Service. All except one were already working as junior draughtsmen, the exception was in music publishing and he dropped out after the first term. The options for the second half of the course were mainly for groups of two or three though special events like the surveying practical work on Hampstead Heath were held with the part-time day students on Saturdays. Some people swapped from the one set to the other. Our group not only kept together with dinners at Christmas and in the summer but have held our own reunions for many years, firstly every year and more lately every three or four years. Our course was very different from the present type of full-time course because not only did the small numbers allow for interaction (no need for tutorials but also because we were all working there was not a single topic that I attended for which at least one of us had not already had design experience. This also meant that we were not afraid to question either from true ignorance or because we felt that “Sir” was skipping it a bit. Additionally if one of us was absent, one of us would slip some carbon paper into their loose leaf pad and take a duplicate set.

  4. david johnson says:

    Does anyone remember Brian Small (recently deceased) who was anything but small.
    Subsequent career as engineering consultat; ingersoll engineers, founder Company of Management Consultants?

    David Johnson

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