Christmas from the Archive

Whether through tradition, faith or common experience, Christmas is a time when family, friends and strangers come together to celebrate, remember, and look forwards with optimism to the new year approaching.

Never more is this optimism tested than when suffering hardships such as poverty, illness, or experiencing and surviving conflict: and sadly the latter has proved particularly challenging throughout history, throughout the world.

Photo of children at a Christmas party during an air raid
Christmas party sheltering from an air raid in World War II

The photo included, from our Archive, shows children having a Christmas party- but look closely at some of their faces and you begin to sense it’s no ordinary scene. The photo was taken during World War II and the young people featured are sheltering from the horrors of an air raid in the basement of what we assume is College Building (the annotations on the reverse of the photo are limited).

Many higher education colleges and universities closed during the war, but the Institute carried on, determined that normal life should continue as much as possible for everyone involved: one example of this spirit of determination being that the timetable was altered to allow students to get home safely before nightfall heralded the inevitable menace of bombings and gunfire.

The Northampton Institute (City’s previous name) played a vital role supporting both the war effort and the local community. Various armed forces were stationed here, including the RAF- and there are entries in the Alumni magazine of the time, the N’ION, detailing the Morse Code classes that students were invited to attend.

Among the other entries in the N’ION include stories from those escaping the terrors of internment camps, lists of alumni who gave their lives in defence of the freedoms many of us now take for granted, and a passionate editorial outlining the importance of the National Union of Students coming together to fight for a hopeful future based on respect, equality and above all peace: a sentiment still utterly relevant today.

Merry Christmas and a happy, peaceful to new year to all.

(If you know anything more about the photo, or persons featured, we’d love to hear from you)




“Am now in the trenches for the first time, and it is d— cold.”

City, University of London was founded as The Northampton Institute, and over the years its staff, students and Alumni have sadly, like most people, been unable to escape the ravages of war.

Whilst academics provided training for members of the armed forces during World War II, local people sheltered in the basement as bombs fell. The Engineering Faculty facilities were used to produce munitions and communication tools during the First World War, and the Institute was involved in helping injured former service personnel following the conflict.

The Archive collection here at City contains records and images from the Institution’s history, and many of you will have seen the commemorative display on the wall of the College Building (opposite the Saddlers Common Room) as you pass through, which features photographs and stories from those times of crisis; events also well documented in the Student Union and Society publications of the day.

An Editorial from the Northampton Engineering College Magazine in November 1914 considers the dilemma of students at the time and reports on a Student Union debate concerning whether “students should enlist” or “students ought not to enlist” (they concluded they should). It then describes how the governing bodies, including the University of London:

“are making it as easy as possible for a student who enlists now to resume his studies again after the war, but it is doubtful whether after months of the glorious and free life of a soldier one could again settle down to the ceaseless poring over ponderous tomes which is so characteristic of our student life…”

In February 1915 the Editorial of The Northampton Gazette featured several appeals: one was for subscriptions to keep the publication going during those tough times, another was for correspondents to send in stories from the Front, and a third was asking soldiers overseas to send a postcard home confirming they had received their copies of the Gazette in the post. ‘Our Letter Bag’ featured some of this correspondence:

The Northampton Gazette 1915How time, hindsight and records from the past shed light on historical events, particularly those we remember on days like this.