Wearside Echoes: Happy memories of college life

Ian Huntly as Caesar sitting on an oil drum under the canopy of a Rag Day float, with Cleopatra and her needle sitting next to him.
Ian Huntly as Caesar sitting on an oil drum under the canopy of a Rag Day float, with Cleopatra and her needle sitting next to him.
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MEMORIES of college life in Sunderland have been unearthed in an attic 300 miles away from the city – in Berkshire.

The discovery of two Rag Day photos have brought happy memories floating back for former Wearside student Ian Huntly.

“They show Sunderland Technical College Rag Day in 1956,” said the retired scientist, web designer and Isle of Man TT Races journalist, who now lives in Berkshire.

“I am ‘Caesar’ on the oil drum under the canopy, wearing the college scarf and laurel wreath. ‘Cleopatra’ and her needle are next to me.”

Ian was born in Chester-le-Street in September 1939, just as war broke out. The frequent bombing raids on County Durham were “the norm” during his early years.

Ian’s grandfather, John Nicholson, had invented and patented the Norsen fire-hose reel, which was used to great effect during and after the war in cinemas and public buildings nationwide.

Indeed Ian’s father, Harry, is likely to have used the reels during his stint as a wartime Auxiliary Fire Service officer.

“Dad was in a reserved occupation, dealing with war vehicles from firstly Sunderland, then down in Hull and Doncaster,” said Ian. “He had been a successful speedway rider before the war.”

Once the war ended, Ian was able to concentrate on schoolwork. After several years at Chester-le-Street Grammar, he won a place to study science and maths at Sunderland Tech.

“I can remember two names of people in my year, Astrid Wild and Coralie Bunker,” he said.

“My immediate male friends were Rob Pearson and Alan Oliver. One of our tutors was Dr Wilkinson, who taught applied organic chemistry, and there was Mr Smethurst who taught physics.

“Mr Smethurst taught the subject so well I have remembered the knowledge I got from him all my life after that.

“My girlfriend at the time was Edna Cairns from the Roker area, but I also was friends with girls called Margaret Marshall and Irene Barnfather.”

Ian still has fond memories of Rag Week too – although a group of Norwegian students from Naval Architecture won Best Float with a whaling ship towed by a whale.

“Our Caesar’s Conquests float was a bit basic,” he admits. “It was made of carpet roll tubes and I wore a white sheet as a toga – which was a bit draughty! The Norwegian float was superb.”

Ian joined the lab staff at Dryburn Hospital after leaving college. He later concentrated on biochemistry, and while working at Newcastle’s RVI, he married one of the nurses in 1968.

“My uncle George Bambrough, a successful haulage contractor in Chester-le-Street, owned Sunderland Flying Club at this time, and I did quite a bit of flying thanks to him,” said Ian.

“Once we flew to Auchterarder to see a flying display. My wife was working nights as a nurse, and was shocked when we told her we’d been to Scotland and back while she was asleep!”

Ian took up audio-visual selling, before turning to his love of the Isle of Man TT Races to become a motorbike journalist. At 72, he still writes for motorbike websites.

“I wonder if the people I have mentioned are still in the Sunderland area, as it would be nice to hear from them again,” he said.

l Ian can be contacted by phone on 0118 926 5748 or by email at: ianahuntly@supanet.com