As the University prepares to welcome students back to campus, and first years get ready to leave home and move into halls, we wanted to share the memories of some of our alumni who called the original Ranmoor House (from which the later halls take their name) home.
When we Google “Ranmoor House, University of Sheffield”, we get paragraphs on a Ranmoor House Halls of Residence which housed no less than 600 students from its founding in 1968 to a farewell reunion in 2008. It is suggested that the Halls was designed after a prison in Sweden. There is a video of it being demolished.
There is no mention of its history or origins. Whence came this huge, and apparently successful, student residence?
We were at Sheffield from the mid-1950s into the 1960s. When we arrived and when we left, Ranmoor House was a fine stone building high on a ridge above Fulwood Road. It had battlements and a central tower, suggesting a Victorian’s image of a medieval seminary. As far as we knew, it had been there forever. When we arrived as first year students, it was just what we expected a university residence to look like.
This fine building housed 49 (male) students, a Sub-Warden (Ken Highnam, Zoology), a Matron (Miss Hall), a sick bay, a dining hall, a library and a Junior Common Room. The couple in charge of the buildings and grounds, Mr and Mrs King, lived in a lodge at the end of the entrance drive. The Warden, Prof Lawton (French) lived in a large stone house just over Fulwood Road. Cooks and other support workers came in daily.
When we arrived and when we left, this Ranmoor House was a going concern with an annual routine which we naively assumed went back to the beginnings of time! While breakfast and lunch were “casual”, dinner at 7 pm was strictly formal, with students wearing gowns and the Warden, after a Latin grace, presiding at high table. On Friday, we were served all you could eat fish and chips. Splendid!
After dinner, we would retire to the Junior Common Room (JCR) for a drink and innocent entertainment, including a singing evening most weeks led by the President of the JCR. There was no TV, although rumour had it some students used to sneak off to Mr and Mrs King’s lodge to watch favourite programs. The Hall’s magazine, The Gargoyle, was published regularly.
There were initiation rites for new students (such as a bath in a women’s residence at noon or stealing something substantial from other Halls), followed by a steady round of activities as the academic year unfolded. Ranmoor was involved in every inter-hall activity with great success, especially in such sports as soccer, rugby, hockey, tennis and basketball. There was an annual rugby game against the University of Birmingham’s Chancellor Hall. This was no mean achievement as the rugby team involved almost a third of our student body. We suspected that the Warden had something to do with the success of our teams– selecting new Ranmoorians for their athletic ability rather than anything else. Be that as it may, this Ranmoor House contributed to other University activities through, for example, an annual musical evening (a formal event typically involving all 49 of us and usually graced by the Vice Chancellor himself), the Don River Boat Race (when the Don really was a soot-filled sewer), and Rag Day activities with some fine, if slightly smutty, floats.
The Ranmoor Ball, again a dressy affair, was a highpoint of the calendar and we are pleased to see that the more modern Ranmoor identified by Google offered something similar.
There was a strong clique of climbing and caving students in our Ranmoor, conveniently located for the moors and gritstone edges. Indeed, it was the headquarters of the building-climbing section of the main University club as its tower had a fire escape friction cord which allowed building-climbers to practice in safety. Regular building ascents included other residences, nearby nurses’ residences and main edifices at Western Bank. On the older Sheffield buildings, the usual objective of a climb was to free-stand on top of the tall chimney stacks.
This seed of the later incarnations of Ranmoor House was a caricature of colleges featured in the Boy’s Own Paper. It was a wonderful place for first generation university students. We don’t know where it came from but we do know that it was bulldozed after we left. It must of course have been a terribly expensive way for the University to house a mere 49 students a year. Much more expensive that the 600 person prison-like structure featured by Google.
This tiny, short-lived, hall must have been one of Sheffield’s more productive nodes. Certainly its graduates have found success in their chosen professions all over the UK and the world.
We are grateful to friends from the original Ranmoor House for their help with this piece and especially Peter Haworth for his recent essay, “John Farley, Ranmoorian 1957-59, Remembered with Fondness”.
Thanks to John Carter for his fine photo.
Adrian Roscoe, BA Hons English 1960, Dip Ed 1961
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