The Ashburne Hall Archive

Dr James Peters, Curator of the University Archives, describes the archive of Ashburne Hall, which has recently been transferred to the Library.

The archive of Ashburne Hall, one of the oldest of the University’s ‘traditional’ halls, has recently been transferred to the Library.

With this acquisition, the archives of all the University’s major halls of residence are now part of the University Archives. Collectively, these collections are a  comprehensive and fascinating source of information about student residential life at the University since the late nineteenth century.

Ashburne’s archive is the largest of the hall archives and it has significant research potential for many different aspects of university and campus history. The archive is not a completely new discovery; it was looked after for many years by the Hall’s honorary archivist, Sheila Griffiths, who sadly died last year, and researchers were able to consult it at the Hall. With its transfer to the Library, it is hoped to make it more accessible, with its value enhanced through detailed cataloguing, which we hope to undertake in the next twelve months.

Ashburne was Manchester’s first residential hall for women students. It was originally known as Ashburne House, and was located in Victoria Park. It officially opened on 27 January 1900, with Helen Stephen, a cousin of Virginia Woolf, as its first warden.

The University authorities were particularly keen to encourage residential halls for women students, believing they provided a decorous and ‘safe’ living environment. Ashburne’s success served as a model for the other women-only University halls:  Langdale, Ellis Llwyd Jones and St Gabriel’s. These halls allowed the University to attract students from beyond the local area and thereby helped enrich campus life. 

Ashburne Hall, 1950

One of the major figures in the Hall’s history was the remarkable Phoebe Sheavyn (1865-1968), appointed warden in 1907. Under her direction, Ashburne became a showpiece for student residential life. She recruited tutors to support the academic and pastoral side of the Hall’s work, but her main achievement was the redevelopment of the Hall at a new site in Fallowfield. Originally focussed on the Oaks, the former home of local businessman Edward Behrens, Ashburne Hall was greatly extended by new buildings in 1910 and 1925, designed by Thomas Worthington and Sons.     

The Hall was a busy and popular place, engendering a strong sense of corporate loyalty from its members, and this is reflected in its archives. These include the standard range of governance and administrative records, including those of the Warden, the Senior Student and the Hall’s alumni association.

The interests and activities of Ashburne students  are very well represented in an almost complete run of the Hall magazine Yggdrasill, first issued  in 1901 and still produced to this day. The magazine was named after the tree of life in Norse mythology, which was appropriately an ash tree. The earliest copies of the magazine were single-copy manuscripts with hand-decorated covers, which were passed around by Hall students (the early editions have been digitised and are available via the Library’s Digital Collections).

Yggdrasill, Autumn 1903

The archive has a particularly good collection of photographs, which date from the Hall’s foundation to the 21st century; the early photographs in particular evoke the pioneering spirit of the early residents. Other items show the lighter side of student life, including the suggestions books which provide a running commentary on the shortcomings of Hall life, including its cuisine, with responses from the Hall’s wardens. The changing relationships between the Hall’s staff and students are captured in a set of hall rules and regulations, which show attitudes gradually liberalised; by the late 1960s, many of the traditional halls were facing a backlash against the ‘Victorian’ restrictions on students’ personal lives.   

Overall, it is hoped that this new archive will be of great interest to a wide and diverse range of audiences.

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