9 September 2021

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Construction work is progressing apace on the new development behind South Court.  Building work is also going on in (Old) South Court itself—the demolition of the JCR, and its replacement with our new Social Hub and café. The original South Court JCR had been redesigned in 1996 under the aegis of the Master, Lord St John of Fawsley, who described its mid–1960s predecessor as ‘Grottsville’.

We have no photographic record of the old bar looking its sordid worst, but we may take the Master’s word for it that it was unloved, for anecdotal evidence suggests that many students held scathing opinions about the architecture of Old South Court in general. Yet at the time the court was planned and built, in the early–to–mid 1960s, it was hoped that its Modernist style would appeal to the hip undergraduates of the post–war era.

A drawing of a room with a large brown cupboard, shelves, bench seat, desk and bedIn the college archives there is a trio of mounted designs, from 1963, for proposed interiors of small (L), medium (below R) and large (below L) South Court sets. The drawings were executed in a deliberately breezy style using chalk and watercolour on iridescent paper, and although unsigned, they were presumably produced by a member of the design team working under the direction of the principal architect of the building, Tom Hancock. It must be admitted that the sketches employ a degree of artistic licence, for they afford all the sets an airy spaciousness somewhat at variance with what was built, despite the incorporation of ingenious space–saving features, such as retractable sofa beds and banquette seating above the central heating conduits. The academic function of the rooms has also been played down by the artist, for although each room has been provided with a desk, it is in the form of a multi–use unit rather than a traditional piece of furniture, while textbooks are entirely absent from the fitted bookshelves.

A drawing of a room with a large white cupboard, shelves and drawers, bench seat, desk and bedInteresting though the layouts and built–in furniture of the rooms are, it is the depiction of their moveable contents that is particularly fascinating. The inclusion of a record–player in all three sketches is a true sign of the times, reflecting the fact that popular music culture had penetrated even the groves of academe. (The word ‘groovy’, the epitome of 1960s youth–speak, is thought to derive from the spiral grooves on vinyl records.) Other features that the designers evidently thought would appeal are the coffee–making facilities, trendy swivel chairs and wall–mounted angle–poise lamps. The suggested colour–scheme of the furnishings, favouring bold orange and ochre tints accompanied by rather impractical white curtains and bouclé rugs, was certainly snazzy and possibly even groovy, but not necessarily conducive to studying. In fact, any of the rooms could pass for a music–loving teenager’s den, with only the wall–mounted oar in the large set offering a hint that we are looking at a study–bedroom in one of the most prestigious universities in the world.

A drawing of a room with a long cupboard with shelves and drawers, a white chat, a large window, and a mirror and bed at the far end of the roomEarly designs for the new South Court Hub, which is promised to be ‘a beautiful light, open, area’, suggest that it will employ a style and colour palette far less consciously ‘with–it’ than those of the preceding JCRs, although future generations may of course judge otherwise. Whatever one’s opinion of Old South Court’s architectural qualities, though, either as an objective observer or as a former resident, there is surely no denying the period charm of the three sketches reproduced above, for they offer an evocative glimpse of Emma’s first encounter with the Swinging Sixties.

Amanda Goode, Emmanuel College Archivist

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