In the late 1930s about 9,000 young people, in total, graduated from UK universities per year: an experience that was out of the question for my father and his sisters – with my grandfather a fireman and recent economic migrant. But when his children left their grammar schools, aiming for professional qualifications with their Higher School Certificates achieved and a ‘nose to the grindstone’ work ethic, they had the Welsh chapel behind them, offering a wealth of educational experiences.
E Glyn George, listed on the front of this Literary Society Syllabus as both Secretary and Boro’ Representative on the Union of London Welsh Literary Societies, was just 20 in the 1937-1938 season and had held office the previous year too. The Boro’ offered weekly debates (my father seems keen on these), lectures, papers and concerts that were programmed to follow the academic year. I would love to have listened to the debates on the value of the monarchy and ‘The nationalist movement in Wales’; it would also be fascinating to know what Mr Dan Lewis told the group about ‘Modern Germany’ on Monday 8th November 1937. ‘Devotional Services’ regularly appear on the programmes but I suspect that these too were heavier on history, politics, philosophy and polemic than your average church service.
As well as the literary society there were play readings and an early version of package holidays, arranged by a chapel member who led groups to the continent in the summer holidays. There was aspiration to high standards, bi-lingual competence, competition, political engagement, new experiences and fun on offer – aspects of undergraduate life that are advertised in many university brochures today.