MadingleyHall-2Madingley Hall is the home of Cambridge University’s Institute of Continuing Education – their Adult Education facility. They run weekend courses on a diverse range of subjects, historical, literary and modern language based, but also the more accessible sciences such as the “Story of the Universe”. You need have no formal qualifications to apply. They also do five week courses during the first months of the year, on one morning a week. To attend these one really needs to live in Cambridge, but the weekend courses can be residential and may be attended by anyone in the country. A major part of their activities however now seems to be largely commercially based, as a hotel,  conference centre and wedding venue. Back in 1980 it wasn’t organised in quite the same way. There was no emphasis on the more profitable uses of the property; it is a sign of the times that money-making is seen as so important. Undergraduates too had a generous maintenance grant in 1980 and no fees to pay. They did not need to consider money during their university years – that could wait till later. It was in many ways a happier time.

For the weekend courses you live in the 16th century hall for a couple of nights and enjoy the restaurant and the Capability Brown gardens. I went to Madingley twice over thirty years ago, once to a course on the History of  a House, and once to a series of lectures on Baroque and Classical Music. This latter course was held in 1980.

I drove to Cambridge on Friday afternoon – the journey was quite eventful as I got a hole in my silencer! This required me attempting to patch it up with an old tobacco tin, and later with a slightly more permanent kit that I bought in Cambridge.  Although only mid April the weather was really hot. On Sunday morning I was up before breakfast was served and walked down to the lake. I was followed by three other course members who were observing the spawning toads. One lady who taught fabric design in Northampton was a former a ballerina with the Ballet Rambert. Also among our party was the under bursar of Clare College and man from East Bergholt in Suffolk who wrote music reviews for the East Anglian Daily Times.

Our lecturer was Alan Stripp. He had been a classics scholar at Cambridge in the early years of the war, but was interviewed by an army officer having only completed a year of his degree course. The interviewer seemed more interested in his ability to do crossword puzzles and to read a musical score than his language ability and Alan thought he was being recruited to a military band! The upshot however was a crash course in written Japanese. Within six months he was sent to the code breaking centre at Bletchley Park, where he was immersed in intelligence to counter the Japanese. He was later sent to India and Afghanistan and learnt Farsi. After demobilisation he returned to Cambridge but not to Latin and Greek. For the last two years of his degree he read Classical Chinese, Japanese and Far Eastern History. He then worked for ten years for the British Council in Portugal and Indonesia. He then went to work for the Cambridge Board of Extra Mural Studies at Madingley. None of this I knew in 1980; to us he was just a very knowledgable musician. The story of his work at Bletchley Park was only revealed many years later, when released from his obligation under the Official Secrets Act, he wrote a number of books on his wartime experiences.

CLICK HERE to see Madingley Hall Hotel.




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