Three years ago we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the establishment in 1961 of our Landscape Architecture course. It was with great pleasure that we recently hosted the reunion of most of the class of students who started in 1964 (see group photo).
Their two-day programme started with a visit to Cheltenham’s Pump Room where the original course began. While the facilities may not have been perfect, these students were breaking largely new ground in what was the first undergraduate landscape architecture course in the country. Its pioneering efforts involved passions rather than theories and cross-disciplinary experimentation rather than narrow disciplines. For this philosophy we need to thank Bodfan Gruffydd, one of the post-war leaders of the Institute of Landscape Architects. He had been invited to contribute to the Cheltenham architecture course housed in Pittville Pump Room by Stuart Sutcliffe (School of Architecture) and Reginald Dent (College Principal). Bodfan urged the architects to view the landscape as organic, founded on landform and climate, and to appreciate the special aesthetic quality of place. He called it ‘learning through landscapes’. It seemed obvious that landscape architects could share the same opportunities – so why not establish a full-time landscape course? So began the first undergraduate landscape architecture course in the country.
Following their morning visit to the Pump Room, the Class of ’64 then joined us for lunch in the Francis Close Hall campus of the university. As it was the first week of term, few landscape students were settled into the studios but those who were about freely chatted with the group and, briefly interrupting David Booth’s lecture, were able to listen to some memories retold about the early days in Cheltenham. One interesting feature of the course then was the one-year residential stay at Pershore College to learn about horticulture, soil analysis and planting design – very central to Bodfan’s view of the subject. The group planned to visit Pershore the following day. The link with Pershore ended in the mid 1980s with the appointment of James Wilson to teach planting design and John Bennett, horticultural technician.
The group were then shown round our dedicated studios and computer facilities, followed by a guided tour of the teaching garden by Jane Fitzgerald White, John Bennett’s successor. We also popped in briefly to the ‘edible garden’ part of a university/local community initiative which is alongside our garden. They were also shown a carved stone in the memorial garden, including the name of John Simpson, a former colleague who did so much for the course in his retirement, most notably setting up the annual Bodfan Gruffydd student prizes. It was John who took on the role of running the landscape course after his appointment in 1965 which was really significant to our visitors. They remembered him fondly.
All in all, it was quite a reunion, for the group themselves had not met up since the 60s. For our part, it was a very interesting and fruitful afternoon and we hope this short record of the day’s events might encourage other cohorts of former students to get in touch and organise something similar. The course history is long – effectively over 50 intakes of students; and it has also been located at four different campuses. So there’s plenty of you out there all with unique experiences which we’d very much like to hear of!