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Memories shared at Alumnae Garden Party

College's earliest students welcomed back

Group of women in a garden in front of number 70 sculpture made of flowers

Alumnae from the very first years of New Hall were among over 150 guests at the College's 70th Anniversary Garden Party.

We were thrilled to be joined at the 1954-themed celebration by some of the 'Silver Street Women' - the students who attended New Hall (the founding name of Murray Edwards) in the first decade of the College's life. Its home then was in Silver Street, Cambridge, in a building that is now part of Darwin College.

Over cakes, Pimm's and ice cream, alumnae from those pioneering years shared affectionate stories of the firm leadership of founding President Dame Rosemary Murray, who made sure any male guests were banished in the evenings (they were, of course, never allowed in students' rooms). Others recalled the College's punt, moored on the Cam at the end of the back garden, in which New Hallers would take to the water on warm evenings.

The Silver Street alumnae posed for photographs in the gardens beside a beautiful 'living sculpture': a number 70 intertwined with sweet peas and other climbing flowers, created by our Head Gardener Caitlin Sparksman and her team.

Our special guest at the event was Julie Spence OBE, His Majesty’s Lord-Lieutenant of Cambridgeshire. Highlighting the College's relative newness in Cambridge, at just 70 years old in an institution that recently celebrated its 800th anniversary, Julie said: 'The future looks very bright for the next 730 years!'.

Guests at the party, some in vintage 1950s costume to match the theme, also heard from our President, Dorothy Byrne. Dorothy paid tribute to the pioneering spirit of the College's founders and highlighted plans to fulfil their dream of providing accommodation for the majority of postgraduate students on the College site. She said: 'When you inherit a dream from women who made the impossible happen, you run with it.'

Her speech is given in full below.

 

Dear Friends, welcome to this wonderful celebration of the 70th anniversary of our great college.

We are honoured to have with us His Majesty’s Lord Lieutenant of Cambridgeshire Mrs Julie Spence who is a true friend of our college. The former Chief Constable of Cambridgeshire Constabulary, Mrs Spence was President of the British Association for Women in Policing, won a major national award for her commitment to championing women in policing and is a campaigner for the wellbeing of women. In so many ways, you exemplify our values.

Lord Lieutenant, may I invite you to open this anniversary celebration.

[LORD LIEUTENANT SPEAKS]

Thank you Lord Lieutenant for your kind words.

This is a great day for our great institution. And I call us a GREAT institution deliberately. This college – New Hall, now Murray Edwards – is one of the most important institutions championing women and promoting women’s interests in this country today.

In the 70 years since we were founded by a group of visionary women, many other organisations and institutions for women have abandoned their identities as places which promote the interests of women and put the care and concern of women as their priority.

But in those 70 years, have women achieved complete equality in society and in education?  No they have not. In many ways, now more than even 70 years ago, it is vital that we say clearly that women have particular and specific experiences in life and they need organisations and institutions which stick up for them.

In researching our history for today’s event, and for the terrific exhibition in the walkway, we have heard again and again from women who were here 70 years ago, fifty years ago, twenty years ago AND now – that coming to Cambridge is a transformative but very challenging experience. And that coming back to this college and living in its uniquely supportive environment is what made their time here academically successful and personally happy.

This college was founded in the face of some strong opposition with an endowment of just £150,000. We had no kings and queens or big merchants with vast wealth to set us up. We opened in a leaking rented house in Silver Street.

I am proud of that. I tell our students that our modest beginning is our inspiration. We made it happen ourselves. Can other colleges tell you that their first master used to mend the pipes himself, unblock the drains, empty the bins and dig the builders’ rubble out of the gardens? That’s what our first President Dame Rosemary Murray did – she didn’t have a stash of cash from Henry VIII.

But her story is a far greater inspiration to our students than that could be found at colleges now worth hundreds of millions or even billions. Though I tell them they can empty their own bins, thank you very much. I won’t be unblocking the drains either but I do get out there almost every day of the year speaking up for this college.

What a great story ours is. How much more appealing to students from diverse and less advantaged backgrounds. At the start, our founders created a unique exam which opened up access to Cambridge to all talented women - testing creative minds not crammed brains. Today those principles live on in our unique outreach work to young women in schools in areas of deprivation, giving them the message that Murray Edwards wants YOU.

The values of your past as an institution are the values you carry into your future. We live and work now in these splendid buildings but we still hold true to the values of our founders and first students. It is thrilling that some of those Silver Street students are with us today. May I invite you, women of Silver Street, only if you wish, to raise your hands to make yourself known.

Thank you for being with us. We are honoured. Thank you for being our inspiration. I have to give you a round of applause.

We also thank all our alumnae and supporters who have helped us create the beautiful and successful college you stand in today. I am very pleased that Ros Smith is here with us. The extraordinary donation you and your family the Edwards gave us literally saved this college. I also give a special welcome to my predecessor Barbara Stocking who is with us.

As we celebrate our 70th year, we are looking ahead to our next decades. Throughout this year, the whole college has been engaged with developing a major new estates plan which will take us forward 20 years and further.

It includes rethinking how we use our spaces – the art café, which your kindness helped create,  has been such a success that we would like to turn the main walkway into a new social space with properly glazed windows and heating.

We have a brilliant Library Transformation Project for that iconic but freezing space – stripping out the makeshift cupboards and offices in the basement to create a wonderful new study area for 60 students.

We are conducting a major review of what it would take to make the college environmentally sustainable – the Greening of Murray Edwards is an exciting mission.

And when we came to this site, our founders always planned that there would be accommodation for the majority of postgraduates. We have asked architects to create a set of plans for just that – but to make it a new sort of student accommodation for Cambridge – buildings which incorporate the concept of wellbeing into the design itself. It might take many years to bring to fruition but we are turning that early dream into solid plans.

When you inherit a dream from women who made the impossible happen, you run with it.

So to today, at 4pm, we will move down to the FDR and Fellows garden for ice-cream, storytelling for children and garden tours to make the most of the gardens when the weather clears. I know you all love our gardens and our wonderful team has created a giant floral tribute to our 70th anniversary. Do step out to see it. And by the way, take a look at our new website which went live this week for the university open days.

So all that is left is for me to ask you to raise a toast and a cheer to our first seventy years and to our next 700 years – TO THE COLLEGE!

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