I was 19 by the time I reached Sheffield University. I suppose I took what nowadays would be described as a gap year and I used it to think about career options. My father's suggestion was that I should be a teacher, but I was cripplingly shy and not very fluent verbally. These are terrible handicaps for a teacher. Of course my father, as usual, could only see one side of any argument or case. His thoughts, often expressed, ran along the lines of, "She's clever. Why can't she be a teacher? I hope she is not going to turn out like her mother!"
There were 2 ways open to me for getting a free university education: to promise to teach for a number of years afterwards or to be awarded a County Scholarship. It was clear to me that I would have to take the scholarship route.
While I was reflecting on these matters, my father was thinking too. He did not like to see me idle. One day, on a visit to Carlisle, he bought me 2 presents, second-hand, a rifle and a light shot-gun. He was a master at finding unsuitable presents! It turned out that the idea behind this was that I should do some rabbit shooting. The farm was over-run with rabbits. I did want to contribute towards the family finances. The trouble was that I hated killing anything. In the event, though, I did learn how to shoot rabbits and made quite a success of it. I was instructed to shoot them in the head to make them more saleable. My father said he would have liked also an occasional pheasant for himself. Anything flying through the air, however, was beyond me. I have never brought down a pheasant in my life.
It was clear to me that I had no permanent future in Cumwhitton. I had to move away and make a new life for myself. So I made a decision during the Autumn term of 1950 and took the bus to Carlisle. Slightly apprehensively, I wandered down Warwick Road, turned into Lismore Place and soon afterwards I was knocking at the door of Miss Wilson, my former headmistress. She seemed pleased to see me and when she heard what I had to say, she suggested I take scholarship papers in History and English Literaure in the Summer. Meanwhile I should return to school to prepare for them. In due course, I was awarded a County Scholarship and arrived at Sheffield in 1951.
Universities were quite different, in those days. Firstly, they were male dominated - the teaching staff in the Department of History were all men. Secondly, only a few women went to university and there was only one other woman reading history in my year. I was addressed very formally as Miss Robley.
Head of the Department was Professor George Potter. He was a renowned scholar, celebrated in his field, but made little effort to get to know his students. He never spoke to me the whole time I was at Sheffield. Mr Haley, on the other hand, was a very friendly man. He invited us all out to his house on more than one occcasion. Mr Haley and his wife had recently married and had started a family. His wife took me upstairs to meet their young daughter who had been put to bed. Mr Haley was a specialist in Dutch history and later became a Professor at Sheffield University.
I was in an all female hall of residence. It was situated in Endcliffe Vale Road which is a very pleasant part of Sheffield. I shared a room with 4 other girls. We all got on very well together and I began to take an interest in my appearance, which I had never thought about before. We chose lip sticks, matched face powder to our skin tone and I even began to smoke. I never really got into smoking (fortunately) and I gave it up completely a few years later.
One of my room mates, Louise LaBoule was a medical student from Liege in Belgium and I got to know her best. She visited Cumwhitton for the Easter vacation and I spent a month in Belgium during the Summer. It was my first trip abroad.
It was good to experience life in another country and I resolved to travel the world some day. Meanwhile, Louise suggested that we visit Manderfeld which was very near the German border. The actual border ran through a wood and was quite open. It was in this wood then, that I set my first foot in Germany.
I travelled home on my own, and as my father had arranged for me to pay a visit to Auntie Mabel on the way, I came through Calais. I had set a foot now in 3 countries, Belgium, Germany and France!
I had never stayed with any of my father's relatives before and it was an interesting experience. I am not sure that David Ferguson even spoke to me and the sons seemed quite morose. The district around Frith Farm held many military bases during WW2, for instance Frith Farm AA Gun and Light Detachment. I gather that visitors to these sites had a very difficult time with David Ferguson. "We used to use the Roman road and if it had been wet you could be knee deep in mud at the crossing point halfway over Ferguson's fields and woe betide anyone who wandered off the track to get out of the mud" --- "I heard old Fergie used to shoot his gun over the heads of trespassers" ---"We were chased by one of the Fergy sons rather than their dad". (from Kent Family History Forum).
Aunt Mabel was friendly and she liked to talk about Cumwhitton. I don't think she was very happy in Dover. She was very concerned about a fern which Aunt Jane had planted in the garden at Midtown. She wanted a root from it, for her garden, in memory of Jane. I promised to ask my mother about the fern. I hoped she hadn't dug it up. I am sure no one realised it was Jane's fern. I didn't know Aunt Jane, as she died before I was born, but lots of people seemed very attached to her.
On the whole my first year at Sheffield had been a success. I hated the lectures. They were far too factual for me. I much preferred to read the recommended books lying on my bed. So that is what I did. I dipped into books and read the parts that interested me and it worked. I did fine in exams without attending lectures. We were entitled to a double room in our second year, but four of decided to stay together. The warden, Miss Bone found a four-bedded room for us in the annex to the main Hall. It was in a positive frame of mind then that I returned to Sheffield after the Summer vacation.
My second year at Sheffield started off well. The quality of the teaching varied as did the amount of interaction between lecturers and students. We had one lecturer who read his notes and hardly looked up during the whole lecture. Another talked to all his students and took an interest in them individually. His name was Mr Tyler (John Ecclesfield Tyler) and his subject was Colonial and American history. He liked my habit of listening to him, but taking few notes. "I am not an oracle", he kept saying to the men who tried to scribble down his every word."