FSC | Field Studies Council

Field Studies Council: Bringing Environmental Understanding to All

1953 John W. Cowan, An Associate Tutor at Flatford since 1982 - FSC Flatford Mill

I first went to Flatford Mill in July 1953 to attend a Plant Ecology Course. I was at that time a Solicitor’s Articled Clerk, but my real interest lay in Botany. On the course I took copious notes and marveled that I seemed to be the only one doing so!

At that time nearly all courses ran Wednesday to Wednesday with Sunday as a free day. Accommodation was mostly in dormitories and, as with Youth Hostels, you took a sheet sleeping bag. There was no mains electricity and the diesel generator was turned off at 11 p.m. so it was essential to bring a torch. People were warned to bring mouse-proof boxes for food. On one occasion a lady, on hearing at the introductory talk that “mice were everywhere”, asked in the office the next morning the time of the first train home!

The evening meal was a formal affair at which a collar and tie were expected. The benches in the refectory were arranged as two long rows parallel to the length of the room. The Warden (now Director of Studies), Jim Bingley, would sit at the head of one bench and his assistant at head of the other. Tutors would sit beside them. Grace was said before the meal started. There were no refreshments available in the work rooms. Tea was a sit down affair in the refectory with bread and butter and frequently XL Apricot Jam, which I particularly enjoyed. In the evening about 10 p.m. coffee or tea was served in the entrance hall.

Students were organised into groups to serve at meals, clear away and wash up, each group covering a day’s meals. Washing up was done in a large double wooden sink, which drained straight into the river. Incidentally the men’s urinals in what is now a lean to storage shed also drained straight into the river.

On the island facing the lock is a gate, which was a useful short cut after working the other side of the river. We thought nothing of walking across the lock gates – so much for health and safety!