As the maintenance of today’s halls of residence at dozens of university campuses across the country is now an important part of Plastic Surgeon’s workload, we were very interested to view images on the BBC website of how Victorian ladies lived at Royal Holloway College in the late 1900s.
The department of history at the Surrey university – located close to Windsor Great Park – has unearthed a trove of 19th Century photographs showing students’ rooms, taken between 1896 and 1898. And although the century old images of the same quarters occupied by undergraduates today still display individual taste and preferences, they are unmistakeably of a different and more genteel era.
Fancy fans, pretty parasols and wicker chairs, for example, are a far cry from some of the poster-plastered, traveller souvenir filled, iPad-littered rooms of the 21st Century. The archive images even include a horseshoe, crocodile skin, and the skeleton of a medieval nun.
What remains constant is the pleasure students have always taken in decorating their rooms when they arrive at university, says Dr Jane Hamlett, a lecturer in modern British history at Royal Holloway University.
She reports: “In the 19th Century, students had two rooms each – a rather nice sitting room and study, and a bedroom – and they tended to put lots of things in them to reflect their status, interests or personality.
“Students had five o’clock tea in their rooms every day, because socialising and entertaining was important to upper middle-class families, so it was an important space for them.”
Hamlett says Victorian universities were quite regimented, with ordered days, set activities and formal meal times, to make it like a middle-class home and reassure parents.
Rather different from the lifestyles of today’s students who study subjects the Victorians would never have dreamt of, tend to have far fewer lectures and keep much more irregular hours as they split their time between coursework and a hectic social life.
Instead of tea or “tiffin” at five, their daily diet is likely to feature a fry up at whatever time they get out of bed, with an alarming number of them then placing the red hot pan straight on the work-surface, causing a deep burn mark in the laminate.
And as we have learned in our repair work for big providers like Unite, other areas to what are now, typically, cluster flats with en-suite study bedrooms and communal facilities, also come in for some pretty harsh wear and tear.
Doors, window frames and desktops get knocked and scraped while heavy objects dropped in the shower rooms cause cracks or holes in the plastic mouldings. Several students have even placed lighted candles in the soap holders to the shower wall causing fire and smoke damage, which renders the whole unit unliveable.
It is virtually impossible to replace a bathroom pod fitted in the study bedrooms which are normally manufactured off-site, but fortunately our Finishers have been able to sand back and completely resurface the damaged plastic; providing the only possible remedy for the situation. The burn marks from the frying pans, too can be dug out and refilled before Plastic Surgeon’s rigorous training allows our Finishers to reproduce the granite, wood-grain or random pattern of the original laminate.
Dr Hamlett says student rooms are a rite of passage and reflect an important time in young people’s lives. “For more than 100 years, student rooms have been used to show self-awareness, an attachment to family and school. But also a new sense of identity,” she concludes.
Plastic Surgeon hasn’t been invited yet to do any work at Royal Holloway University, but if we do get the call to the historic quadrangles outside of Egham, our Finishers are also well versed in repairing stonework, plaster enrichments, parquet flooring and all the other architectural features which distinguish the country’s top flight, traditional educational establishments.