Some early Bedford College rowers

12 April 2016

Memories of an alumna evacuee

Bedford College alumna, Margaret Maddock, 96, shares her story

By Development and Alumni Relations Team

We are proud of the rich history and pioneering spirit that our two founding colleges, Bedford College and Royal Holloway College share for the education of women. Having heard tales of Bedford College’s evacuation to Cambridge during WWII, we sent current Bedford Society committee member Claire Daunton to meet with alumna Margaret Maddock, aged 96, and hear her story.

Conversation between Claire Daunton (née Gobbi), History 1974 and Margaret Maddock, Geography and Geology, 1942

“Margaret was brought up in Durham and went to Durham County High School for Girls. She was always passionate about Geography and never doubted that this was the subject she wanted to study at University. This determination was encouraged at school and at home; and Bedford College was the place for her since two other girls from Durham High were already at Bedford and had brought back good reports.

In those days (1938) there was both an entrance exam and an interview. Margaret sat the entrance exam alone in the caretaker’s house in the school grounds, in real exam conditions! Then followed the interview in London where she was met and looked after by the two Bedfordians from her school. She was fortunate to be the recipient of a State Scholarship and have the honour of being named a County Scholar.: the former came with money and honour, the latter with honour! All fees were paid and she as given £100 per annum. At first she wondered if she might better have chosen a co-educational establishment, but soon put this thought behind her as she became entwined in college life.

Margaret met her best friend at Bedford Brenda Clark (nee Skinner) who was also from the north. They travelled home together and thence became firm friends for life. On one famous occasion they went home from Bedford by boat, embarking at Hays Wharf in London and disembarking on the Tyne, close to Newcastle.

Margaret remembered that Brenda changed from reading French to Philosophy, studying with Dr Susan Stebbing, a renowned teacher, and that Brenda was an outstanding student. She was so committed to the subject that she insisted on going to hear Wittgenstein. At first he was not willing for her to sit in on his lectures –she was, after all, a woman – but then he relented, though she had to sit quietly at the back of the room. Margaret herself had a similar encounter with the male of the species when she wanted to row in coaxed pairs on the lake in Regent’s Park. This required a doctor’s certificate, and for that she had to be accompanied by her mother!

Whilst she was happy to be at home with her parents during the vacation, Margaret revealed that it was not always easy being a University student in a place and at a time where University was for the few, and especially rare for women. But her parents, who were not at all wealthy but comfortably off, were supportive and encouraging, and resisted comments from others about her getting married or doing something more domestically or financially useful.

It was not long before Margaret’s life was turned upside down by war and the evacuation of Bedford College to Cambridge. Margaret told me how she loved her surroundings in Cambridge, and in time did not miss London.  After all she was with her friends, she had the same lecturers, the college office was set up in the house of a relative of Bedford’s Principal, Miss Jebb, and they felt welcome.  Margaret remembers taking tea with Miss Jebb and shares the general view that she was a distinguished Principal and that the students held her in high regard.  Margaret further benefited from additional good teaching by lecturers from the LSE, also evacuated to Cambridge. And, even more, she met the person who was to be her husband, Alfred Maddock, then a student at Imperial College, when he invited her to a party.

One particularly poignant memory for Margaret was of a fellow student’s distress at the time of Dunkirk. They were in the examination hall, sitting exams, when one student, whose fiancé was fighting in the battle, stood up, announced that there was no point in continuing since the Germans would be in England soon, and walked out. Margaret did not see her after this.

Margaret graduated from Cambridge whilst the college was still ‘in exile’ there, and almost immediately set off Oxford to do a teaching diploma. She married, Alfred Maddock (the young man from Imperial who had invited her to a party!) soon after, settling first in Canada where Alfred worked for the Atomic Energy Authority and eventually in Cambridge, where she continued to teach whilst Alfred held a professorship in Chemistry.

When considering what Bedford did for her, Margaret said that it provided her with an excellent education in the subjects she loved; it brought her into contact with people from many different backgrounds; it allowed her to study in the beautiful surroundings of Regent’s Park and Cambridge, and there she made friends for life.”

If you’d like to share your memories with us or suggest ideas for other alumni to profile, please submit your ideas online or email us at

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