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Patricia Reader

(Biology, 1967-present)
shares her memories of 40 enjoyable years at Silwood Park

Manor House, Silwood ParkMy arrival at Imperial College coincided with the College’s 60th and Silwood’s 20th anniversaries.  Silwood had grown since Professor Munro had first sited the field station there in 1947, when the community was very small and he and his family lived on the first floor of the Manor House.  Students were housed on the second floor and when I arrived many still shared accommodation, with two or three occupying a room and the men and women living in very distant corridors.
Photo right: Manor House, Silwood Park

It was still the swinging 60s and Silwood swung in its way.  Dick Southwood the new Head of Department and Field Station Director, was much younger and less formal than previous head, Professor Richards.  He encouraged a vibrant social life, from swimming parties at his house which backed onto College grounds to more formal dinners in hall with invited special guests.  There were many other parties organised by students and technicians, to these Southwood encouraged the Silwood community to attend with their partners.  He knew everyone and their families, his remarkable memory and interest in people made everyone feel part of the Silwood structure and community.  To make sure everyone mixed, tea and coffee were not allowed in offices, people were expected to meet at coffee time with their colleagues.

When Dick Southwood gained his chair part of the package was an experimental officer – me, and a state of the art calculator, this was approximately 45cm squared and had four memories.  It replaced the old electric calculators which clattered noisily and the use of log tables, which made doing something basic like a standard deviation a lengthy and tedious process.  It seems amazing looking back that my calculator which cost about three pounds can do more than this, once amazing, machine and my common place computer much more that the more primitive ones of the intervening time which cost up to £25,000.  In spite of all this it was a thriving scientific community.

During the 40 years I have been at Silwood many changes have occurred, the department has been merged, de-merged and merged again.  Names have been changed and changed back.   The number of students has grown so that this year we have the most MSc students on site ever.  It is still a lovely place to work and the science is still good, I have been very fortunate to experience such a period.

  © 2007 Imperial College London

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