A couple who fell in love at Swansea University in the early 1950s say the organisation will always hold a special place in their hearts.
Ahead of the University’s centenary celebrations John and Diana Lomax, who now live in Swansea, returned to the Singleton Park campus to share memories of their time there.
Diana was a secretary in the botany department, then based in the Abbey, working directly for the pioneering botany professor Florence Mockeridge.
“My first job was with an electrical engineering firm in Sketty Cross but I wanted to work somewhere a bit livelier. I saw an advert for secretarial staff for the physics dept. I didn’t get it but was taken off to see Prof Mockeridge and that’s how I got the job,” said Diana.
“Prof Mockeridge ruled the roost - I was always called Miss Jones, never Diana.”
Although her office on the ground floor of the Abbey may be decorated a little differently these days, the view is still the same.
“I looked out at a magnolia tree and I’m delighted to see it is still there,” said Diana who will turn 90 in January and still has fond memories of her five years at the University.
“I was a member of staff but because of my age I could identify with the students and staff we all used to go to the new arts building [where the Keir Hardie Building now stands] for coffee.”
This was how she met her husband who graduated as an engineer in 1953 and stayed on as a post-graduate.
“I did actually go to John’s graduation ceremony but we didn’t know each other then. I was there as a marshal,” she said.
John, originally from Birmingham, came to study at Swansea in October 1950 after National Service.
“I had never been here before but saw a brochure describing it as the College in the Park. Having come from industrial Birmingham - and as the alternative was going to other industrial places in the north - Swansea seemed to be the place to come.”
John was given a list of landladies offering private digs and ended up heading to Mumbles with a fellow first-year.
“We eventually moved into a house in Cornwall Place where I stayed for the rest of my time in Swansea.
“My family would come down from the Midlands and spend their holidays in Mumbles because they were taken with it too.”
Initially a season ticket holder on the iconic Mumbles train, John went on to use a small motorbike for his commute to the University.
“John was allowed to park his motorbike outside the engineering department. There were virtually no cars on the campus - Prof Mockeridge was the only member of staff with a car then.
“We would see her coming up the drive and if I was somewhere else having a coffee I would rush to get back to my desk in the Abbey before her,” said Diana.
Studying in the 1950s was very different according to John, who is also approaching 90: “As students we wore blazers and ties - it was much more formal and there were no ladies in the department.”
John became an active member of the University’s Engineering Society and successfully took part in an Eisteddfod as a member of the Choral Society. He also made his mark playing squash.
“I had never even seen a squash court before – there were only two in Swansea. In my first year I was taught to play and by the third year I was club secretary.
“As Oxford and Cambridge universities had their blues, we used to have golds. I had a University of Wales gold and captained the University of Wales squash team to victory against the Combined Southern Universities.”
John eventually got a job as a civil engineer in Kent, leaving Diana behind in Swansea. After a year apart the couple decided to get married and their wedding took place at St Paul’s Church in Sketty in 1957 before moving to the South East.
“When we were here there were about 1,200 students at the University and you would know most of their names,” said Diana. “We are still in touch with friends we made then. We have friendships that have endured for decades.”
John went on to specialise in health and safety in the construction industry – an expertise that led to him being invested with an OBE in 1988. The couple lived in Guildford where they brought up their two daughters. However, after years of commuting John suggested a move west.
He said: “I always had an affinity with Swansea. When living in Guildford I had to come down to Wales for a conference with Diana and said ‘let’s go to Mumbles and see how it looks these days.’
“We started looking at estate agents window and thought it might not be a bad idea to come back to Swansea.”
The couple bought a house in Mayals where they have lived happily for the past 31 years.
Returning to their old surroundings at the University triggered many happy memories, including Diana’s journey to work,
“I used to cycle in from my home in Derwen Fawr Road through Singleton Park. There used to be nothing to interrupt the view from the road at the top of the park by the Swiss Cottage to the sea – absolutely nothing apart from a couple of trees.”
She was delighted to return to the room where she worked for the first time in more than 60 years and to look round the rest of the Abbey that once not only hosted lectures but also housed the refectory.
Diana recalled: “One year my friend and I prepared a Christmas lunch for colleagues. We ended up cooking the Christmas pud in the department autoclave and the smell was there for months!”
Although the campus has changed over the years, the couple agree that they share an enduring attachment to the place where they met.
Diana said: “We always think fondly of it. The University is not just a big part of our community but a big part of our lives.”