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Sandra and Bob Cuthill will definitely be among those raising a glass to Swansea University when it marks its centenary this month.
The couple met while geography students more than 50 years ago. And that meeting didn’t just lead to a long happy marriage, four children and six grandchildren, it also sparked a shared passion for Swansea City FC.
The first ever match Sandra attended was certainly a significant one - it was in 1968 when the-then Swansea Town took on Arsenal in front of the biggest crowd ever seen at the Vetch Field, the Swans’ former ground.
“Bob said ‘We’re going somewhere on Saturday afternoon’ I asked where and he wouldn’t tell me. When he picked me up, he said we were going to the football. I said, ‘I don’t like football!’
“I couldn’t see the ground - I was straining to see over the crowd but I quite enjoyed it. We ended up coming back to live here and we’ve supported the Swans ever since.”
The pair first got together as third years when Bob dashed to Sandra’s rescue: “I was in the basement of the Natural Sciences Building doing some research when I fainted, fell and broke my arm. The porter heard me shouting, he called for help and Bob came. He drove me to the hospital to get it set in plaster.“
Although the University may have grown since the couple’s days - back then there were just 3,000 students – Sandra says one thing remains the same.
“The seaside location made Swansea so different, especially for people like me from the North of England - they used to call it Butlins-by-the-Sea. You could just walk out of the drive and on to the sand dunes and stroll to Mumbles or sunbathe between lectures – or degree exams,” she said.
Sandra, who is originally from Bury, said her parents wanted her to stay closer to home.
“I applied here because my grandmother and aunt lived in Bridgend. I was the first one in my family to go to university and my parents didn’t know what to expect from it so were quite protective.”
She originally had digs in Mumbles Road where she shared an attic room with two other girls and still remembers her landlord.
“Every time we got back, he had a complaint – someone has used all the hot water or ‘I can’t have all these hair dryers going at once’. After two weeks he had had enough of us.”
But Bob, who is originally from Reigate, Surrey, had the opposite experience with his landlady in Dunvant. “She used to wash my hair, she used to feed me things I had never eaten before like nettles, eggy bread and laverbread, of course. She was extremely caring, so I stayed there for about two years. It was a home from home.”
He said: “I applied to a few places to do geography, but I was influenced to pick Swansea because of my girlfriend at school. Her parents came from Resolven and I thought that’s handy because she would come and visit. But she dumped me three months later!”
But he added that Swansea also boasted a great academic reputation, especially under the internationally renowned Professor William Balchin.
“It had a geology department back then and for geology Swansea was probably the best-placed University in the country. You could see the whole variety of British strata within a two-hour drive from Swansea.”
After graduating in 1968 the couple went to Newcastle University, initially to train to become teachers before working for the Ministry of Defence in London.
Bob said: “The biggest impact Swansea University has had on our lives is that we met each other and raised a family but the other impact is the careers our degrees led to.
“We worked in the Government’s map library where maps were researched and produced for any conflict.”
He said: “All I have done professionally has been geography related and I put that down to not being put off geography in Swansea, and actually enjoying it!”
The pair moved back to Swansea in 1979 when Bob took up a post at West Glamorgan County Council working in population statistics.
And after raising their children, Sandra went to work at the Land Registry, mapping documents and deeds and examining historical maps.
Their return to Wales gave them a chance to renew old friendships.
“My second-year digs were on Mumbles Road and I stayed in touch with my landlady. She became a family friend and came to our children’s christenings. When she gradually began to get dementia, we were able to look after her as she didn’t have any family. That really is a relationship created by studying in Swansea.”
Sandra added: “Our time at University it was amazing. We did long field trips – returning from one to Spain was the first time either of us had been on a plane.”
Bob said: “It instilled in us our love of travel. We’ve been to India several times, we love China, Japan, Zambia, Syria but there’s still a lot of places to go.”
Now both retired, the couple passed their love of geography on with three of their four children studying the subject at A-level and one following in their footsteps to take a geography degree.
“Our children all learned to read a map before they could read a book!”
The couple, who now live in Derwen Fawr in west Swansea, say they look back on their student days with real affection.
Bob said: “We’ve got really happy memories of rag weeks when people would do daft things – we would dress up, kidnap people, anything for a laugh and to raise money.
“Swansea then was comfortable and homely. You’d recognise people as you walked through campus. If you didn’t go to a lecture, your presence was missed so there would be plenty of bleary-eyed people at the Saturday morning lecture at 8.30am.”
He added: “Sandra and I both went to grammar schools where the expectation was your first aim was to get into Oxford or Cambridge and if you couldn’t get into them then the University of Wales, College of Swansea wasn’t really on the radar. But it was a good choice and we have so much to be grateful to Swansea for.”
Watch Bob and Sandra Cuthill talking about their time at Swansea: