A JOYOUS day of celebration in Salisbury was a momentous occasion for 364 former students of Salisbury Training College, later known as the College of Sarum St Michael, when students were awarded Honorary Bachelor of Education degrees by the University of Winchester in a special ceremony in Salisbury Cathedral.

Former education student Anne Johns, from Edington near Westbury, was head of St Martin’s infant School in Salisbury from 1988 to 1998.

She said: “Me and another 364 people so all the students in Salisbury who studied at the time got it. Most people didn’t do a degree or the college didn’t do very many.

“The college for men was in Winchester which later became the University and the women went to Salisbury college which later closed.

“They decided to give their own students a degree so they recognised the work of the college as the first women’s training college.

The honorary degrees recognise the teaching qualification alumni received at the College and their individual contributions to education.

In 1968 Bachelor of Education Degrees were introduced. Not all students had the opportunity to study for a degree whilst at College, for example those who trained before 1968 and those who studied subjects in which degrees were not offered. The honorary degree graduation is a celebration of their commitment to education during their training and throughout their careers in education.

“It was absolutely fantastic. There was the oldest person who was 93 which was an honour for everyone. We sang the college hymn and raised the roof of the cathedral. Students came from all over.

“Even though the college closed in 1968 which is now Salisbury Museum there is still a newsletter published every year. It’s been 50 years it shows that the college is held in high esteem and people had happy memories and lasting relationships.

“I’m on the committee of the old students association and we still meet up three times a year which helps the memories live on and tells the stories of the students. It’s important to say how unique it is we still have the meet-ups.

“It recognises the contribution all the teachers have made over the years.”

Set in the Cathedral Close the College had a special spirit– it was a unique time and place for living and learning.

In the 1840s the National Society for the Church of England encouraged each diocese to form a Board of Education.

Salisbury was a pioneer in education, as the College was the first residential College to be opened specifically for women.

The first student, Martha Gibson, arrived by stagecoach in January 1841 having travelled over the snow covered Salisbury Plain. Students came from far and wide. Eliza Smith, the first of many Channel Islanders, arrived from Guernsey in 1843 after a long and arduous journey by steamship and then stagecoach along a bumpy road from Southampton.

Later during that century, Thomas Hardy travelled to Salisbury when visiting his sisters, Mary and Kate, who were both students at the College. He later used their College experiences when writing his novel Jude the Obscure. There was much hardship at College during World War One, but there were also occasional midnight feasts and always friendship.

Students were banned from the city which was thought to be too dangerous with so many soldiers around. During World War Two, students took turns fire watching on the Cathedral roof and helped with the war effort.

What a celebration there was on VE day when the Cathedral was packed with citizens and students for a service of thanksgiving. Dr Elsie Smith was a college lecturer during 1928-51 and she later became custodian of the Cathedral library.

Dr Smith is said to have cycled home with the Magna Carta carefully wrapped up in her cycle basket before putting it under her bed for safekeeping. It wasn’t until the 1950s that men were allowed in the students’ rooms. In the 1960s, men still had to be out of rooms by 10 pm.

The College closed in 1978, but it lives on in the memories of many hundreds of students. Former students have so many cherished memories of their College days and lasting friendships made there. Fortunately these have been recorded for posterity in two books written by former students, Inspired to Teach and We Will Teach.

There is an annual magazine published by the Old Students Association and a yearly reunion and service in the Cathedral attended by hundreds of former students. The next reunion is May 9.