You cannot involve the whole university in a personal emotion
– H.B. Chrimes, Liverpool University Treasurer, on opposition to apartheid, 9 March 1970
The rain had been catching their hair and the wind had been rapping at their overcoats now for just on thirty minutes. The wait was almost over. It would not be long.
A red banner caught in the wind as a black car came sliding through the rain haze. The crowd surged forward over the rough pavement and the slippery road. It swirled past in a curtain of spray and vanished up a ramp. Cheers, claps, and a few boos broke the gloom. People fidgeted. She had come and that was that.
Three hours later, the gathering quietly melted into the afternoon sun, and the slums and streets of Liverpool 8 gently faded into the shadows. They would vaguely remember a royal blessing.
One thousand workers, tenants and students had witnessed the arrival of Princess Alexandra. It was 2:15 p.m. the afternoon of May 15th, 1969. The Senate House was born…
– Dave Robertson, Sphinx magazine, summer 1970
This blog documents the student occupation of the Senate House of Liverpool University in March 1970 in a protest which centred on the University’s links with the apartheid regime in South Africa, and called for the Chancellor, Lord Salisbury – notorious for his racist views – to resign.
The blog traces a sequence of events that began with an exposé of the University as the owner of slum housing in which families experienced dreadful living conditions; that brought tenants and students together to protest at the official opening by Princess Alexandra of the new Senate House in May 1969; that led to growing tensions between students and the university authorities, and which came to a head with the occupation of Senate House in March 1970.
As a blog, the material here is organised as if, back in 1970, the Internet had existed and an eyewitness and participant in these events had maintained a regular blog, posting notes on key events, extracts from newspaper reports, documents and photos. Posts, backdated to the date of a particular event or source material, therefore appear in reverse chronological order, most recent posts at the top of a page, earlier ones below.
The events chronicled here culminated in the disciplinary hearings which led to nine students being suspended and one expelled.
If you’re here because of the news that Pete Cresswell – the one student expelled 46 years ago – was finally awarded an honorary degree by Liverpool University on 8 December 2016, take a look at our Facebook page, Survivors of the 1970 Liverpool University sit-in for photos of the ceremony. The Guardian report is here. The University video stream of the ceremony honouring Pete and Phil Scraton can be watched here (the award of Pete’s honorary degree begins at 17:27; the award of Phil Scraton’s honorary degree at 62 minutes).
For a detailed survey of these events, download the essay, An Emotional Involvement (pdf).
The main events
The first significant student protest at Liverpool University (in the period under scrutiny) occurs with the joint tenant-student demonstration on the occasion of the formal opening of Senate House by Princess Alexandra in May 1969.
However, there had been earlier signs of the growing radicalisation of sections of the student body, such as the sit-in at the Social Sciences building in solidarity with anti-racialist protests at the LSE and the Presidential election campaign fought by Dave Robertson (February/March 1969). And Liverpool students did, of course, participate in national protests, such as the VSC demonstration against the Vietnam War in London in October 1968.
But it was the start of the spring term in January 1970 that marked the beginning of a period of intense political activity among students at the university, as the issues that eventually became ‘The Five Demands‘ emerged, leading eventually to the occupation of Senate House in March. All this against the backdrop of the collapse of Guild government and fierce debates about the nature of democracy in the Union.
- January 27: Open letter to Vice-Chancellor seeks answers on University involvement in CBW research
- January 30: The ‘Dinner protest’ against Lord Salisbury and racism
- February 9: President and Guild Executive resign after vote of no confidence
- March 9: Occupation of Senate House begins
- March 19: University charges 10
- April 6: Disciplinary Board begins hearings
- May 14: The appeals
What united the Liverpool actions – from the protest over University-owned slum housing to the issue of the racist beliefs of the Chancellor and the questions about University investments – was a critical questioning of the nature of a university, its relationship and responsibilities to the wider world.
After 46 years, recognition for a moment in which we can take genuine pride: more