Friday, 6 September 2019

Back in Cornwall after our brief visit to Leeds

Barbara and I are back in Cornwall again after a 7 hour train journey from Leeds, where I have been attending the European Symposium on Comminution and Classification, held at the University.
Leeds University during the 60s was a red brick University of around 7000 students. Now it is barely recognisable from those days, a huge modern campus housing 36,000 students. Even the Houldsworth School of Applied Science, where I spent 6 years, was unrecognisable, and my old department of metallurgy no longer exists, now being materials.
Just around the corner from the Houldsworth was the Department of Mining and Minerals Engineering, which shut its doors 20 years ago. Now Camborne School of Mines in the only institute in UK offering degrees in mining.
I had no interest in mining during my time at Leeds University in the 1960s so was unaware of the existence of nearby Middleton Park, an area which was intensively mined for coal in the 18th and 19th centuries. Barbara and I spent a very interesting morning there earlier in the week prior to the conference.
The Middleton Railway is now a heritage track carrying passengers to and from the Park to the excellent Railway Museum.
Originally the railway was built in the 18th century to supply the growing 18th century industries and households of Leeds with coal. In those days the state of the roads meant that it cost more to get the coal into Leeds than it did to get the coal out of the ground.  An Act of Parliament was passed in 1758 to allow the building of the railway and coal soon began to be transported from the mines at Middleton to Leeds Bridge. The original track was wooden and horses hauled single wagon loads into town. By the 1800s, the war with Napoleon had caused the price of horses and feed to rise dramatically and it was decided to convert the railway to steam.
Leeds itself has obviously changed enormously in half a century, but some of the pubs that I used to frequent (The Eldon, The Pack Horse) are still as scruffy as ever, but my favourite cinema, the Odeon on the Headrow is now a Sports Direct store. Hard to believe that I heard the Beatles performing live in there in 1964!
The former Odeon Headrow
In my final year as an undergraduate I shared a seedy flat with two fellow metallurgists in Headingley, close to the Yorkshire County Cricket ground, where Ben Stokes performed his Ashes heroics little over a week ago. In those far off days I had little interest in Cistercian monasteries so never visited nearby Kirkstall Abbey, as Barbara and I did on Wednesday afternoon at the end of ESCC '19.
This magnificent ruin, on the banks of the River Aire, is the remains of a monastery founded in the middle of the 12th century. It was disestablished in 1539 , during the Dissolution of the Monasteries under Henry VIII and awarded to Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Cranmer, but reverted to the crown when Cranmer was executed for treason in 1556.  
It's been an interesting week in Leeds, but disappointing as a nostalgia trip. As they say, never go back, in my case it just made me feel bloody old!
But despite the many changes, one thing that has not changed is the friendliness of the Yorkshire people - and that's praise indeed from someone with allegiance to the Red Rose!
Twitter @barrywills


  1. Hi Barry,
    I found your Leeds trip blog most interesting as I studied Applied Mineral Sciences there from 1967 to 1971. When were you there? We might have passed each other!

    My last visit there was in 2000, about the time that Mining & Minerals Engineering were pushed out of their building to go into the Houldsworth Building for a few years before final oblivion. There were piles of equipment lying on the grass between the building and the wall. I recognised bits of Chris Dell's inventions from the labs just waiting for someone to lean over the wall and take them. I was shocked. Now of course all the staff that I knew have passed away except one, Dr Neville Rice the hydrometallurgist.

    I am on the alumnus list and receive emails but I don't know why I bother, as my department and course are long closed and forgotten about by anyone at Leeds now. Ironic as the first student of the university was a mining student.

    I was lucky to visit both Kirkstall Abbey and Temple Newsam House on a freshers' bus tour of the city in September 1967. I suppose they haven't changed much! The rest of the city certainly has changed. Much of the old back-to-backs that I knew have been replaced by (relatively) modern buildings or at least cleaned up a lot. Surviving in rough digs and seedy 1960s student accommodation did nothing to help me study. I have looked at Google Street View and hardly recognise the place. I remember the Middleton Light Railway from my map and assumed that it was to do with coal, but never ventured down there.

    As you say, it would be disappointing to go back. I feel bloody old as well!

    1. Hi Steve. Yes, our paths must have crossed, although I never even visited the Minerals Sciences department during my 6 years at Leeds (from 1963 to 69). I got to know the late Alan Apling quite well many years later, and also Neville Rice, who is still very much alive and kicking. In all the time since I left there has never been a single metallurgy department reunion and my ties are much more with CSM than with Leeds.
      Barbara and I walked from the Merrion Centre (completely changed) to Kirkstall Abbey last Wednesday afternoon. We walked through Hyde Park, and then through the back-to-backs to Victoria Road in Headingley, where my seedy flat was, and nothing has changed much in that area.

    2. Hi Barry, I studied at the mining department from 87 to 89 and our year still has yearly re unions in Leeds. 5 years ago at our graduation 25th anniversary Neville Rice attended for a few beers at the Library pub. He was on great form. Happy days!!

    3. Thanks for this. Do you have a name?

    4. I studied Mineral Engineering from 1992 to 1995, and then I completed a PhD with Nevill Rice in 2000. I'm so glad to hear that he is doing well. I was part of the crew tasked with emptying the Mining Department, it was a terrible time. I remember that a lot of stuff went missing during that period. I know that when we were turfed out of the Cohen lab, a lot of the copper equipment was sold to the scrap merchant. Some technicians made a tidy profit.

      Thanks for the bitter-sweet trip down memory lane.

  2. Barry, your memory of what happened so many years ago is indeed amazing; I can understand your nostalgic feelings; so many changes in academic programmes- same in India.
    Keep writing these and I am sure that so much to learn from the past--so much done then with no supporting tools like communications and computers.If I may say, hardcore metallurgy killed by material science in many countries(I am sure many will not like this statement!)

    1. I wouldn't call my memory amazing TC, we all look back on past events and places with some nostalgia. Regarding your comment on 'hardcore' metallurgy and material science. I think many people will be puzzled by this (including me)- maybe you could clarify?

  3. Now I find "hard Core Extractive metallurgy" is not taught in many Institutes which had excellent records of the most trained manpower. Many Metallurgy Schools have started calling their Depts as Material Sciences--for me a brick is also a material and so I get confused. Let others also comment.
    Personally I am convinced that metal extraction has to get new life with innovative technologies--same blast furnace; same buyer's process and so on and on--

    1. I will leave it to others to comment on this TC. The department of metallurgy at Leeds was not extractive metallurgy (only a very minor part), it dealt with physical metallurgy, so I fully understand their reasons for expanding it to materials.

  4. Barry, I am not a hard core metallurgist but interact with many starting from mining to metallurgy. The ores are getting leaner, we have to break particles to fine sizes for better liberation and maximum recovery of values--so I feel how can we keep supplying lumps of good grade/pellets etc to blast furnace.Mineral Engineers and metallurgists should work together on how to treat fine particles. This is just one example.

  5. I studied Mineral Engineering at Leeds Uni between '92-96. I was a terrible student tbh lol.
    Glad to hear Dr Rice is still doing well. He seemed quite old in the early 90s, I'm guessing he must be around 90 now ? He was a fair bit younger then Dr Apling as I remember.
    What happened to Dr Poole?

    1. Yes, Dr. Rice is still going strong, but Alan Apling died several years ago. Dr. Poole I have never heard of unfortunately- I did not study in the Minerals Engineering department.

    2. Dr Poole was relatively young (40s) when I was there in the early-mid 90s.
      If you were there in the 60s, you wouldn't have known him.
      Doing a quick internet search it seems he was still working at Leeds Uni until quite recently tutoring process engineering

    3. Dr Poole retired a few years ago

  6. I am pleased to hear that there are still a few people around who were associated with the Minerals Sciences/Minerals Engineering department at Leeds. I too am pleased to hear that Nevill Rice is still around. I last had emails with him on 8 March 2016.

    Lisa's post saddens but does not surprise me. The old department was trashed by the University. I saw the MP equipment thrown on the ground outside. This was a visit in which I was hoping to be proud to show my wife of 17 years where I studied. It was a humiliation and I have never gone back to Leeds and never will. Isn't it sad when a university shows such disrespect for its Schools...

    I wondered about Dr Colin Poole. I don't remember him as he was probably still at school when I left Leeds (1971)! I believe that he or Darron Dixon-Hardy was running the Leeds University Mining Association (LUMA) until 2006 when it went into silence. I was a life member of LUMA. The last LUMA Dinner was on 14 May 2004 but unfortunately I could not attend because I was teaching at CSM! I could not find Colin on the University staff list for the School of Chemical and Process Engineering but I did find a postdoctoral research fellow called Hugh Rice whose photo resembled Nevill. I wonder whether it could be his grandson? Darron is still a senior lecturer at Leeds.

    Steve Barber, Truro, Cornwall, UK

    1. In the post I say "Just around the corner from the Houldsworth was the Department of Mining and Minerals Engineering, which shut its doors 20 years ago. Now Camborne School of Mines in the only institute in UK offering degrees in mining". It now looks like in a couple of years there will be nowhere in UK offering mining degrees


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