I arrived at what was then called the University College of North Wales in 1979, to begin a four year degree in English and French. I hadn't fully appreciated, until reading David Roberts' book, just how tumultuous a time the late 70s and early 80s were for the university, with angry clashes between the management, students and academics, often to do with the status of the Welsh language and culture.
There are some fascinating stories in the book. For example, it describes how, during the Second World War, art treasures from the National Gallery were dispatched off to Bangor in anticipation of the Blitz. Over 500 paintings - including works by Botticelli, Rubens and Rembrandt - were stored in Prichard-Jones Hall, and later at Manod Quarry in Blaenau Fffestionog. Twenty years later, in the early 60s, students would attend 'hops' where live performances by the likes of Johnny Kidd and the Pirates would no doubt have them "shaking all over"; all of this in the same Prichard-Jones Hall that had originally housed the nation's artistic treasures and where in the early 1980s, I would sit my exams.
One event that isn't included in David Roberts' book is the visit, 12 years before my own modest arrival in Bangor, of The Beatles and Maharishi Mahesh Yogi*. Two months after the release of Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, John, Paul, George and Ringo, accompanied by Pattie Harrison, Cynthia Lennon and Jane Asher (not to mention Mick Jagger and Marianne Faithfull,) converged on Bangor University. They stayed in dormitories at the Hugh Owen Building and attended a seminar given by the Maharishi. Their stay in Bangor was cut short by the news of their manager Brian Epstein's death.
After my time as an undergraduate, universities came under increasing financial pressure from government and higher education became more market-driven, pragmatic and vocational. Polytechnics, teacher-training colleges and Schools of Nursing were absorbed into universities, student grants were replaced by student loans and education for its own sake, particularly for students from poorer backgrounds, became an idealistic memory. As David Roberts writes: "The golden age of academic independence and freedom was being displaced by a new uncomfortable culture based on market values. Performance monitoring, productivity, accountability and value for money became the prevailing dictums". How lucky I was, then, to have had a few years to live and learn freely through that golden age at the 'college on the hill'.
*There is BBC Wales archive footage of the Beatles visit to Bangor that can be viewed here.
Bangor University 1884-2009 by David Roberts is published by the University of Wales Press.