Online Archive  
Issue 11 - March 1973
University Challenge

The next victim of Durham University's large building programme will probably be Saddler Street, one of the few old city streets left intact since the sacrifice of many parts of old Durham by the City Council to the so-called ring road.

The plan is to gut all the buildings from the Buffaloes Head to No.52A and replace them with a new University Book Shop and a much enlarged Buffaloes Head with a modernised interior including, it is said, a trendy cellar bar. Behind all these buildings and extending as far as Moatside Lane there will rise a new block of bedsitters for the students of University College built on the land now occupied by the British Legion Hall and other buildings, all of which have lain derelict for many years.

Anxious environmentalists have been assured that the facades of all the buildings in Saddler Street will be preserved. Yet there are those who, bearing in mind the abortive attempt to preserve the facade of the buildings fronting Bailey Court, the utterly tasteless extension to Hatfield which looms over the Bailey like a wall of a hospital corridor, and the destruction of the ancient interior of Abbey House, view the possible rise of another University Barracks with concern. When confronted with such views, the University (staff, students or administration) invariably express feelings of hurt disappointment that its economic benefit to the city, its occasional charitable handouts to local people and its general civilising influence should be received with such ingratitude.

As an illustration of the University's concern for the welfare of the city, the Sutton site (which is what the University calls the proposed Saddler Street development) will, according to Ian Graham, the Registrar, provide City people with improved facilities by clearing the slum area and extending and improving the Buffaloes Head. Actually the University is not exercised over much by any considerations of the city's needs. It wants a new book shop, whether the city does or not, it wants extra students accommodation and it will have to knock down the Buff's and the building next to it in order to gain access to the rest of the site; hence the negotiations at present being conducted with the brewery to reach some sort of agreement whereby the pub will be demolished and rebuilt by the University. There will be nothing in it for non-student residents of Durham unless they have a taste for academic literature and the money to indulge in it, though they will be able to use Moatside Lane which will be clean and tidy and enhanced by a University Barracks some four storeys high. We wish the University would merely state its real objectives and stop wasting our time with ridiculous excuses.

As for the Buffs; many of its regulars would prefer to keep it as it is. Some of these are themselves students but they won't be here long enough to do anything about it and that only leaves towns people - who don't matter anyway. When interviewed by Grumble, the manageress of the Buffs said she preferred students as, apparently, they cause her much less trouble than the young local residents. These she has no time for, they fight, leave their wives, abscond from work and shirk other responsibilities, while the students who, in spite of being in roughly the same age group, have none of these responsibilities, she pities because they cannot find accommodation easily. Neither can non-students. Naturally she hopes to be reinstated once the project has been finished.

Spokesmen for the University in this instance are Mr Ian Graham, the Registrar and Mr Boobyer from the Surveyors Department. The University, they say, is improving a slum area which, Mr Graham insists, no-one else is prepared to do. This raises the question of who owned the land before the plans were finished. Mr Boobyer was a little vague but thought that all the property had been acquired recently with the exception of a few of the buildings facing Saddler Street and he did not think that the University had been granted any land at its foundation in 1832. He also volunteered for no particular reason the information that there had been no Compulsory Purchase. On the other hand, Mr Graham insists that the University received large land grants from the last Prince-Bishop in 1832 which included the land on which the Sutton site is to be built, with the exception of the British Legion Hall and the Buffs. If this is true, who then is responsible for the deterioration of the site into slum conditions? The British Legion Hall is still in a usable condition apparently, but when two local people wrote to the City Council asking if they could use it as a Community Centre they received no reply.

So the project is seen as a laudable attempt at slum clearance and carries, as Mr Graham proudly pointed out, the approval of the Fine Arts Commission. It is to be hoped for the sake of the reputation of this body that they did not see the scale model currently on display in Old Shire Hall.

It may be of interest to some people to know where the money for this project is coming from. Mr Graham pleads dire poverty and claims that he has had to launch an appeal for donations from graduates of the University. He has also applied for a grant from the Department of Environment on the grounds that this is a slum clearance project that will improve the appearance of the city etc etc.

Nothing can be done to prevent this destruction of another corner of the old city of Durham, for the plans have been approved and building will probably begin once the Buffs has been sorted out and the money gathered together - probably some time in 1974. Meanwhile rumours emanating from Queen's Court suggest that the University has some development plans for the site of the Fine Arts Studio and other buildings in the vicinity.