St Anselm Hall (known to its residents as Slems) began life as an Anglican training seminary, with the specific purpose of training poor boys. It was founded in 1907 by the Rev. Thomas Bateson Allworthy, who subsequently became the first Warden. Allworthy found his first student, Spencer Wade, whilst a curate in Durham. The son of a miner, Wade had himself spent several years down a mine but was taken under the care of Allworthy after teaching himself Greek from a book. In 1907, Allworthy, his housekeeper, Wade, and Wade’s companion Walter Sellers, settled in a house in Newton Heath, Manchester, where they would remain for several years. It was for these early students that the hall crest was designed.
History of St Anselm Hall
By 1910 the Newton Heath premises were too small and too far from university and so Allworthy and his men decamped to 134 Dickinson Road (around the corner from the present hall). The 1911 census tells us that in April 1911 Slems consisted of Thomas Allworthy, his housekeeper Jane Knox and six young men aged between 23 and 17. Three of these were matriculation (University entrance exam) students and the other three University arts students.
Thomas Allworthy (far left) and several of his students (Spencer Wade can be seen on the far right) outside 134 Dickenson Road c.1910.
Within a few years Dickinson Road also became too small and in 1914, the students made a third and final move to a house in Kent Road. Once occupied by Professor Schuster, the house is now incorporated into the contemporary hall structure, where it forms the ‘Schuster’ wing.
Having been forced, by a lack of men, to temporarily close in 1915, the hall re-opened in the early inter-war period under the care of Rev. Chevassut. In the summer of 1921, it was purchased by the Church of England and became an Anglican hall (with, in fact, priority given to Anglican applicants) offering bed and board for Manchester University students.
Expansion continued through this period and in 1927 the first students took up residence in the wing now known as ‘Dewar’ (After 1920s Warden Lindsey Dewar). Other students were subsequently housed in two rented (and later purchased) properties known as ‘Manor’ and ‘Summerfield.’
George Wright, a mid-1930s student, at work. We think this may have been taken in either ‘Manor’ or ‘Summerfield’ house, both of which have since been demolished
It was during this period that many hall traditions developed. The first Hall Play ‘Five birds in a Cage’ was performed in 1924. The students are said to have experienced a slight mishap when they found that their set design did not allow access to the stage. Nevertheless enterprising, they subsequently gained access by climbing through a window! This period also saw the beginnings of the Tutor system and of the JCR (Junior Common Room), although early JCR presidents appear to have been elected by the Warden rather than the students themselves!
The cast of ‘The Forest’ (John Galsworthy). This was performed by students in March 1934.
Further significant developments came to hall under the Wardenship of Duncan Armytage. Appointed in 1928, Armytage had spent time at St Edmund’s Hall Oxford and it was under him that one of the most significant hall traditions, that of formal dinner, was established. He was also responsible for founding the Senior Common Room (a body which survived until the early 2000s) and developing the library.
Rev. Joe Inglis came to hall in 1939, shortly before the Second World War broke out. In many ways, it is thanks to Inglis that the hall survived. Having the foresight to realise that, if the hall were to close, it would likely never reopen, he kept it going and held the post of Warden up to 1948. During this time the hall cellars, which included the hall chapel, were converted into an air raid shelter, held up by pieces of what had been the hall stage.
The 1943 Hall Photo. Note the tape on the windows of what is now the Senior Common Room and the small number of men. On the board is written the hall toast ‘Floreat Aula Sancti Anselmi’ (May St Anselm’s Hall Thrive)
The most poignant loss of this period, though, was that of the 23 past and present students who were killed in action. After the war, the chapel lectern and Bible were purchased in their memory and in 2018, with support from the St Anslem Hall Association (the Old Boys organisation), a permanent plaque was raised in the chapel to remember all ‘Old Anselmians who have died in the service of Mankind’.
The St Anselm Hall War Memorial
In 1948 Inglis departed and the Wardenship taken over by Ronald Preston. Like his immediate successor, Geoffrey North, Preston had perhaps one of the most significant roles in the hall’s history. With the help of old Anselmians like Tommy Lawrenson (a 1930s student turned Hall Tutor) Preston revived a number of hall traditions including the Annual Old Boys (Association) reunion and the hall play, both of which had been cancelled at the outbreak of hostilities.
Cast members from St Anselms’ and Langdale (a nearby girl’s hall) performing the 1951 hall play, Alan Melville’s ‘Castle in the Air’.
Photo property of Geoff Price
This period also saw the hall site develop to a point where it would be recognizable to present students. Significant developments to accommodation included the construction of the present ‘Manor’ and ‘Summerfield’ wings to replace the older houses of the same name and the building of the Warden’s house (now the Lodge). Major changes to the wider hall complex included the rebuilding of dining room in its present location, construction of a new chapel on the site of the old dining room and the addition of a pre-fabricated squash court.
The Hall Chapel as it appeared shortly after completion. The candlesticks and cross were purchased in memory of a former student who died before completing his studies
Financial difficulties in the early 1960s led to the decision to sell the hall to the University of Manchester, in whose possession it remains. Further development continued through the latter half century under the guidance of several Wardens. These included, among many other things, the founding of the Cellar Club (the hall bar) and the construction of the neighbouring Canterbury Court site.
In 2017, the hall made perhaps one of the biggest changes in its history when it admitted female students for the first time. As of 2019, women make up around half of St Anselms’ student population. In the twenty-first century the hall continues to be a vibrant and active student community, headed by its JCR and supported by its Warden and Tutors. Many of the old traditions- including the JCR system, formal dinner and weekly chapel events- survive and sit comfortably alongside the newer aspects of hall life.
If you would like to find out more about the hall’s history or contribute to its archive please visit the Archive Twitter feed (@Slemshistory) (https://twitter.com/slemshistory?lang=en)
or email Slemshistory19@outlook.com
Written by Izzy Summer, August 2020
St Anselm Hall Archive
Thomas Lawrenson. St Anselm Hall 1907-1957
Spencer Wade. Both Hands before the Fire