Memories of the Strand: Dr Barrie Morgan

As part of the Strand Lines Project I met with Dr Barrie Morgan to talk about his associations and interactions with the area whilst working at King’s. Dr Morgan was initially a Lecturer in the Geography Department when he first joined King’s in the late 1960’s. His career spanned to become founding Director the International Office at King’s in 1987 and later founding Director of External Relations in 1992, where he dealt with brand management, international relations, student marketing, public relations, publications, fundraising and alumni relations. Whilst at King’s Dr Morgan also started the JYA programme at King’s. As a student at King’s College London, my interview with Barrie left me with a heightened awareness of the vast developments at King’s on the Strand and a sense of being part of a community that expands beyond my sight. 

Abigail Townsend: Can you tell me about your first memory of the Strand?

Dr Barrie Morgan: Strangely my first memory of Kings was before I came here – when I was still an undergraduate in Exeter. I remember walking along the Strand, probably about 1964 or 65 – it was  before the new Strand building and the scaffolding was up, because they were demolishing and they were about to start the new building. And I thought, ‘oh well that’s where King’s is’ and that was really my first awareness of it. I came to King’s about two years later. The Geography department then was then located in the Norfolk Hotel – a building we’d acquired now called the Norfolk building. The Norfolk Hotel was famous because apparently Conrad wrote his novels in the lounge of the hotel!

AT: Has much changed during your time at King’s?

BM: Huge changes!  I now look on the college from outside and I think the changes have … the pace of change … although not in terms of merges, the pace of change continues to increase. When I came to the college it had some 1700 students. It was based on the Strand Campus, it had one offshoot in Drury Lane. It was half art, half science. I’ve lived through I don’t know how many merges. Arthur Lucas, a former principal, says there were 14 in his time! The first big change was with Queen Elizabeth College and Chelsea in 1985, which overnight took the college from 3500 to 6500 and totally changed the balance. Because we didn’t acquire any humanities departments, suddenly humanities was quite significant minority next to the sciences. In the next few years the college had quite a lot of adjustments – we had three maths departments, three Physics departments – vastly overstaffed.

Yet, despite the changes, King’s has got… don’t know how to describe it and I don’t know how to  explain it, I think it’s probably related to its history and its theology department but it’s has a set of values which I think have been maintained to create a strong community – its parts help one another.

The Franklin-Wilkins Building

Dr Morgan told me about a particular problem that arose in naming buildings the college had acquired. As head of External Relations, he felt it was appropriate to start naming buildings after famous alumni. He explained to me how the James Clerk Maxwell Building was ‘fairly straightforward’, but the controversy between Rosalind Franklin and Maurice Wilkins made naming what we now call the Franklin-Wilkins Building more difficult. There was particular controversy over the discovery of DNA, which King’s had been working on using pioneering x-ray photography.

AT: Do you have any particular memories of your time at King’s which stand out?

BM: Talking to Maurice Wilkins who I became really quite close to because he was here as an emeritus professor. I asked him about what to call this building, whether it should be the Wilkins-Franklin building or the Franklin-Wilkins building. The scientific community was really split as to whether they were pro-Franklin or pro-Wilkins. I rang Maurice up and I asked him what should we call this building and I always remember his reply: ‘in terms of ladies coming first and in alphabetical terms I think we should call it the Franklin-Wilkins building’ which I think was some measure of the man. So we called it Franklin-Wilkins.

AT: What’s the best thing about King’s?

My friendships. Undoubtedly. Both in terms of the department of Geography, my friends in External Relations…and the great thing about External Relations is you’re mixing with the whole college. So it’s the people who make it.

AT: What is your proudest achievement?

BM: I think the one I’m most proud of is setting up the Development Office which is now I think arguably recognised as one of the best in the country. That’s the thing I take most pride from.  I persuaded the college at a relatively early stage – we were one of the first colleges to get our act together and start fundraising?

The Strand

BM: I did represent the College on The Strand Association which bought about really major changes in the Strand. The Strand in the 1980s, mid-80s was dreadful. It was full of homeless in that first period of Thatcherism. Just a dreadful environment. Yet… a set of environmental improvements which were instigated by the Strand Association bought about huge improvement. The local environment was improved in terms of widening pavements and reducing traffic lanes and so on was really quite influential. Within ten years it changed the character of the Strand totally, to a street that wasn’t run down, but was instead vibrant and living.

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