Alumni Memories: Paul Britton on the ‘Stairwell to Heaven’

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Architect's photo of the stairwell between the Guild offices and the basement
Architect's photo of the stairwell between the Guild offices and basement upon building completion

Our University days can leave us with some of the most treasured memories of our lives. We love hearing stories from our alumni of those special days and are delighted to share them in our new ‘Alumni Memories’ series. In the next of our stories, alumnus Paul Britton (BSc 1976) shares his memories of the infamous stairwell between the Guild offices and the basement.

“It is often the case that mundane objects can provoke vivid memories of people and events which have lain dormant in our minds and the minds of strangers for decades. One such object is the stairwell between the Guild offices and the basement in the Guild of Undergraduates. In my day 1973-76 to reach it one entered via the front doors, turned left after the porter’s office and there it was.”

“I descended those steps towards the black and white chequerboard on my first visit to the Guild in search of a mythical creature, the Sphinx. Dark, noisy, crowded and filled by the smells of tobacco, beer and bonhomie. I was immediately at home. But the Sphinx was not the only reason to descend, for as well as the familiar hostelry smells, there was warmth and steam, mixed with the odours of Hai Karate and Silvikrin emanating from the bathrooms.”

“Sanitary standards in the student houses we occupied left many a mother in tears. But for 10p you were issued with a crisp white towel and a bar of soap and could languish all afternoon in a welter of scalding hot water. Outside, screwed to the walls were wooden benches upon which tired and emotional lunchtime drinkers could recline while they awaited the longed for evening opening.”

“The stairwell became the epicentre of my life as I ascended and descended daily, commuting between the Panto Office on the second floor and the Sphinx in the basement, with lifelong friends and memories of good times at either end and many in between. Over the course of the next 35 years I was fortunate to be able maintain contact with a dozen or so people who became lifelong friends.”

Paul Britton and the Panto Committee in 1976

Alumnus Paul Britton (BSc 1976) as an explorer on the right and the panto gang in 1976

“Whilst talking to one of those lifelong friends, Vron Hayton, we were discussing examples of undergraduate stupidity which had begun to appear on our Facebook page for alumni based at Carnatic Halls in the 1970s. She asked me if I could remember a particularly memorable incident when the Panto Ball was interrupted by “some idiot” who fell off the balcony and plummeted all the way to the bottom of the stairwell and had to be carted away in an ambulance. I did not remember this incident and she decided that it must have been before I arrived in Liverpool.”

“A couple of days later and completely out of the blue Andy Hamilton-Smith a former President of Rankin Hall posted: “Many years on, not all long-time residents of Carnatic, but all still together here in Australia. From top left, Bryan Wadsworth and me. Nicki (Frith) Melville, next level Glyn Rowland and Brian Railton and at the lower level Nick Thomas and John Melville. All at Liverpool collectively from 1972-76, some were there earlier than others”. The post contained a photograph taken on the stairs of his home with his group of friends, all Liverpool alumni enjoying a convivial evening in the manner that only very old friends appreciate.”

“A few hours later another staircase photo came in from Richard Healey: “Reminds me of this picture of the "Interstellar Police" on their way to the Rag Ball, 1972. After a significant volume of Space Juice, Hughie (bottom left) became a ‘true spaceman’ when he leaned on the railings in the Union building a little too casually and ended up at the foot of the stairwell. Two of us, in full regalia, accompanied him in the ambulance. Fortunately, the only damage done was to his glasses. Once this had been established the nurses seemed to be fairly entertained by the incident.”

Right image: the ‘Interstellar Police’ 1972. Left image: Liverpool alumni now living in Australia

Left image: the ‘Interstellar Police’ 1972. Right image: Liverpool alumni now living in Australia.

“As another witness to the events Christine Mary Glenn recently remarked, “In my dim and befuddled recall, Hughie was returned home and laid in bed surrounded by the Interstellar Police and other mates with the requisite receptacle close by. Memories of Hughie's puke bucket still haunt me!”

“How absolutely fabulous; the mystery had been solved by two strangers living on opposite sides of the planet. Obviously, Hughie caused a sensation which has resounded down the ages but where is he now? Maybe dear reader you hold the key to solving another mystery.”

If you are a University of Liverpool alum looking to reconnect with fellow Carnatic graduates from the 1970s, you can join Paul’s Facebook group here.

The University of Liverpool wouldn’t be the same without the amazing memories of our alumni community. If you have a funny memory or interesting story to share from your time as a University of Liverpool student, we would love to hear it: