Student Halls Revisited

One of our favourite discoveries this year has been the Yorkshire Sculpture Park near Wakefield.  It’s created on the old Bretton Estate, which once provided a home to Bretton Hall, a college for arts and teaching students.


I studied theatre and dallied with music, and so Bretton Hall was fairly clearly on my radar when I was looking at where I wanted to do my degree.  But the story was that Bretton students were a little bit too arty, and loved their place a little bit too much.  And where I come from, that kind of thing can make a person giddy and is generally best avoided.

On our first visit, sometime this spring, those stories came back to me and I realised then that those students had every right to love their place as much as they did.

I love the place that I studied with a very big part of my heart, but Bretton is in a totally different league.


But time moves on and little colleges sometimes get swallowed up and – as in this case – eventually close to make way for other things.

There’s a strange little bit of loveliness about the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, though, in that they seem to acknowledge how much it meant to the people who studied there. In very small ways, and sometimes ways that need a bit of looking for, it feels as though the student life hasn’t been just pushed aside.


One of the things that I loved the most this visit was an exhibition by Emily Speed, and particularly the piece that I’ve photographed below which is called “Place for Hiding”.

I have no real grasp of this type of art at all. I don’t know about the things I’m meant to say, or how I’m meant to stand and gaze in the right sort of way.

But I do know when something makes me feel and remember.


It looks like a pile of old furniture, which of course is exactly what it is.

It’s furniture that was taken from the long-disused student accommodation at Bretton Hall to make a new kind of hiding place.




















All of the bits – the individual components – are arranged very carefully, possibly precariously, in this sort of den.

The outside is strangely beautiful. It’s exactly the kind of furniture that we had in our halls at Chester. The kind that was made of real wood, by hand, by men who made sure that everything was finished well and built to last. Here and there, there are little joiners’ scribbles on the underside of drawers or the inside of units.





















At the side, there’s a small opening and enough space inside to stand for a few moments and be alone.

Being inside is absolutely about hiding. Being away from other things, with the chatter of people outside being slightly muffled. It recreates, intentionally I suspect, something of being in student accommodation. That those little rooms with their standard issue furniture really did feel like another home for the time that I was there. That there almost always were muffled voices outside; people meeting in the corridors and providing little distractions to anyone tucked inside trying to finish an essay.

Our rooms were more than that, of course. They were places to have friends over and to have more people than were intended sitting on whatever surfaces there were. Testing the limits of how built to last the furniture really was.

There’s a card to collect on the way into the gallery. It tells us about the artist’s interest in buildings being “…physical shelters and containers for memory…”

We all have memories of home and childhood, and of the homes that we make for ourselves in adult life. But there’s something very special about the more temporary places that we live when we’re moving through from one stage of life to another and emerging from childhood and into adulthood.

This was one of several pieces in the exhibition, and certainly one of the highlights for me.

If you want to read more about our visits, you’ll find a few more of my entries about the Yorkshire Sculpture Park here.

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