Reconnecting with St John’s after 40 years

Written by Nick Hughes. A St John’s alumnus (1977 – 1980) tells us of his reconnection with College after coming back to visit on an Open Day with his son, nearly 40 years on.

“the Johnians I met on that day reminded me of my college friends and the people I had met there; I had a strong sense that the soul and vibe of St John’s had not changed”

Looking back, it is clear that my time at St John’s College (1977 – 1980) was a very formative experience for me. I met my wife-to-be there (Debby Murray, also 1977 – 1980) as well as her brother (David Murray, 1976 – 1979). I enjoyed it so much that my sister (Anne Hughes, 1980 – 1983) also attended.

Nick and wife Debby (alumna of John’s 1977 – 1980) at the 2021 Bailey Ball.

If truth be told, St John’s rather fell off my radar until our youngest, James, decided to apply to Durham University and I visited with him on one of the Open Days. We walked up the steps into Haughton to be met by a group of friendly Johnians and when I mentioned that I was an old Johnian, James and I were whisked off on a tour of the college. This was my first proper visit back to St John’s for close to 40 years.

Frankly, it is difficult to describe the emotions I felt during that visit, but I was very struck by two things. First, the Johnians I met on that day reminded me of my college friends and the people I had met there; I had a strong sense that the soul and vibe of St John’s had not changed materially and subsequent visits have confirmed that. Secondly, it was clear to me that St John’s had adapted well to meet the challenges of the intervening years, not least the threefold increase in its yearly intake, but more recently Covid.

Since my day the dining room has been extended, there is the multi-purpose Leech Hall in the quad between the kitchen and the library, there is a new residential block on the furthest Cranmer lawn and the latest achievement is the quite extraordinary Learning Resource Centre – the largest development in the vicinity of the Cathedral for many years – which entirely fills the plot previously occupied by the Principal’s house and garden (next to the chapel). It houses the library and provides workspaces for John’s students as well as break out rooms for teaching and group study. This is particularly useful now that the main University library has relocated from Palace Green to the university site on Stockton Road. Otherwise there has been some reconfiguration of some of the rooms and corridors but Cruddas is still Cruddas!

Since that visit, Debby and I have enjoyed attending St John’s social events in London, a reunion weekend at St John’s and even last year’s Bailey Ball. More importantly, I have had the pleasure to meet with the leadership team and the opportunity to get involved in what is going on at St John’s and to try and be of assistance.

Now that our four children have attended university, Debby and I fully appreciate the unique experience which St John’s, as a small independent college in the heart of historic Durham, has to offer. As one of the St John’s alumni, I would encourage those who have lost contact with St John’s to try and reconnect with it, to join in one of the reunions held from time to time and to consider other ways to become involved with College.

As I write this, James’ time at St John’s is coming to an end but not, thankfully, our family’s renewed connection with St John’s!

To arrange your alumni revisit to John’s, just email – we are always happy to welcome you back. 

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