50 Years of Women at St John’s: Jane Grieve

On a Friday afternoon, just before International Women’s Day, Lucy Irving was lucky enough to have a chat with Jane Grieve, a member of the 1973 cohort of St John’s College.

When asking Jane, who was wearing a clerical collar, what her job is at the moment, she laughed and said, ‘can you guess?’ Whilst she is currently a vicar, Jane has had various roles in John’s and Cranmer over the decades since 1973. When she first left in 1976, she’d already met her husband, who was training to become a vicar at Oxford by that time. As one of the students who voted for women to be allowed into college, he never dreamed that he would meet his wife in college! Since women couldn’t be ordained into the Church of England back then, the first thing Jane did was become a vicar’s wife. Over the years she has had three children in three different parishes, before eventually being ordained herself in 2001.

Jane remembers the process of applying to John’s as very different to how it is today – there was certainly no such thing as UCAS! Since the college had originally largely been intended for men who were going to be ordained, many people came to do their degree (which was probably theology) as an undergraduate, then stayed and went to senior hall to do their vicar training. In previous decades, John’s Hall had been called Junior Hall and Cranmer Hall had been called Senior Hall, with many students moving on from one to the other. This sense of Christian identity remained a big part of college life. Many that applied to John’s had a sense of community and common purpose, and this was a particularly important part of applications. It wasn’t unknown to be offered 2 EEs if the principal felt you were somebody who needed to be encouraged and ought to be able to have the chance to follow a Christian vocation, either as a vicar or as a leading role in the voluntary sector. However, Jane assures me that her offer was a bit higher than that!

Within her degree she studied Latin, Greek, biblical studies, ancient history, theology and more. She particularly liked John’s for its convenient location (which I can relate to as a music student!) which was the only place on the peninsula open to women that was so close to the classics and theology departments.

As one of the first women to be admitted to St John’s College, Jane remembers that it was much smaller than it is today, with around 120 students living in across all year groups. In Jane’s year there were approximately 40 students with around half being women. In our conversation, Jane stressed that the size of the college provided her with a sense of community that is likely not as strong in other colleges, and that her closest friends were made in her days as a student. Although she doesn’t see these friends often, they always click back into their friendship whenever they do meet, which Jane is thankful for. Jane also enjoyed her newfound freedom that the 1970s offered her as the world was changing. Coming from a deprived background, she was fortunate to receive a full tuition and maintenance grant which she remains grateful for to this day. This is one aspect of university life which she feels has changed for the worse, as she sympathises with the many students who end university in lots of debt and those who are denied the opportunity due to low socioeconomic backgrounds.

Jane also shared a couple of secrets about what life was like in the 1970s at John’s. One memory she has is of the tradition of Mischief Night, held on the 4th of November. Every year, for one night only, there were water fights and tricks played on people throughout college. Jane remembers bins full of water flowing down the stairs of Cruddas, with lights flickering on and off due to water in the electrics! Unfortunately, the tradition has died out since then! There also used to be a very strong rivalry between John’s and Chads’, with this rivalry being settled by raiding each other’s chapel’s andworse – a bit more mischievous than the friendly football matches that take place today! Security also wasn’t what it is now, with Jane recalling that if you got locked out, you knew there was a key to the college hanging on a string behind one of the letterboxes on the Bailey!

Jane stresses that while John’s has gone through a lot of change over the decades, it has always remained a place which has a strong sense of friendship and inclusivity. As one of the smallest colleges, there’s an ethos of mutual support at all levels, which has survived the generations. Among the support staff there are so many valuable individuals and wonderful East Durham characters who are all so real and make the college an added joy to be a part of. St John’s is a really special place to Jane, as it is to so many others, which she feels lucky to have been one of the first women to walk through its doors of as a student.

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