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Eric Wollaston

Eric Wollaston


Eric Wollaston (History, 1953) is a retired minister and academic. Born and bred in Surbiton on Thames, Eric recalls living through the Blitz years and being evacuated from his hometown in 1945.

After King’s, Eric spent two years as a teacher and two years as a community centre warden, before moving to Bolton University, where he worked as the equivalent of a professor of humanities. In his 50s, he returned to college to study for ordination as a non-conformist minister. He then worked as a hospital chaplain for the last nine years of his career.

What are your happiest memories of your time at King’s?

The fellowship. I was in a group of 20 in the History Department, equally divided between men and women. I joined King’s because it was a religious college of the Anglican church, to which I then belonged. I joined the ecumenical Student Christian Movement, listened to great speakers and theologians of the time, and enjoyed their Swanwick conferences. I fell in love and married a woman I met there when I was in my final leave from National Service.

How have you stayed connected to King’s since graduating?

I attend a lot of King's events and I am an avid reader of InTouch Online magazine. At one event I met Bob Knecht, who had once been Professor Williams’s (a former Professor of Modern History at King’s) tutorial assistant and went on to work at Birmingham University. I travelled to London for every reunion between 40 years and 50 years. After this, I stayed in touch with three of my contemporaries.

Why is being part of your alumni network important to you?

Everyone in our year, as well as those I met in the Student Christian Movement, were immensely good people and good companions. I have now lost touch with most of them or they have died. It was the first time since infant school that I had been in a mixed educational institution.

How has the ability to understand and interact effectively with people from other cultures and/or backgrounds been important in your life or career?

In the early 1950s, very few students were from outside the UK. I do remember a woman from Trinidad, who became President of the University Student’s Union.

At Bolton, most of the non-humanities students were from overseas and a lot of my colleagues taught English classes to students. My first work experience was in Lyons tea shop, where the only colleague able to work the ancient washing machine was a Nigerian chap. During my two years in the Army, there were no non-Brits.

Universities were then allowed to take students without any formal qualifications. At Bolton, our first two students to achieve first class degrees had come to us with no previous qualifications. One of them ended up as a high-ranking academic in philosophy. When I analysed the whole intake, the non-qualified did better than the qualified.

My wife and I were keen travellers. We have visited all the continents except Australasia (which we would have liked to visit) and Antarctica (which we most certainly would not!).

What advice would you give to students and alumni for success in life after King’s?

Do your best. It is not how many hours you put in, it is how sensible your input is.

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