Nottingham in the 1950s
Over a career spanning more than half a century, Dr Samuel K.B. Asante (LL.B, 1956 (University of Nottingham) and J.S.D, 1965 (Yale Law School)) has worked with some of the world's most prestigious institutions including the World Bank, the United Nations, and Cambridge, Columbia and Harvard Universities. One of Ghana’s foremost legal minds, his scholarship and commitment to justice has shaped intellectual thought and practical implementation of the law in Ghana and nations worldwide. But he’s always been a pioneer, leading the way for generations to follow in his footsteps. Sixty years ago, he was among the earliest international students to study at Nottingham.
“On 13 September 1953 I flew to London to start my studies at Nottingham, along with my classmate J.K. Agyemang, who had also been admitted to the University.
“We spent our first few days in London at a British Council establishment for newly-arrived overseas students, before going to the residential halls of Kings College London for an orientation on how to live in Britain. An enduring lesson from this course was how to light a gas ring without succumbing to the gas!
“My first sight of the University of Nottingham campus was most reassuring. The Trent Building was an imposing, gleaming edifice, caressed by a beautiful lake in front and graced with carpets of well-manicured lawns around it. This was a far cry from a “red brick” urban monstrosity.
“I was assigned to Hugh Stewart hall of residence – a magnificent building with an exquisite garden. The Hall Master, Reverend Dr William Kneil, welcomed us with a speech that stressed the hall was not “a dormitory annex” but a residential institution with its own established traditions of college life. The hall organised debates, concerts, sports and formal dinners once a week during which we wore our gowns and hosted a distinguished personality on the High Table. I participated actively in hall debates and was elected to the Hall Committee in my second year, which carried the privilege of sitting on the High Table at formal dinners. I joined the Debating Society and was elected Treasurer in my second year and Secretary in my third year. I particularly remember a lively debate involving Barbara Castle, a leading Labour MP and Cabinet Minister.
The Nottingham Law Department could be described as a gold nugget of a law school, buried in the heart of Nottingham Forest!
“It was a perfect example of a small institution blessed with a faculty of the highest intellectual calibre who were dedicated and compassionate scholars and teachers. It was an excellent facility for undergraduate instruction in law. The department was located within what was originally a private residence set in an orchard. With a small student population and all facilities concentrated in the “Orchards”, students could not avoid bumping into their lecturers three or four times a day. The attention received by each student was intensive and enthralling. I settled down to hard work – the University, as well as the Law Department, was quite intrigued by the news that two diminutive Africans from the Gold Coast topped the class in the sessional law exams in early 1954.
“Outside of academic work, I made the most of the trips and concerts arranged for overseas students by the British Council. I remember a tour of Scotland in 1955 that took me to Edinburgh, where I saw the Queen for the first time as she entered Holyrood Palace. I occasionally attended University dances (Hops), where the ladies were very polite. The atmosphere in the Nottingham Palais in town was another matter!“In the summer of 1954, I decided to earn some money by working in the Players Factory in Nottingham. I collected £32 and took a holiday in Paris, crossing the English Channel in a ferry. I met a group of American students who declared they were going to “do Europe in five days”. But my constant companion was a Scottish student. One day, we decided to spend some time on the bank of the River Seine. We each got a long French sandwich, plus a bottle of red wine, which we didn’t think was alcoholic since it was consumed with regularity at the restaurants with no visible effects on the consumers. We were clearly naïve. By the time we finished the bottles, our heads were swimming – we swiftly found a café and consumed several cups of black coffee!
“Nottingham was a wonderful experience. I laid a firm foundation there for my future professional and intellectual pursuits. I left Nottingham for London for the second phase of my legal training with considerable confidence.”
For current PhD student Mohataz Hossain, many of Samuel’s experiences will be familiar, despite the intervening generations. Joining Nottingham from Bangladesh, Mohataz was attracted by the leading expertise of the University, but quickly fell in love with life in Nottingham.
“My research interest in architecture and the very relevant research group at Nottingham was my inspiration to choose this University. The University is one of the member institutions of The Association of Commonwealth Universities, and receiving a Commonwealth PhD Scholarship from Nottingham made me determined to start my doctoral research journey here. But then I fell in love with the beautiful campuses and atmosphere of the University.
“My favourite part of the University is the Highfields Park Lake, just beside University Park Campus. It’s got a splendid view of the Trent Building. I always find pleasure speaking my time here, enjoying the scenic water-body and the beautiful wildlife with swans and geese on the lake.
My favourite part of living in Nottingham is the range of choices on offer – I can either choose to enjoy the vibrant city life or enjoy the quiet countryside just a 10 or 15 minute journey by bus.
“The city centre plaza always has a different theme, from the Winter Wonderland to Summer Seaside, and I love exploring the different kind of foods here. The old architecture of the city centre and the scenic beauty of the canals around Nottingham are brilliant. Nottingham’s central location in the UK has been great for travel – I can go to London anytime, and I enjoy visiting architectural sites to do photography.
“I’m a member of the photography society, and in the last academic year I was a member secretary. I love being part of this society and relish travelling together for photography with like-minded students. Night photography of goose fair and the city centre, and wildlife photography in Nottingham have been the best experiences! The Students’ Union is pretty vibrant and the social life is great.
“Nottingham has a lot of options on offer, so it’s about choosing the type of life you want to live in Nottingham. After I graduate, I’d like to continue to research within my field of expertise, so I want to gain enough experience and to enhance my interpersonal skills. Nottingham is the perfect place.”