King's College London
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Student days

Social activites

Picnic at Keston (c. 1900)Picnic at Keston (c. 1900)Cricket team at Chelsea Polytechnic (1930's)Cricket team at Chelsea Polytechnic (1930's)The wide range of social activities available at Chelsea were a much valued part of the student experience. From the formation of the College as South-Western Polytechnic in 1895 recreational activities were popular, with founding clubs including cricket, cycling, chess, debating, rambling, reading, rowing, swimming and tennis.

Clubs and societies continued to grow both in number and popularity, from sporting favourites such as athletics, basketball, cricket, judo, hockey, netball and rugby to more specialist activities such as climbing, the Boat Club and the Rifle Club. Over the years, many clubs were formed and disbanded, some of them reflecting contemporary interests and issues, such as the Exploration Society, and the Society for Nuclear Disarmament, both established in 1962. Popular non-athletic clubs which maintained a steady membership throughout numerous generations of students included chess, debating and drama.

In addition, the College ran a number of social events including regular dances and the popular President’s Ball, bringing together presidents, vice-presidents and partners from other comparable London Colleges. In 1960, Chelsea Students' Union also initiated the Lost World Ball at the Royal Festival Hall, a charity event raising donations for World Refugee Year and World University Students. The Ball included a full programme of comedy, theatrical and musical entertainment, with performers including Peter Cook, Dudley Moore and Alan Bennett. Organisation of the event reflected extremely well on Chelsea students and socially, if not financially, the evening was an outstanding success.

Theatre production at Chelsea Polytechnic, 1950's (Ref: C/PH6/3)Theatre production at Chelsea Polytechnic, 1950's (Ref: C/PH6/3)Chelsea College Chess club (1980's)Chelsea College Chess club (1980's)A number of annual events at Chelsea were also notable for their contribution to the College. The famous Chelsea Lecture, a public lecture delivered annually by an eminent scholar, was inaugurated in 1967 with the first lecture given by Professor P M S Blackett on ‘Continental Drift’. One of the most prominent regular features in the calendar, the Conversazione, was also among the oldest of College traditions, having been established in 1896. This popular event, which ran until the 1980’s, included concerts, recitals, lectures, performing arts, exhibitions and gymnastic displays.

Open not only to staff and students, but also to guests and members of the public, the Conversazione was a showcase for achievements and opportunities available at Chelsea. Of a similar vein was the annual Stunt, run by the Chelsea School of Art, and used as both an exhibition and sale of student works produced throughout the year. Famous alumni from the School of Art included Quentin Blake, whose works were included in the Stunt programme in 1956.

Other popular annual events included the customary departmental Christmas shows, where departments such as the School of Art, Botany and Zoology, Physiology and Pharmacology, and Pharmacy would compete to produce the best stage shows and functions. Christmas activities also included carol singing and the annual Christmas party, arranged by students for the children of College staff.

Additionally, evening and lunch-time talks and lectures were widely available. Co-operation between the Students' Union and the Department of Liberal Studies saw the arrangement of regular evening lectures, with subjects ranging widely over student interests in the arts and sociology. Well attended events were also held by the Film and Gramophone societies, whilst the College orchestra, choir and madrigals gave termly recitals. From 1970, Chelsea was arranging an Arts Festival and conferences for sixth-form students on an annual basis, whilst from 1979 the College's supper party for graduates became a popular calendar fixture for College staff, graduating students and guests.

For more images of social activities, see our gallery.

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