Eileen Alexander OBE (1911– 2014)
In the autumn of 1951 a new Principal with no connection to Bedford, Miss Eileen Alexander, arrived to face the new challenges and new directions of a Post War world. Miss Alexander's first challenge was to ensure the transition from a fee paying, private college to one maintained by the local authority, a move which would create more equal opportunities. Miss Alexander had trained at Dartford and during the 1930s had worked to improve the quality of Physical Training in the new secondary schools. She served in the ATS during World War II, became Vice-Principal at Homerton College in Cambridge and in 1946 became an HMI. Her skilful diplomacy ensured that the transition went relatively smoothly and was accepted by staff and students. The College was sold to Bedfordshire Education Authority for £57,637 and became Bedford College of Physical Education on August 1st 1952.
By the 1950's developments saw Rudolf Laban's influence permeate gymnastics as well as dance and the change in funding enabled the building of a new gymnasium and swimming pool in Warwick Avenue to accommodate a new, broader range of students. Alongside this, the curriculum expanded and developed. Personal development of the student became as important as professional training and students were enabled to study a variety of second teaching subjects.
Miss Alexander had a formidable presence. One night, she discovered a prowler and raised the alarm. Six students apprehended him and the headlines in the Daily Express of February 3rd 1962 read "Pyjama Girls Capture Night Prowler". One student wrote:
"That was not the only occasion when Miss Alexander woke students. One morning, 17 Lansdowne overslept. No alarm rang, no breakfast was eaten, no post was fetched and no sound was heard – at least, not until Miss Alexander decided that enough was enough. The numbers attending Prayers that morning were lower then usual and there stood a house with its curtains drawn. Imagine the shock of opening your eyes in response to feeling your shoulder being shaken…...."
Dealing with students oversleeping was the least of Miss Alexander's worries. During the 1960s the Government pressurised colleges to expand student numbers. Miss Alexander was concerned to maintain standards whilst responding to the challenge. More building work was required to accommodate a doubling of student numbers within five years. The 'final' target of 450 was accomplished in September 1969.
Achieving academic respectability for PE was another of Miss Alexander and her staff's important contributions to the history of BCPE. The struggle to convince academics at Cambridge University that physical education was worthy of a four year BEd was a tough one, but the eventual successful outcome was a great triumph. It was fitting that, in 1971, the year Miss Alexander retired, the first four students who completed their fourth year in Cambridge graduated – two of them with Cambridge first class honours.
The newly unveiled Plantation between Dynevor and Linden Roads (2018)