William Goodenough College, London

Outside of the initial three weeks with the University of Maryland winterterm class, my time in London was spent living at William Goodenough College. The name has since been shortened to simply "Goodenough College", but it went by the longer name when I was staying there and that tends to be how I still think of it. Goodenough College is a postgraduate residence and educational trust located on Mecklenburgh Square near the Russell Square underground station. The place hosts about 300 students visiting London to do graduate studies of some kind, and I was grateful that my dissertation adviser, Dr. Richard Price, had enough connections to get me a spot. It was far, far less expensive to stay at Goodenough College than it would have been to stay in an apartment, or even in a hostel as I had done on my previous research trip to London. Goodenough College also had a real community of other graduate students, and I took advantage of some of their collegiate activities to meet the other students and take a break from my time working in the archives.

Goodenough College was founded in 1930 by a group of Londoners who wanted to provide a living space for "able young men coming to London from the dominions and colonies, the future leaders of what was then a large empire". Given that I was in London to study British imperial history, I was very much following in the vein of this tradition, if not in the way that the original founders likely intended. The current Mecklenburgh Square location of Goodenough College was built in the 1810s and named after King George III's wife, Queen Charlotte of Mecklenburg-Strelitz. These attractive brick buildings had a number of uses over the last two centuries, with a long stint as a nurse's home, before being purchased by the college and reburbished for academic use in 2001. Goodenough College owns a couple of different buildings in Mecklenburgh Square, but my time was spent almost entirely in the building on the south side which is pictured above. The appearance was very much like an Oxford or Cambridge college, with visitors entering through a small gate (always the portal on the left side; the main gate and the right side were always locked) into a central green courtyard ringed by apartments. The dining hall, library, and classroom spaces were in the building on the left hand side from the main entrance, the one part of the building that lacked apartments. It was a beautiful little place to stay and I particularly liked the library, which I wish I'd thought to capture in a picture.

In the last image above, see the small window in the roof on the right-hand side? That was my room for the duration of my three months at Goodenough:

These were the humble quarters where I stayed for the rest of my semester abroad. "Spartan" is probably the kindest word that I can use to describe the place. There was a bed, a small desk with chair, a tiny little fridge, two little dressers for storage, and that was about it. There was a communal bathroom down the hall and shared kitchens down on the ground floor. The whole room couldn't have been much more than 15 x 10 feet in size, and I suspect a lot of people would have been claustrophoic. (This is about the size of the guest bedroom in our current house.) But I was perfectly happy living here, and if I didn't have a family now I'd have no problem living under the same conditions again. I didn't have to share a room with anyone else and I had all of my basic needs met: a bed for sleeping and electricity + Internet access for my laptop. That really was all that I needed to do my dissertation research and be content in my spare time. This was the real-world location where Realms Beyond won the Apolyton Demogame in Civilization IV, and where I began my solo character challenge runs in Final Fantasy 5. I have nothing but fond memories of this little cupboard tucked into the attic of Goodenough College.

Then there were the activities at Goodenough College. I saw a posting that the college ran a weekly fencing group (side note: could there be anything more emblematic of upper crust British society? maybe a crew team or a polo team) and that was something that I'd always wanted to try. I signed up right away and took part in the hour-long weekly fencing meetings every Wednesday night for the rest of my three month stay. Our fencing instructor always insisted on doing elaborate stretches before the start of each session, and I vividly recall doing elongated strides around the ballroom so that our muscles wouldn't cramp up when performing lunges later. The specific type of fencing that we learned was foil, largely because that was the only gear that the college had on hand. That's me in the last picture above, hopefully just visible through the protecting face mask.

It turns out that fencing is hard work, and practicing it for an hour leaves you pretty tired and sore afterwards. Most of fencing involves dashing forwards or backwards in quick bursts of speed while making very precise motions with the wrists. You may be able to see in the last picture above, where one of my friends in the fencing group asked me to strike a pose, that there's sweat poring down my face. Even though these classes took place during the spring months it was still hot while wearing the protective gear. As for the fencing itself, I'd love to say that I was a prodigy and picked everything up quickly, but in reality I was roughly average in this group. Not the best while also being far from the worst. My favorite part was the practice bouts that we did at the end of sessions. How often in the modern world do you get to attack someone else with a sword? Although fencing is a highly ritualized form of combat where no one gets hurt, it still captures some small piece of what it must have been like to face another person in a duel. There was one time where I was in a practice bout with another student and I had them on the ropes, and I could literally see the fear in their eyes through the facemask. I didn't take any pleasure from that but it was a weird feeling nonetheless. Surely as close as I'll ever get to an actual fight with a melee weapon.

If Goodenough College had a fencing group that met on a weekly basis, it should come as no surprise that they also had a soccer team. I played youth soccer when I was growing up until the age of about 13, and I'd been more recently playing soccer on the intramural team for the University of Maryland history graduate department. I discovered that the Goodenough students had a formal soccer team that played against some other school groups, and then also a much more informal group that met on Friday evenings for pickup soccer games. The pickup games took place two streets over from the college buildings, in the grungy-looking small enclosed area pictured above. In the United States this would have been a basketball court, but here in London it was a small soccer field with astroturf footing. I still don't know what this place was called or even if it had an official name. Just an outdoor activity space in an urban environment.

While the appearance of this soccer field might have been dilapidated, these Friday night pickup games were probably my single favorite activity during this semester abroad. The matches were 5 vs 5, four players on each team plus a keeper, and they played like an indoor soccer game. First side to two goals wins, winning side stays on, if 10 minutes passed with no winner then the team already on the pitch rotated off. Playing the ball off of the side fences, or even off the high brick wall on the one side, became part of the strategy of these games. We just had to be careful not to kick the ball over the fences entirely, which happened more often than anyone would have liked. Now I was never a great soccer player; I wasn't too good at moving with the ball, and always did better as a defender foiling attacks as opposed to setting them up. I tended to get by on hustle and effort more so than technical skills. I did pretty well in these pickup games though, well enough that I was invited to join the formal 11 on 11 Goodenough soccer team after a few months and took part in two of their matches. But it was the pickup games that I truly enjoined, and I will always remember taking part in these games on chilly early spring nights. After spending a whole week in the archives typing on my computer, these pickup games were a fantastic form of stress relief and I looked forward to them greatly at the end of each week.

Another activity that I did on a near-weekly basis was rock climbing. There was a group of about half a dozen Goodenough students that went to a rock climbing center on Saturdays, and I joined them most weeks when I didn't have something else lined up. This place was known as "The Castle" and the building did indeed look like an actual castle, although apparently this was a former Victorian-era water pumping station that had been repurposed and used for rock climbing. The place was absolutely massive, with no fewer than 90 different climbing walls catering to visitors of all different skill levels. I had never been rock climbing before, but I had spent a lifetime clambering over different outdoor spaces and I was very interested in finding out what this activity entailed. The first step was learning how to attach the harness and passing a basic safety exam, which I was able to do on my first trip. After that I was free to climb wherever I wanted, and with the other Goodenough students along with me, I never lacked for a belaying partner.

Rocking climbing is another difficult activity to learn, albeit one where the difficulty can be tailored to suit your current abilities. If you've never been rock climbing before, those handholds on the walls are all color-coded. There are different courses on each wall based on the different colors; I was doing the purple course here, for example. The harder the course, the smaller and further apart the handholds are located. I had no trouble getting up the wall on some of the easier courses but similarly had zero chance to do the hardest stuff. The weirdest part of rock climbing is probably what happens when you reach the top, as the proper course of action is quite literally to fall off the wall. The ropes attached to the harness prevent you from actually falling, of course, and then you can rappel down the face of the wall and reach the bottom safely. Just make sure that the person belaying knows what they're doing and is paying attention. I had a ton of fun going climbing and did manage to get a lot better over the course of three months. I could only climb for an hour or two on each trip though, after which my arm muscles would be too tired to pull me upwards any longer.

I also took short sidetrips on the weekends to see some of the sights in the area around London, as well as some longer trips detailed elsewhere on this website to places like Sweden, Paris, and Rome. One of those daytrips was a visit to Windsor Castle in the western suburbs of London, a trip that I took with my parents when they visited at Easter. Windsor Castle is the main residence of the British royal family, and the core of the castle is one of the oldest structures in Britain. Windsor Castle was originally built in the wake of the Norman Conquest in the 11th century, although most of the current structure was built centuries later by a succession of different medieval and early modern rulers. We took the train out from London and approached the castle from the western side, stopping to see the statue of Queen Victoria near the southern entrance. The more dramatic approach to the castle is over on the eastern side, which we didn't know about when we visited.

Windsor Castle's exterior wall encloses a sizable courtyard area, large enough that it can be divided up into three separate sections. The castle has a Lower Ward, Middle Ward, and Upper Ward; these pictures from the interior courtyard include a mixture of the three. The oldest part of Windsor Castle is known as the Round Tower in the center of the current structure. It was built by Henry II in the 12th century and sits on top of the highest ground in the area. It was easy to see how the oldest parts of the castle had been built with defensive functions in mind, as opposed to some of the newer sections which were intended purely for ornamentation. We were able to take a tour of the castle's interior and see some of the state rooms, but photography was not allowed on the tour and thus I have no pictures to share. The great hall looked a lot like the one at Versailles only with more of a Gothic architectural influence.

There's also a church named St. George's Chapel located within the grounds of Windsor Castle. Designed in a medieval high Gothic style, St. George's Chapel is the personal church for the British ruling family and has hosted innumerable royal ceremonies, weddings and burials. (Westminster Abbey in London is the official state church for the royal family that gets used for coronations. Most recently as I type this, St. George's Chapel was used for the wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle in 2018.) The initial chapel was founded in the 13th century, but the current version of St. George's Chapel was rebuilt and greatly expanded under the Tudor monarchs in the 16th century. This is the official home of the Order of the Garter, the most prestigious knightly order in Britain, which holds an annual service each year in June. I really wanted to see the interior of the chapel and was pretty bummed to find that it was closed for the day when we visited. Here's a picture from Wikipedia for the curious.

I hope that this provides an overview of some of the stuff that I did while staying at William Goodenough College. As mentioned before, the bulk of my waking hours were occupied at the British Library looking at the archival records of the British East India Company. I didn't take any pictures of the British Library on this trip, largely because I had already done so two years earlier on my initial research trip to London. It's a pretty neat place and they have some great records on public display on the ground floor, like an original copy of the Magna Carta. The research itself that I was doing was productive, if not that exciting to read about. Next up, I cover some of the other trips that I took in Britain during my semester abroad, starting with a day trip to Canterbury during some awesome winter weather.