Dr Valerie Marett MBE, (BA 1950, Cert Ed 1951) 93, has crystal clear memories of her time at Bristol, where she took up her place to read History in 1947, not long after the end of the second world war.
Resplendent in a bright sweater which was a gift from her late husband (Dr Marett refuses to wear the ‘uniform’ of a white cardigan, which is prevalent in her residential home) she tells us of her time at Bristol.
Dr Marett came to Bristol from a state grammar school in her native Wales and found herself surrounded by ex-service personnel and pupils of independent schools. She liked Bristol because it wasn’t the University of Wales where other members of her family had gone. At that time her halls of residence (Manor Hall) were female-only, headed by the warden Miss Morgan. Because of the austere conditions in post-war UK, she vividly recalls the gasps from her fellow students when one young woman appeared ready for a ball in a Christian Dior New Look dress, glowing from her holiday on a film star’s Caribbean yacht. Dr Marett appreciated the supportive atmosphere at Manor Hall, as at that time only 5% of the student population was female. For her, the drama students and those involved in their productions were the life and soul of the University at that time, in particular a Gerald Lloyd-Williams (Sub Lt), who had served in the navy during the war.
But alongside the occasional glamour was the harsh reality of the post-war years, when rationing was at its worst and with ex-service personnel sitting next to her bearing both the physical and mental scars of World War II. In lectures she sat between ex-servicemen who hadn’t written an essay for five years and had been given no help to transition into academia. Despite the hardships love flourished, as among the ex-servicemen in her class was Paul Marett, the man who would later become her husband. He was a fellow fan of broadening education and in his lifetime he would go on to have no less than nine degrees, including a PhD, and he became a barrister. He also gained an additional MPhil at the age of 83.
There were obviously no computers at that time but even textbooks were difficult to get hold of due to shortages caused by the war. For her degree in History, Dr Marett recalls starting to queue at 8:30am to get into the library for a book. Each student was given 30 minutes with it and then had to hand it over to the next in line. For one of her prescribed texts on the Anglo Saxon History of England only one copy was available between 60 students. In fact Dr Marrett made a decision to do one of the least popular courses on Roman Law and Roman History so that she would have a better chance of accessing the textbooks.
At the time Dr Marett was at Bristol most female students in the Arts were expected to go into the teaching profession and stay there, but Dr Marett was never going to pursue a conventional route. While she did follow up her BA with a CertEd taught at Royal Fort House, she had grander plans in store, crediting Bristol with showing her how to develop independent thinking and how to formulate an argument.
By this time Paul Marett had become her fiancé. He had gone back into the army after University and was posted to Malaysia, then known as Malaya, with the Malay Emergency ongoing in the region at the time of his posting. Once Dr Marett had completed her probationary year of teaching in the UK, she travelled by ship to join Paul, and was paid to teach the children on board for the duration of the journey. They got married in Singapore, with Dr Marett in a dress from Dickins and Jones, and then went to live in Port Dickson, headquarters of the Malay Regiment. Whilst in Malaya she got her first driving licence and continued to drive until the age of 86. She worked as a teacher there and years later, while giving a lecture in Oxford, she was approached by a woman who said she’d been one of her pupils who had gone on to be an international human rights lawyer.
On their return to the UK both Paul and Valerie Marett moved around studying and teaching, including spells in Cambridge, Birmingham, Loughborough and Leicester. While she was Principal Lecturer in Education at Leicester Polytechnic (now De Montford University Leicester) she pioneered the first BEd in Multiracial Studies. She completed a master’s and a doctorate at Leicester University. Her research looked at students from Kenya of Asian ethnicity who moved to the UK and utilized further education colleges to get their O Levels and then higher qualifications. Prior to the more well-known exodus from Uganda, students had been coming from Kenya but no one had documented it. They were only 16 or 17 years old and too old to attend school, so they found a way to get an education via an alternative path. One of the students known to Dr Marett went on to get a degree in Medicine at Bristol.
Dr Marett’s endeavours in the field of education were instrumental in her receiving an MBE in 1983, which she was awarded for her contributions to race relations. Although now long retired, Dr Marett continues to have an interest in education and attainment. In fact as recently as three years ago, pre-pandemic, she was visited by a PhD researcher from Berkeley who was using Dr Marett’s research in her thesis.
Sadly her husband Paul died in 2018 but both in his memory and as her legacy Dr Marett has left a gift in her Will to Bristol to support research, which she continues to firmly believe is so important and valuable to society.
Any readers who would also like to support Bristol are most welcome to contact the Legacy Team. You too can play your part in Bristol’s steadfast excellence by leaving a gift in your Will. Legacy gifts over the years have enabled a variety of wonderful things including scholarships, PhDs and research. What endures at Bristol is that insatiable quest for knowledge, a determination to be excellent, and a drive to make society a better place for all of us. You can ensure this vision lives on by making a gift in your Will today.