In 2014 LSE alumni Margaret and Brian Roper received the freedom of Bath following years of community work and philanthropy in the city. Hayley Reed explores their lives as LSE students in the 1950s-1960s.

The Ropers in Bath

Margaret and Brian Roper made regular generous donations to organisations across Bath over decades, through their company Roper Rhodes and the Roper Family Charitable Trust.

Brian and Margaret Roper, degree ceremony. Credit: © IDPS, University of Bath 2009

Brian and Margaret Roper, University of Bath degree ceremony. Credit: © IDPS, University of Bath 2009

Brian received an MBE in 2008 and received an honorary doctorate from the University of Bath in 2009, where the Brian & Margaret Roper Scholarship Fund funds students from low-income backgrounds. The Student Services Centre is named the Roper Centre. The couple received the freedom of the City of Bath in 2014 and in 2016 a tribute stone was laid in Bath Abbey.

Roper stone at Bath Abbey. Credit: Bath Abbey

Roper stone at Bath Abbey. Credit: Bath Abbey

Charles Curnock, Bath Abbey, best sums up their relationship with Bath: “Like many in Bath, we have been touched and humbled by their tremendous generosity. Their lifelong support of, and tireless contribution… is hopefully recognised by this engraving.”

LSE in the 1950s

Margaret Ann Symons (1939-2017) and Brian Anthony Roper (1938-2014) arrived at LSE in 1957. Their offer letters reflect the backdrop of the 1950s with references to the mass radiography campaign to identify students with tuberculosis.

Mass radiography notice - from student file M Symons. Credit: LSE

Mass radiography notice – from student file M Symons. Credit: LSE

A letter from the LSE Registrar to the University of London Joint Recruiting Board defers Brian Roper’s National Service.

National service statement - from student file B A Roper. Credit: LSE

National service statement – from student file B A Roper. Credit: LSE

Margaret Roper at LSE

Margaret’s interview panel, chaired by the economist Vera Anstey in November 1956, awarded her a place to study Sociology subject to attaining a high standard in her Advanced General Certificate of Education (A Level) which had been introduced in 1951. She also had a LCC County Major scholarship of £50 a year to pay tuition fees throughout her degree.

Margaret had attended James Allen’s Girls’ School, Dulwich and her LSE application states that her A Levels in Latin and English were at scholarship level. Her referees were head teacher Miss EM Edwards, and the rector of Perry Rise Church, Forest Hill, where Margaret and Brian married in 1962. Margaret’s strength of character shines through in these references.

Miss Edwards wrote to Vera Anstey: “She has an extremely stable personality and though she has a quiet manner, she is a good organiser and really gets things done….”

Rector Ernest Reeve said: “I can recommend her with complete confidence… I have known her all her days and have known the soundness of her character. She is conscientious and reliable, serious-minded towards her studies.”

Margaret’s tutors at LSE found her “pleasant and hardworking” but in her second year her marks ere below average. Her tutor, David Glass thought her studies would benefit from living closer to the School rather than commuting from the family home in Catford. The LSE Registrar J Alcock supported her application to the LCC for a higher grant and she was able to move to Bayswater.

hoto of Margaret Symons from final year report - from student file M Symons. Credit LSE

Photo of Margaret Symons in final year report – from student file M Symons. Credit LSE

Her final year report by Dr Tropp reinforces the early endorsements but underestimates her future in Bath: “Miss Symons is a pleasant and hardworking girl… [she] should do well in work of a practical nature.”

Brian Roper at LSE

Brian started his BSc Econ in 1957 but by October was home in Strood with flu and apologised to his tutor for failing to hand in an essay: “I am suffering from Asian ‘flu. My attendance at the School is therefore not possible. The illness should be over by Friday”.

Brian Roper announced general secretary, notice of the beaver's disappearance - Beaver Feb 6 1958. Credit: LSE Library

Brian Roper announced general secretary, notice of the beaver’s disappearance – Beaver Feb 6 1958. Credit: LSE Library

Tutors felt Brian gave more time to Students’ Union activities than academic studies. Vera Anstey says: “I saw Mr Roper on March 20th and it seems that he is resigning from the Union secretaryship in two weeks’ time and will not take any equivalent job. He realises he must do a good deal of reading during the summer vacation.”

This reference from his Kingswood School headmaster should have been fair warning: “He is a boy of real drive and initiative and he has begun to show high powers of leadership. He is flight sergeant in charge of the Air Training Corps, assistant librarian, treasurer of the Photographic Society…. [he runs] a topical supplementary magazine which he edits, cyclostyles… sells and even persuaded two MPS to contribute to… he is a member of scientific and well as literary societies and is interested in art and music.”

Brian failed his second year exam and in July 1959 registrar J Alcock told him to re-apply in January to return in October – subject to passing his exam. Brian lost this letter and wrote to the registrar in October 1959 using the name of the previous registrar, WS Collings.

“The situation at the moment is that I have been asked by the society, to remain as Chairman (Film Society), to which position I was elected last term… in any case I would like to be able to use the library… As you probably discovered, I failed to satisfy the examiners at the last BSc (Econ) part I exam and I may return to LSE next year provided I pass… The library will make this possible, and membership of the Students’ Union will enable me to continue the interests which I have found.”

In a tutors’ discussion Professor Wise thought Brian’s letter “may be a reason for confirming his exclusion rather than the opposite.” Brian passed the exam externally and assistant registrar EM Myatt-Price confirmed his final year place at LSE (Brian’s mother replies to say he was on a touring holiday in Wales). Brian returned to LSE in October 1960, continued his Union activities and passed his final exams in 1961.

Brian Roper council meeting and JFK presidency announcement - Beaver 24 Nov 1960. Credit: LSE Library

Brian Roper council meeting and JFK presidency announcement – Beaver 24 Nov 1960. Credit: LSE Library

Brian’s tutor Mr Brooker, predicted his future success: “Roper has a pleasant personality and mixes well with his fellow students. He is competent in administrative matters [and] is likely to make a success of a career involving the running of some enterprise…”

Contributed by Hayley Reed (LSE History blog)

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Interested in women’s history? See Women at LSE

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