The debate over Goodenough College’s first resident…
Sources differ over who was London House's first resident but it seems that the first two residents came to a diplomatic resolution.
The College’s archivist recently unearthed a letter from someone signing himself ‘The Oldest Member’.
In it the author writes about studying during the winter of 1931: “Like many others I had gone abroad in search of a higher degree in my profession” and about his pleasure in finding ‘diggings’ at London House.
“For the sum charged for board and lodging at London House, no diggings could compare in amenities. … Nearby were lovely squares adorned by Georgian homes, the British Museum, old print shops, Gray’s Inn, famous hospitals. For the elegiac mood, I remember an old churchyard where I would rest for a time beside the weathered headstone of Richard Cromwell’s daughter. For warm humanity I push open the door and stand in company by the cheerful blaze in the bar parlour in Guilford Street.”
The writer seems to be Sir Clive Fitts from Australia (pictured). Known for his work as a consultant physician, cardiologist, and educator, he was also a notable orator, man of affairs and tennis player.
In the letter he describes the first Members: “We began with a South African and myself. The former is a lawyer and I am quite sure might engage in a friendly dispute about my priority. We grew slowly by the addition of another South African and an English public school boy, beginning his studies at The London University. … I recall soon after a French Canadian in the room next to me and later a South Austrian Rhodes Scholar, now a Professor of Tropical Medicine.
Peter Pepper, Warden of London House 1945-1969, in his book A Place to Remember recalls the first Members slightly differently. He listed the first three students as Percy Niehaus from South Africa, Clive (later Sir Clive) Fitts and Hubert Rogers from England – shortly joined by a fourth – Walter Bilbrough from Canada.
Page 22 of A Portrait of Goodenough College provides a more detailed account of the first day in London House: “Time begins on 4 October 1931, the day on which the first residents of London House arrived. … It seems from later disputes over precedence that Clive Fitts (Australia), first through the door, politely stepped aside to allow Percy Niehaus (South Africa) to sign the admissions book. Fitts had reached London by taking the job of ship’s surgeon on a tramp steamer; he returned to Australia to high medical achievement for which he was knighted in 1963. Niehaus died in 2008 at the age of 98 after a political career that had seen him sole member (hence, inevitably, leader) of the opposition in the South West African parliament.”