Memorable days at Hans Crescent
by alumnus and later Aden College teacher Raza Yousuf
In the summer of 1956, I was one of the fortunate students in Aden College, to pass GCE O’ level in 8 subjects. There were others from my class who also passed 8 subjects or more. To name a few is Qais Ghanem, Mohamed Girgrah and Awadh Mubgar. On the basis of this, I applied for a scholarship to study Electrical Engineering, but I was told that there were none left in that field. So, I was offered a scholarship to study a degree in Mathematics with a view to return to Aden as a teacher in Mathematics. I did not really want to be a teacher and was petrified at the thought. My father did not have the funds to finance my university study. He told me that it was either Mathematics! or to take up a job in a bank. I did three A levels subjects, Pure Maths., Applied Maths. and Physics, and having passed these I left Aden for London with Jamal Abdul Hamid and Danny Sequira. Both of these were good friends of mine in Aden. Jamal lived in Maala where we also lived and we used to meet. My mother also knew his family. With Danny I used to cycle to Tarshyne where he lived and then we would go swimming in Elephant’s Bay.
Jamal, Danny and I left Aden on September 16th ,1958 and first stopped
at Asmara where we took some photos. I know the date because it is written in my album with the photos I took. We then went to Khartoum and arrived in London on September 17th. I took residence at 1 Hans Crescent and spent my first year there. It was a huge residence for students who arrived from all British colonies and commonwealth countries. It was next door to Harrods, the famous department store and in a posh part of London called Knightsbridge. It had a big entrance with a porter’s office on the left and a big sofa at the far end with panelled walls giving it a rich look. Stairs led from this to the floors above. I think there were three floors with bedrooms, some single, some double and some triple. There was a big dining room on the right where breakfast and dinner were served. On the left there were pigeon holes where the mail would be delivered. Behind this were telephone booths from where we could phone using coins. On the left was also a big common room which had newspapers and a sound system where you could play records. Just before this were some stairs that led to the basement TV room and an out of hours canteen where you could get some toasted sandwiches and cold drinks. I remember that some of the African students used to get a pilchard sandwich and a big bottle of milk with it. I found this strange because in our house in Aden my mother would be shocked if someone ate fish with milk. She thought we would get some skin disease! I often wondered why these Africans did not get any skin disease.
Behind the entrance foyer was a hall where I learnt my first steps in ballroom dancing. This was essential if one had to socialise during the weekends. On the first floor there was a room for a nurse who attended to minor ailments. She was very popular with the students being one of the few females apart from the dinner ladies. The best part of Hans Crescent was that it was centrally heated and very warm. It was ideally located for me as my college, Chelsea College of Science and Technology was located only a couple of miles way. A three-penny bus ride in those days. Chelsea College was also where Ali Jaffer Nasser and Abdulla Qirshi studied. Abdulla had arrived a year earlier and was a great help in introducing me to the College. He helped me open an account in the bank and told me about the course as he was doing a degree in Mathematics. Ali Jaffer was like me in the first year doing Science. We both spent the time after college in the common room playing bridge or snooker.
I remember a hilarious incident which caused no end of amusement. One of the students from Nigeria had just arrived and wanted to have a bath. He went to the bath and filled it up with water. He then stood outside the bath and using a mug scooped the water out of the bath and poured the water over himself. Being made of linoleum, the floor was flooded with water and seeped out of the bathroom into the corridor outside and dripped into the rooms below. Needless to say, he caused no end of trouble apart from the amusement. I must say, to prevent us from making such mistakes, we took an orientation short course in the headquarters of the British Council on Davies Street, to learn about life in Britain, the etiquette, how to eat with the knife and fork etc. One of the things which stuck in my mind was that if you ate toffee you must put the wrapper in your hand or pocket and then put it in the nearest dustbin you could find. I must confess, I did not do this in Aden.
Unfortunately you could not stay in Hans Crescent for more than your first year which was fair as other newbies had to be given the chance. I moved to a bedsitting room on Royal Avenue, Chelsea. It was run by a Polish widow at a grand rent of £3.00 a week. You would be lucky now if you get this at £300 a week. In Hans Crescent I think I paid £5.50/week. This included food of course. We were paid about £35 per month allowance from the scholarship. I managed to return to Hans Crescent when I was in the final year of my degree. This was again ideal as it meant I did not have to cook for myself and could concentrate on my studies as there were many students doing their finals, which gave it a good serious atmosphere. It was as this time that I was elected to be the representative for Aden and the other colonies in the Hans Crescent Association. We had meetings with the management about issues we faced; about the quality and variety of food; and what was sold in the canteen; apart from other matters about our comfort. I also spoke at the Christmas dinner as the rep. During this year, Adel Khalifa was also staying at the hostel at the time. There is a picture of him at the Christmas dinner. Being a bit more confident now than in my first year, I also sang some Indian songs from the popular Indian films at the concert held in the residence. These were very well received specially by the West Indian students who generally love music anyway. One of the perks of being a rep. was that I was invited by the Queen on July 9th ,1962 to Buckingham Palace when she hosted a garden party for commonwealth students.
Many students from Birmingham, Scotland etc.. came over during the holidays to stay at Hans Crescent which provided bed and breakfast at a reasonable rate. The residence had a student atmosphere. Mohamed Abdul Kader Girgirah was one of these, Qirshi, and Jamal. We used to wander along Oxford Street and Piccadilly Circus. At about this time, Ali Jaffer and others had started what was known to be as the Aden Graduates Congress and we managed to reserve a room in Hans Crescent to hold meetings. These were very positive meetings thinking about how we could help develop Aden after our return and push for its independence. These meetings were also resumed in Aden by the returning graduate students for a few sessions before the movement became more militant and political with the formation of FLOSY and NLF. The rest is history as the political movement took on a very violent turn leading sadly to the departure of the graduates to other countries.
I revisited Hans Crescent in 1972 when I came to London on holiday. I discovered that it had been converted to a court. I am not sure if it is still like that. Jamal and I plan to visit it again one of these days and when we do we will make sure we take another picture at the pillar called 1 Hans Crescent.