The paired doorway characterises Old Bank House, a historic building, on Bridge Street, Aberystwyth. The 6 panel split door on the left must have been opened wide for bank customers. While the young assistant lecturer Kathleen Carpenter would have looked down past the edge of her skirt to step up to the right-hand door leading to her accommodation. She would have had a short walk through the sheltered back streets to the library and science laboratories in Old College.
Old Bank House, a late Georgian building, was the first bank in Aberystwyth, and possibly in Wales. It opened in 1760 and was established to serve the local maritime community. It was eventually taken over by the North and South Wales Bank which in 1870 moved to another site. The house was subsequently divided up as University accommodation.
Shortly before Kathleen Carpenter lived there the building had been a temporary Red Cross Hospital for recuperating World War One soldiers before it was moved to a larger building, The Cambria, opposite the pier. The influx of soldiers must have changed the character of the town for its residents, and especially its young women. By December 1914 there were almost 9,000 troops in and around the town, and a substantial number of refugees. The convalescing soldiers, many of them gas victims, recovered by taking the sea air and funds were raised to buy a rowing boat for their recreation. There were numerous fund raising events to support the hospital and war efforts, including football matches, concerts and Christmas fancy dress parties. Romances blossomed between the soldiers and local girls.
But here were also war time tensions. In August 1914 a German lecturer at Aberystwyth University was given 24 hours to leave to the town by a large mob which gathered in front of his house. Three months later Kathleen changed her German surname from Zimmerman to Carpenter. In 1917 Dr. Fleure invited the patient soldiers to visit the Museum in Old College. It would have been an opportunity for Kathleen Carpenter to be on hand to explain some of the exhibits but did she do so? The Spanish Flu epidemic reached Aberystwyth in the autumn of 1918, with the remaining convalescing soldiers not allowed to visit private homes and some local businesses closed due to lack of staff.
Kathleen Carpenter would have seen the world change around her when she lived at Old Bank House. As a young woman she would have realised the opportunity to contribute to society in new fields opening to women, including science. At Aberystwyth University women students were in the majority during World War One, with men returning to dominate after the war. With a German born father she would have been acutely aware of the politics; and perhaps have felt vulnerable but relatively safe in Aberystwyth? I would also like to think she enjoyed some of the social occasions.
I am grateful to Julie Archer, Records Manager at Aberystwyth University Archives, for the record linking Kathleen Carpenter to Old Bank House. Thank you Julie!
Ellis, E.L (1972). The University College of Wales, Aberystwyth, 1872-1972. University of Wales Press.
Troughton, W. (2015). Aberystwyth and the Great War. Amberley Publishing.