Since Wills met Kate in St Salvator’s Hall, students across St Andrews believe it to be the ‘posh hall’. Senior Visitor Services Facilitator and St Salvator’s alumni, Monica Burns, deconstructs this myth.
Back in 2011, when I got my accommodation offer, my first thought was this: I’m not posh enough for St Salvator’s. After all, St Salvator’s Hall had been home to Prince William ten years before, and in all likelihood, the hall had been specially chosen by the Royal Family for him. The building itself was much grander than any student hall I’d heard of, and it had beautiful sea views at the back, and its own large lawn at the front. In the months before I moved in, I enacted a sort of recon mission around the Hall, jumping up to peek in the ground floor rooms, pressing my nose against the common room windows, and trying to navigate mental floorplans and guess where my room would be. I wanted to get an idea of the hall before I had to live there.
When that day came, and I arrived inside, nervous to the point of nausea, my first glimpse of the common room and dining room only compounded my image of something stately and exclusive. The common room’s long, ornate carpet led up to a large fire place and grand piano, and the dining room had Hogwarts-esque benches and a raised high table that seats the Head Warden, and between each stained glass window, there were portraits of important gowned men who looked like their expressions became more pinched with year on year of student conversation beneath them.
It wasn’t until I met the committee and the Wardennial team that I started to relax: all this pomp and splendour wasn’t a reflection on the people who lived and worked there. The Head Wardens were a lovely married couple with a little boy: I very quickly got used to the sight of a blond toddler scampering around Halls in a jumper with ‘Junior Warden’ emblazoned on the back. This gave the whole hall a real family vibe. My fellow students were nothing like the stereotypes I’d conjured in my anxiety, but hailed from a wide variety of different backgrounds, and all were allocated St Salvator’s by the same process as me. The committee were very keen that we all made friends, so had arranged a pizza night, with each committee member taking in a small group of new students to their rooms to eat and drink and chat. We had ceilidhs, disco nights, volley-ball on the lawn, scavenger hunts, and many more events put on for us. I felt so welcome and included in St Salvator’s that I felt bad for how wrong I had been in my initial perception of it. It wasn’t an elite hall for princes, but just one of St Andrews’ many catered halls of residence, with its own unique identity.
High Table is a formal dinner that all university residences in St Andrews used to host. Unlike the other halls in St Andrews that lost the tradition over time, in St Salvator’s, High Table is held every fortnight in the dining room. Students are invited to sit with the Wardens and an invited guest before retiring to the Regent’s Room for a glass of port. Formal wear is required and academic gowns are encouraged. As formal and intimidating as this sounds, what I found was that it was just fancy embellishments over what is just a friendly and social dinner with your friends and members of university staff. Every student in hall is invited to High Table over the course of the year so that everybody gets a shot.
The Common Room
While living in halls, I quickly learned that you only ever really call it St Salvator’s when you’re writing your address: to everyone else it’s always ‘Sallies’. I learned that although I found no real evidence to support the stereotypes of ‘poshness’ apart from in the grandeur of the building itself and in that one formal tradition we’ve retained – both of which have nothing to do with the people living there – the other halls in the university still saw us as ‘the posh hall’. With hall pride comes friendly inter-hall rivalry, and every place must have its ‘thing’. A lot of the residents, including myself, enjoyed pretending to live up to our stereotype of being Will and Kate wannabes. I felt that part of the Sallies character was this: we all knew that we weren’t this, but we would play into the image for fun for the sake of the other halls. We once hosted a mock wine and cheese event, where we bought the cheapest rubbery cheese we could find, and the cheapest vinegary wine, and donned our academic gowns in the common room, where we proceeded to enact a wine and cheese event with lengthy eloquent descriptions of the produce as if it was the top quality and top price that royalty might expect.
Having Prince William live in Sallies has invariably cemented its legacy, and together with High Table every fortnight, stained glass windows, a grand piano and portraits of dignitaries, the stereotype of ‘posh’ isn’t going away any time soon. But my advice to new students would be this: you might as well embrace it, laugh at it, and know that Sallies is your home and will always have a special place in your heart for making you feel very welcome indeed.