Meeting the real 70%

By Jamima Westermann and Ella Catherall

In 2013, The Independent reported that Durham University is thought to have the highest rate of inter-student marriages in Britain. Roughly 72% of students will marry a fellow Durham alumnus, a third of couples starting a relationship only after graduation. This is by far the highest percentage of any UK university, with the national average typically standing at 18-20%.

What is it about the Durham bubble that so often leads to wedding bells? Do college marriage proposals soon lead to real ones? Are love potions secretly mixed into the Johnny Woodgates? With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, Palatinate spoke to eight happy couples who found love in the land of castles and Klute boots.

It was the second day of uni and I was approached by a tall, lanky boy in
Varsity Pub (now known as The Library). He introduced himself and we danced for a bit but it was clear to me that he was mostly interested in talking to my friend, who I’d come with that night.

Somehow, he ended up in my room but it was terribly innocent. I had no intention of getting involved with anyone who wasn’t Sri Lankan and I think he thought of me as his opportunity to have a token brown friend. We ended up talking the entire night and the only thing I remember is at one point, he looked at me and said: “I’ve never felt a connection like this before – I’ve never talked to someone like this”.

So started an epic friendship, that had several misunderstandings – he made me chase him, I had to break it to my parents, who then demanded we get married and move to Sri Lanka. It’s been 7 years and we’ve had to move from Durham to London to Colombo and have one crazy big South Asian wedding but we’re now finally settled in Sri Lanka. We were friends first and foremost and have survived long distance and visa complications and the sometimes awkwardness of an interracial marriage.
Now, he’s everyone’s token white friend – talk about reverse colonialism.

-Manjaree Gamage-Brooker

David and I met before our first lecture in 2012.

We were friends for a long time (including me telling him I liked him, and him saying no (at my college wedding!) then him coming to my house every Monday lunchtime in second year for free toasties) before we finally got together in second year after a romantic yet confusing kiss in Klute after a Choral Society concert.

Even better, we went away for six weeks on an archaeological project in second year, during which my tutor asked everyone else on the project if we were dating (which we weren’t) before coming up with his own dramatic story about how David had rejected me but I was planning my revenge…

He first proposed to me during a summer ball in 2015 by the side of a lake, before “officially” asking again (after he’d talked to my parents!) in the grounds of John’s.

He sent me on a treasure hunt with a map and multiple clues on how to find him. As we’re both archaeologists it was perfect!

Unfortunately for me, each clue contained a letter that was highlighted that combined to spell a word. It took me far too long to rearrange the letters into the word “blue”…

The final clue was “X marks the spot”, but I took him too literally, and dug a hole in the wrong place – he had to shout from his hiding place to get me to excavate in the right spot.

I eventually found my buried engagement ring and said yes, but we also managed to annoy a visitor to John’s by popping champagne – they looked out of their window towards us, huffed and forcefully closed the curtains.

We got married in September 2017 in York Minster and have enjoyed annoying each other ever since.

As much as we enjoy being a Durham statistic, we wouldn’t have met had it not been for Durham and it’s opportunities to meet in lectures, Klute and on field trips. #Cheese!

-Emma Moger


We met in 2011. Jack was the first person I met when I moved into halls (John Snow College I’m afraid…).

He came to my room to offer me tea or coffee and to let me know that a few others had arrived and were chatting in the kitchen.

Our relationship blossomed after the Freshers’ Ball and we made our relationship “official” after he came to stay with my family at Christmas. We stayed together throughout uni, weathering yearly Palatinalps trips, a university exchange to China and the dreaded dissertations.

After graduation, we moved straight to Clapham in London where I started working in a Special Needs school and he started working in Healthcare PR. After 2 years and a series of terrible landlords, we bought our first place in Richmond. He proposed to me during a romantic weekend in Bruges and
we married earlier this year (June 2nd) at The London Oratory in Knightsbridge.

-Gemma Dixey

We met at Durham in 2007 through BALADS (Ballroom and Latin American Dance Society).

We went to different colleges (Iain was at Chad’s and I was at Hild Bede) and studied different subjects (Politics and History/Education Studies respectively) so we probably wouldn’t have crossed paths if it wasn’t for dancing. We were first introduced by a friend at the society’s Christmas ball which sounds very romantic but as I was social secretary I was off busy dealing with logistics and it was another year or so before we would start spending a lot more time together, but it was definitely worth the wait.

We both graduated from Durham in 2010 and moved to London for our jobs. Today Iain is Political Director of the Conservative Party and I’m a Curator at Chartwell (Winston Churchill’s House) so there’s a lot of overlap in our worlds. We got married in July 2017 in St Margaret’s Church, Westminster Abbey, and have just bought our first house – a period cottage in Surrey which needs lots of work. We will be spending the foreseeable future renovating this alongside our careers as we enter the next chapter of our lives.

-Katherine Carter

We were just friends for a while, but bonded over our mutual love of God (and cryptic crosswords). We started dating a year ago, and got engaged a month back, in a field in the valley down the road from my parent’s house. By the time we get married in August, we’ll have been long-distance for two years!

We write letters and see each other as often as we can, and we both are very much looking forward to when we get to say goodbye to each other at the train station for the last time. I can’t wait for many happy years loving Jesus together, he’s a wonderful man.

-Lucy Davenport

We met at the college boat club (a mutual friend introduced us on our first day at the club!), we were put on the same rowing team and I was his cox throughout our time at university. He had rowed before university but I was new to it, we competed in regattas a lot. We had the typical university
experience, lots of fun and nights out. He studied business and I did psychology.

Since university, we’ve moved around a lot, lived in America, now back in the UK.

-Rebecca Marsh


So, we met at a Valentine’s Day formal dinner at Grey College – they joked at the dinner about the marriage statistic at Durham and that we might meet our spouses. The way it worked was that you ended up sitting next to two people of the opposite sex who you may or may not know- and you paid to move seats and the money went to charity. At the very last moment, I paid to sit opposite Lewis and his friend because my friend knew him from Frisbee.

We didn’t actually talk that much at dinner as he was more opposite my friend and he bought her a cactus as a gift – but after the formal, we went to the bar and got chatting & I spilled a Fanta Banta (Grey College drink) over his college gown and he bought me another one.

This was in my first year and his second year. We started dating and in my third year we moved in together at uni & got engaged just before graduation (2015), and we got married last year!

-Kate Middleton-Tansley

Nick and I met on my first full day at Durham in Loft on North Road on a night out (I stole his shirt and wore it back to college!) He’d been there for a year already as he was doing a Masters. We both went to Hatfield College and after successfully completing a psychology degree (me) and a Masters in Mechanical Engineering (Nick), we both graduated in 2009.

We bought our first house in 2011 and got engaged in Vegas in 2017. In August, we went back to our beloved Hatfield to get married. Anthony Bash conducted the ceremony in Hatfield Chapel, we had our wedding breakfast in the dining hall and our evening reception in the refurbished bar.

A real “Hatfield Ever After” story!

-Vicki Sandbrook

12 thoughts on “Meeting the real 70%

  • I met my husband, Dave, through the DU S-F Society in 1973. We started going out in early ’74 (he was a first-year doctoral student, I was a fresher). We married in ’78 and recently celebrated our Ruby Wedding; amongst our guests were four other Durham couples, including my niece who met her husband a generation later (same society, though!)

    We are still in regular touch with at least six Durham couples of our vintage. There has not (yet!) been a single divorce from our group, though sadly two of our number have died. There’s definitely something in the water – or possibly it’s the Newky Brown!

  • My husband and I met at Hatfield in the first week of being there. My maiden name was Hatfield and his Surname was Ewington so we were in groups together for some of the induction activities.

    When I was asked to stay behind after a talk with the tutors my now husband leaned over and said “I guess you’re in trouble”. I was actually asked to sign the book…but ever since then we have been together. We now have two daughters, one is 2 years and one 12 weeks.

    We still think of ourselves as students in many ways!

  • I met my husband at Castle in 1991, he was a Physics student in his second year, I was a fresher studying Geography. I had the room in Moatside that he had in his first year!
    He proposed at Prebends Bridge after a year of going out, we will celebrate our 25th Wedding Anniversary this year.
    There were many other friends who also met and married (from the same college!). The likelihood of meeting your future spouse at Durham was well known 30 years ago!

  • My first wife and I were in the same tutorial group in our first term (1980). In our second year she invited me to formal in John’s but I forgave her and we started dating. We split up after graduating as I was joining the Army and she didn’t want to be an Army wife. However we got back together a year or so later and became engaged and married. Although it didn’t work out, we are still amicable and share a son who scarily is nearly 31! Everyone should be married to at least one Durham graduate!

  • I met my husband Dan during our first year (1987-8). He was in Hatfield and I was in Trevs, which were both single-sex colleges at that point. We were part of a group of friends, and got together quite unexpectedly in May 1988 in Bluesberries on North Road! We graduated in 1991 and married in 1995, so will celebrate our silver wedding next year. We have two boys, who are 20 and 15. We live near Durham and still spend a lot of time there. We are in touch with a lot of Durham friends, including another Durham couple.

  • Us too – Katie (Jones) & Nick Edwards, Collingwood, 1978.

  • Well, Paul and I met in 1967 when I was a very new fresher and he was a lordly 4th year, just back from his year in France. We were at Mary’s and Hatfield respectively. Of course there was no nonsense about mixed colleges in those days…… He accosted me on the street opppsite Dunelm House and invited me to Hatfield Informal. Needless to say I was swept away by such sophistication. We married in 1970 and so next year will be our Golden Wedding. Yikes

    • And it don’t seem a day too long! 😊

  • Graham and I met on 1st December 1964 in ‘the upper room'(!) at the Dun Cow where I’d been singing at the Folk Club. He was at Hatfield and I was at Aidans but at the old Aidans Society house in The Bailey. We continued on from there, being apart for his 3rd year (I was in France) and my final year (he’d gone down already) and married in July 1968. We’re very happy to say that we enjoyed our golden wedding last year and it don’t look like stopping yet! All the best for yours, Paul and Angela!

    • Thankyou Jan, and many congratulations on passing the 50 mark yourselves! You and Paul must have been in the same year of French; what was your maiden name? Angela

  • A lot of great stories, but I strongly believe the statistics quoted in this article are completely spurious. What is the source? (Quoting the Independent does not count, where’s the link to their article? Where did they get their information from?). I think it is a classic case of confirmation bias. People who married other people from Durham may well hang out with other married couples from Durham. You need to take a more random group, everyone doing your subject at Durham in your year, your year’s college intake, etc.
    72% would mean that when you think back to your floor in college in your 1st term, roughly 3 out of 4 people went on to marry someone from Durham! Personally, I just went through my Facebook friends from Durham, 9 (incl. 1 who has since divorced) out of 48 (i.e. 19%) married other people from Durham. That rate of 1 out of 5, maybe as much as 1 out of 4 with a different sample size, seems much more plausible.

  • Haisell: I was in Besancon, too!


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