BBK Magazine 41

200th Anniversary Edition

A Place in London’s History

Dr Jeff Porter (PhD Medieval History, 2015)

In 2005, Dr Jeff Porter was working as a tube driver and studying a Master’s in Contemporary History at Birkbeck, when his train was caught in the blast of the Edgware Road attack during the London 7/7 bombings. Having lived through one of London’s major historical events, Jeff continued to work and study, going on to complete a PhD in Modern and Medieval History in 2015.

“You can’t really prepare for something like that

When Jeff drove his train out of Barking Station on the morning of 7 July 2005, it was “an absolutely ordinary day. London had just won the Olympic bid and every newspaper had the Olympic rings across the cover.” However, the jubilant mood in the Capital was soon overshadowed by the tragic events that unfolded that day, now known as the 7/7 London Bombings.

At the time, Jeff was studying for his Master’s alongside his work as a tube driver and found that the solitary nature of his job gave him important time to reflect on his research. Having attended a school in East London with limited opportunities for students from working-class backgrounds, Jeff decided to instead nurture his academic potential as an adult learner through evening classes. He completed an undergraduate degree before joining Birkbeck to explore his passion for history further: “Not everyone is ready for higher education in their teenage years…learning is a lifelong project.”

When the train next to Jeff was targeted in the bombings, he found himself suddenly at the centre of one of the biggest terror attacks London has faced in recent history. After witnessing the explosion’s “orange ball of flame” ripping through the train carriages, Jeff helped safely evacuate his passengers from the scene. Amidst the chaos, “it still wasn’t clear what had happened — we were acting on instinct. You can’t really prepare for something like that.” After leaving the underground, his hair still blackened from the soot in the tunnels, Jeff was able to return home and see his family.

Jeff’s decision to continue his studies at PhD level was inspired by a conversation with his supervisor at Birkbeck’s college bar, The George. Jeff was able to focus on his studies around World War II and produced new research about post-war restitution for Jewish and German communities. “You should always be ready for education and learning experiences,” he explains. “My supervisor gave me the confidence to see the potential in my work and find new angles for research.”

Jeff chooses to support Birkbeck and ensure that future generations of students can continue to benefit from its unique and accessible learning environment: “Birkbeck felt like a different world where I could immerse myself in a completely different life. Education isn’t just about career pathways, it allows you to develop your critical thinking in all areas of your life. I left school at 16 with no qualifications and here I am now, Dr Jeff! That’s what Birkbeck does.”

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