Ushaw – A Beautiful Historic House and Chapels

Ushaw college is neatly hidden by woodland and surrounded by the beautiful Durham countryside set in 500 acres of rich farmland and fields of short season willow crops. The two nearest pit villages are Ushaw Moor and Langley Park home of the lead singer of Prefab Sprout who’s album from Langley park to Memphis was a huge hit in the 80s…

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It’s a 10 minute drive west of Durham City following the A167 through the village of Bearpark onto Ushaw.

I have to admit Ushaw is one of my guilty pleasures, I’m a regular visitor and never tire of this “hidden jewel” and I’m very passionate of its internal and external beauty in fact I’ve been asked have I moved in as I always seem to be there… wherever I go my camera isnt far away ready to capture more of its stunning interior.

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Ushaw is open daily Monday – Saturday from 11am till 4.30pm.. it arranges tours one a month usually the last Saturday to include parts of the college that is normally off limits to the public.

Right down to some interesting facts…are you ready?… here goes

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The original plan was to create a extravagant Georgian House,  local craftsmen began to build the house to the specific design of James Taylor of Islington,  prior to that in 1808 the origional building was formally st cuthberts college a catholic seminary to train priests in the north of England.

In 1837 the design moved into Neo Gothic stage and an architect Augustus Welby Pugin began to work his magic, he expanded Ushaw college and in 1847 he completed his planned works.

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Pugin was renowned for his neo gothic style of opulence and grandeur which are clearly visible throughout the college especially highlighted in St.cuthberts chapel with his signature red sandstone, beautiful stained glass windows and elaborate altar pieces.

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Maybe my enthusiasm for Ushaw is a little OTT but I’m sure after seeing the images of the college itself you will understand why… this is practically on my doorstep and for years I didn’t know it existed.

Right back on track information time… there are other buildings that surround the main building, combining neo gothic with an infusion of modern 70s architecture, these buildings are presently being used by Durham University.

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The seminary finally closed its doors due to lack of local vocations in the north of England in 2011, thankfully it reopened its doors to the public in 2014 and thanks to the magic of social media it is increasing its popularity with the public.

Trustees are working with English Heritage and the county council to archive and preserve its vast collection of manuscripts which were discovered in their beautiful wall to wall dark wood library with Gothic essence running through its shelves and walls.

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In March 2019 it was revealed that an uncatalogued early charter of King John had been discovered amongst its manuscripts.

There is sadly another building that stands empty, the derelict junior school, yet another stunning building both interior and exterior designed again by Pugin this has been exposed to the northern elements and is in desperate need of renovation. Good news though the future is looking hopeful as trustees are in the process of securing funding to bring this building back to life…I wait with baited breath and look forward to work beginning on this new project.

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Entering the college you are greeted by a huge oak door leading into a large hall,  there are corridors on the left and right which follows a quadrangle with various rooms leading off …. the exhibition Hall the Parlour and I’m sure your nose will lead you to the refectory, the aroma of homemade cooking will get your taste buds going….the food is delicious ranging from soups, snacks or good wholesome hot meals, the surroundings compliment the food and cake…hard to resist..washed down with an array of various teas and coffee.  I love a pot of earl grey and sit and take in the splendour of the refectory again Gothic design, with stained glass windows depicting the patron saints, complemented by the lighting of cross fittings with an intersection of St. Cuthberts cross, the floor is white Sicilian marble and black hallway marble which roughly dates from 1873.

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As you walk towards St. Cuthberts chapel you will pass smaller chapels each one infused with Pugin Neo Gothic designs, another of my favourites is the mortuary chapel an array of cream alabaster and marble depicting the last judgement.

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Finally the hidden jewel as I’ve previously referred to…st. Cuthberts…proceeding through the wood and glass doors you are greeted by a magnificent brass eagle lectern designed by Pugin.. take a minute to compose yourself…inhale all its beauty and opulent splendour…at certain times of the day the light gives it a gothic glow of intense richness, but don’t take my word for it pay a visit and be prepared to be blown away.

Written by Helen Graham

Photographer, Exploring Architecture and abandoned places, love Historical beauty, Geocaching, walker enjoying our beautiful countryside

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  1. Strange isn’t it but I lived with in the hallowed walls of Ushaw for 13 short fun filled happy years from 1958-1071 . I never noticed its artistic beauty !
    It was my spiritual & human home full of devotion, friendships , study & sport ….and lots of lousy meals!

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