07 July 2023, The Tablet

Chapel at Ushaw gutted by fire

Junior House also badly damaged.

Chapel at Ushaw gutted by fire

The devastation caused by fire at Ushaw.
Photo: Durham and Darlington Fire Brigade.

The chapel at the former seminary of Ushaw College, near Durham, has been badly damaged by fire in a suspected arson attack. The Junior House has also suffered damage.

The chapel, designed by Edward Pugin, was Grade II* and on Historic England’s At Risk register. The rest of the building was Grade II. Photos taken in the early hours of Friday morning show flames at the junior seminary. It is believed the fire started in the chapel and spread to the rest of the building from there.

There is particular concern about the condition of a beautiful Carrara marble statue of the Madonna and Child by the celebrated sculptor, Karl Hoffman (1816-72), that was in the chapel.

Junior House was a great Gothic Revival building dating from 1859. After it closed in 1972, the trustees struggled to find a purpose for it and the building has remained boarded up ever since. It has frequently been targeted by vandals who have broken in, smashing windows and starting fires.

A spokeswoman for Durham Constabulary said: “Police were alerted at 12.20am today (July 7) to a fire at Ushaw College, near Ushaw Moor. The fire is being treated as arson and an investigation has been launched.”

Over the years many ideas were put forward to find a use for Junior House but they all came to nothing.

The most recent recommendation in a report by conservation architects, Purcell, in 2018, was to develop the chapel and other architecturally significant parts of the building into exhibition and learning galleries together with small enterprise and business units. The remainder of the building would then be demolished to provide a much-needed car park.

Purcell found the integrity of the building was largely intact.

A drone was flown over the ruins of Junior House today to make a full study of the extent of the damage. The priority of the salvage operation will be to rescue the Hoffman statue, the stained glass and any other surviving furnishings in the chapel.

Ushaw was the grand seminary for the north of England, with origins dating from 1808. The college, dedicated to St Cuthbert, was founded by scholars from the English College, Douai, who fled the French Revolution. The seminary closed in 2011, due to lack of vocations, and the main building became a Catholic heritage centre. Now known as Ushaw House and Gardens, the former seminary hosts regular exhibitions and an extensive programme of events.

A message on the Ushaw website states: “You may be aware that last night there was a serious fire in an unoccupied part of the estate, thankfully no-one was injured. We would like to make clear that Ushaw remains open to visitors today as normal.”

Ushaw’s commercial director Jonathan Ward said the building is unsafe and no one is allowed to go inside. He confirmed that the Hoffman statue was in the chapel.
The director of operations at Ushaw, Peter Seed, said the chapel had been significantly damaged and that 15 per cent of the remainder of Junior House had been lost.
He said: “It's very obviously a tragedy that a Grade II* portion of Junior House has been damaged. We've struggled for many years to find a viable use for the building.”

The County Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Service said the fire was reported to them around midnight and four appliances attended the incident. They say no one was injured and crews were back during the day to monitor for hot spots.

Boys were educated at Junior House from the age of 11. It functioned as a Catholic school as well as for pupils discerning vocations to the priesthood.





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