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Following expulsion from France the staff and students moved initially to Old Hall in Hertfordshire. Some staff students stayed in Hertfordshire (now St. Edmunds College) while others moved north. In 1799, the bishop of the Northern District, William Gibson, negotiated the purchase of the land on which Ushaw was built from Sir Edward Smythe a member of a local Catholic family.
When the College first opened, other than the beech trees which were planted in the early 1800’s, the building was surrounded by open fields, with little foliage or wildlife. To rememdy this, the formal part of the gardens was laid out in 1852 and the lake (known to students as 'the pond') was created as clay was dug out to make bricks for the construction of the main building.
When Ushaw closed as a seminary, the garden and grounds became overgrown. After years of being left unattended, a group of volunteer gardeners began working to restore the gardens, and to recreate the former beauty of the grounds. The gardens formally reopened in Autumn of 2014.
Ushaw has a short tour of the gardens, laid out below, which will give visitors to our wonderful gardens the full experience, and guide you towards the less easily spotted of great locations within our grounds.
When looking south over the garden with the main building behind you, to your right is St. Cuthbert’s chapel which was opened in 1889. This replaced an earlier chapel from 1848 that had been designed by Augustus Welby Pugin. To your left is the “Big Library” that was built in 1852, at the same time as the terrace. At that time, the formal part of the gardens was designed and implemented. The building of the library and terrace were funded by Fr Thomas Wilkinson who was the last surviving priest to have been trained at Douai.
At the bottom of the steps in front of you are the four quadrant rose beds. These were the first parts of the garden to be restored by our volunteers. Starting in October 2014 they were weeded, dug over and manured. Initially they were planted with tulips and in spring 2016 they were replaced by 400 roses and clematis in memory of the students and staff who fought in the First World War. The roses were funded by a donation from St. Cuthbert’s Society. To either side of the steps are the perennial borders which were weeded and dug and manured over the winter from November 2014. They were planted in Spring 2015 with grants from Elspeth Thompson and Alan Evans.
Ushaw gardens are notable for the large mature rhododendrons that line the formal walks. They appear as small shrubs in photographs dating back to the 1860s. The varieties have not been recorded and identification of potential matches to those seen in the photographs is a project for the future. Amongst the evergreen varieties are scented deciduous Rhododendrum luteum (yellow azalea), pieris japonica, and various berberis. In 2017 camellias and viburnums have been added.
It had been thought that Ushaw was a corruption of Yew Hill (hence the sprigs of yew in the Ushaw coat of arms). In some early college documents the name of the college was Latinised to “Collegium Taxumbrense”. In fact, Ushaw is derived from Ulfshaw – Wolf’s Hill. The original yew tree was taken down when the games field for the junior house was built in the late 1850’s. Cuttings were taken from this tree and were grown on in the walled garden. These may then have been used to plant the yew trees that can be seen on the west drive.
Located on the west side of the lake are twelve yew trees that were known as the 12 apostles and had been previously tightly clipped. The photograph shows the yew trees with a reflection in the old pond lit up for the 1958 Son et Lumiere. These trees will be heavily pruned and then allowed to regrow in their own time. The beech trees at the bottom of the drive were planted as a wind break by Bishop Gibson in the early 1800’s before building work had started. These are the oldest trees in the gardens at Ushaw, outdating much of the building work that you see.
The south path follows the 'old pond', as it was known to the boys of Ushaw. The pond was created when clay was taken out of the grounds to be used in the making of bricks for the original building of Ushaw College. The pond was filled by drains that collected water from the roofs of the college buildings. During winter, when the pond would freeze over, ice skating was a major pass time for staff and students.
In the late 1960’s, subsidence from mines beneath the college damaged the lining of the lake and it began to disappear. Despite several attempts to repair the lining, this was not successful and the lake completely dried up. As a result, the whole area became overgrown with a dense covering of trees and shrubs, taking advantage of the waterlogged and nutrient rich soil. During 2016/17, the lake has been cleared, and various plans are in place to make use of the area in the coming years.
At the end of the east drive is the East Lodge that was built in 1833-36. It functioned as the Ushaw post office and telegraph office in the late 19th century, offering those training at Ushaw the chance to communicate with their families. To the east of the drive is the old golf course. The tree copses were planted in 1893 and the layout of the golf course evolved shortly after that. By 1905 a formal golf club had been established at Ushaw. The entrances to the golf course was a small metal gate just off the main drive.
The games field was laid out following the completion of the library wing in 1852. The library had been built on the existing games field. Charles Joseph and Charles Hansom were commissioned to carry out the work. The games wall is made up of three ball places for playing Battledore and six hand ball courts. The sunken wall at the edge of the games field provides an invisible fence separating the golf course from the games field, created at the time the games field and games courts were built in 1852-54. It was designed to create a view over the landscape to the South East. The games field has two Cat rings. This is a seven a side game like rounders that the students and staff brought over from France, and is unique to Ushaw in the UK.