Ushaw Roman Catholic College
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Ushaw Roman Catholic College

Ushaw College in County Durham has been the leading Roman Catholic seminary in the North East for over 200 years. The college was founded in 1568 in connection with Douai College in Flanders and moved to Ushaw Moor in 1808. The sprawling campus is one of the treasures of North East heritage, boasting superb architecture and interior design.

Ushaw College in County Durham has been the leading Roman Catholic seminary in the North East for over 200 years. The college was founded in 1568 in connection with Douai College in Flanders and moved to Ushaw Moor in 1808. The sprawling campus is one of the treasures of North East heritage, boasting superb architecture and interior design. The finest building at the college is St Cuthbert’s Chapel, a magnificent Gothic structure designed by the local firm of Dunn and Hansom.

The Architects

Archibald Matthias Dunn (1832-1917) was born at Wylam on 23 October 1832 and educated at the Catholic colleges of Ushaw and Stonyhurst. He received architectural training in the office of Charles Francis Hansom (1816-1888) of Bristol, before setting up practice in Newcastle in 1854. Dunn went into partnership with Edward Joseph Hansom (1842-1900), the son and pupil of his former mentor. Dunn and Hansom became the foremost Catholic architects in the North of England and designed many churches, schools and convents throughout the country. A highlight of their career was designing the tower and spire of St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Cathedral in Newcastle (1871-2), which still pierces the city’s skyline.

Archibald Matthias Dunn

Edward Joseph Hansom

Like many architects of the Victorian era, Dunn was inspired to travel by the influential art critic John Ruskin. He made numerous architectural excursions to Europe and the Far East, filling mind and sketchbook with motifs and details to use in his own work. This made his work richly eclectic, revealing a particular influence from Italy and France. Dunn published a book documenting his travels in 1886 entitled Notes and Sketches of an Architect.

Dunn’s sketch of a church in Bologna, Italy from his book Notes and Sketches of An Architect.

St. Cuthbert’s Chapel

In 1882, Dunn and Hansom were commissioned to design a new chapel at Ushaw College. The original chapel had been designed in 1844 by AWN Pugin (1812-1852), one of the greatest architects of the Victorian period. Pugin was an expert on the Gothic architecture of the Middle Ages. He converted to Catholicism at the age of 22 and became convinced that Gothic was the only style fit for a Christian country. Pugin’s colossal talents can be seen in his contribution to the Houses of Parliament in London, where he designed everything from the furniture and floor tiles up to the detailing of the façade. Sadly, Pugin died at the age of 40, driven mad by the strain of trying to convert Britain to the Gothic style.

Within a few decades, Pugin’s chapel at Ushaw became too small. Dunn and Hansom examined the building and reported that defective materials and workmanship had left it dilapidated. They were contracted to build a replacement ‘on a similar plan and to introduce into it all the old architectural features and arrangements, thus preserving with strictest fidelity the spirit and character of the old work.’ (H. Gillow, Chapels at Ushaw, 1885).

Dunn and Hansom preserved as much of Pugin’s work as possible. They adhered closely to his cruciform plan but expanded the scale and replaced Pugin’s square east end with a more ornamental apse. Vast transepts were placed at the west end in a reference to traditional college chapels. Pugin’s antechapel was retained, as was his choir screen, which was raised and lengthened to meet the dimensions of the new building.

St. Cuthbert’s Chapel is decorated with gargoyles, as well as the Arms of the college and depictions of its former presidents. French influence is apparent in the rich and heavy character of the buttresses, which combine intricate pinnacles with strong, monolithic bases. Likewise, the impression of scale and mass given by the west face is typically French, as is the opulence of the eastern apse. The new chapel was completed in 1884 and remains one of the finest religious buildings in the North East.

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Comments (9)

100% perfect work, as always Michael.

Ranked #1 in Architecture

Thanks, Martin.

Ranked #11 in Architecture

Brilliant presentation Michael.

Ranked #1 in Architecture

Thanks, Ron.

A wonderful article and a beautiful building. We used to have a hospital here designed something like it, only much smaller.

This is a beauty. As you said, Michael, the west face and apse were inspired by French architecture of the style. Another wonderful discovery by our expert. Thank you my friend. You are doing such a great work here.

Ranked #1 in Architecture

Merci, Francois. Vous êtes l'expert sur ??le gothique français.

Awesome architecture you featured here.

You have done an excellent job in detailing this. Promoted since I am out of votes.

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