Home Places to visit Ushaw Historic House, Chapels & Gardens

Ushaw Historic House, Chapels & Gardens

Serpent head at Ushaw, carved by Tommy Craggs
Serpent head at Ushaw, carved by Tommy Craggs

Former seminary’s garden of delights

It’s wonderful to stumble upon a garden that you haven’t visited before – especially when you were visiting for a completely different reason. Here’s the latest in my Cool Gardens series – Ushaw Historic House, Chapels & Gardens, near Durham City.

The former Catholic seminary Ushaw College (before that, St Cuthbert’s College, Ushaw) closed in 2011, reopening in 2014 as Ushaw Historic House, Chapels & Gardens as a tourist attraction and a base for some of Durham University’s facilities.

I visited as there was a huge (and very early) Christmas fair being held in the house. It was only when I arrived that I realised the scale of the gardens and had to have a look round.

As there are masses of old rhododendrons, it’s going to be worth a visit in spring, although recent restorative work has lengthened the season of interest with lots of late-flowering herbaceous perennials.

History of the seminary

St Cuthbert’s College was founded in 1808 near the village of Ushaw Moor, County Durham by scholars from the English College, Douai, who had fled France after the French Revolution.

In 1799, the Northern District Bishop William Gibson negotiated the purchase of the land from Sir Edward Smythe, a member of a local Catholic family.

As Ushaw College, it was affiliated with Durham University from 1968 and was the main site for the training of Catholic priests in the north.

History of the garden and falling into disuse

When the college opened, it was surrounded by open fields, apart from the beech trees which were planted in the early 1800s (which are still there).

In 1852, the formal gardens were laid out, pretty much as you see them today. The lake (known to students as ‘the pond’) was created as clay was dug out to make bricks to construct the main building.

When the seminary closed in 2012, the garden and grounds became overgrown. However, thanks to a team of volunteers, the gardens were restored and reopened in autumn 2014.

Now paths wind through the ancient trees and flower beds that have been the trademark of Ushaw’s gardens for more than a century.


What’s new in the gardens?

Apart from being a wonderful place to stroll at any time of the year, new planting has extended the season of interest (my pictures were taken in late October).

It’s a wonderful garden to take children to, as scattered around the less formal areas are wood carvings of British wild animals (and what looks like the Lambton Worm, a local favourite) by the North-East’s famous chainsaw carver Tommy Craggs.

The lake is still quite choked with reeds and is hard to see until you’re right upon it, so best to keep your children on a leash in that area!

Opening times, directions, etc

The buildings and chapels are also open to the public and there is a wealth of ecclesiastical beauty in there and wonderful architecture and design, including some by Pugin.

  • Gardens: Free, open daily from 9am until dusk. Admission for individuals is free, though donations are welcome.
  • House and chapels entry fees: Day ticket, adult £3, child (5-15) £1; annual membership, adult £6, child £3, family £14. Day ticket or membership gives access to the main buildings, chapels, exhibitions and Refectory Cafe.
  • House and chapels opening hours: Monday to Saturday, 11am-4pm (last entry 3pm, hot food served in cafe until 2pm).
  • Parking: Free over several car parks.
  • Getting there: If using a SatNav, use DH7 7DW. For full directions, visit here.
  • Disabled access: There’s level access at the rear of the building, with disability access throughout the chapels and exhibitions.
  • For more information on the wonderful buildings, visit www.ushaw.org.

There’s a wonderful guided tour of the garden which you can access here.

Previous articleHerbaceous perennials – don’t cut them back
Next articleRecycled, recyclable and bio-based pots from Garland
Mandy Watson is a freelance journalist and an incurable plantaholic. MandyCanUDigIt grew from the tiny seed of a Twitter account into the rainforest of information you see before you. Gardening columnist for the Sunderland Echo, Shields Gazette and Hartlepool Mail and editor of the Teesdale Mercury Magazine. Attracted by anything rebellious, exotic and nerdy, even after all these years. Passionate about northern England and gardens everywhere. Falls over a lot.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.