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Bounds Wall with Ball Courts at St Cuthbert's College, Ushaw

A Grade II* Listed Building in Esh, County Durham

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Latitude: 54.7891 / 54°47'20"N

Longitude: -1.6583 / 1°39'30"W

OS Eastings: 422067

OS Northings: 543851

OS Grid: NZ220438

Mapcode National: GBR JFV2.R1

Mapcode Global: WHC4H.HWJH

Plus Code: 9C6WQ8QR+JM

Entry Name: Bounds Wall with Ball Courts at St Cuthbert's College, Ushaw

Listing Date: 24 June 1987

Last Amended: 9 January 2014

Grade: II*

Source: Historic England

Source ID: 1185962

English Heritage Legacy ID: 350534

Location: Esh, County Durham, DH7

County: County Durham

Civil Parish: Esh

Traditional County: Durham

Lieutenancy Area (Ceremonial County): County Durham

Church of England Parish: Esh and Hamsteels

Church of England Diocese: Durham

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Playing field boundary wall with ball courts and racket houses, 1850, designed by Joseph Hansom.


Materials: constructed of coursed squared sandstone with ashlar dressings and roofs of Welsh slate with yellow ridge tiles.

Plan: approximately 100° arc, of c.250 ft. radius.

Main (south) Elevation: a high stone wall, with flat coping stones incorporating 3 higher recessed ball places with stepped coping, and 6 segmental arched racket houses with parapets above. The interior of the ball places are faced with ashlar, and have deeply incised linear grooves etched on their rear walls which mark the limits of the court. Each ball place also has a small, stone-built pent roofed structure constructed against its right, whose front supports are chamfered and decorated with bar stop-chamfers. This structure, known as a pent, formed an integral part of the game played. The racquet houses have wooden ceilings. Immediately to the right of each of the two most westerly ball courts there are narrow segmental arched openings, giving access to a small two sided urinal.

Rear (north) Elevation: the rear wall of each ball place is supported by a full height stepped buttress and the side walls are supported by shorter versions. The pitched roofs of the racquet houses project at right angles from the rear of the Bounds wall, as do the curving rear walls of the flat roofed urinals. Various insubstantial lean-tos and other structures have been constructed between these projections and against the rear of the Bounds wall.


St Cuthbert's College was opened in 1808 to serve as the Catholic diocesan seminary for the Northern District. It continued a lineage of training for the English priesthood established at Douai, France by Cardinal William Allen following Elizabeth I's Protestant Religious Settlement of 1559; its students and professors having been driven out by the French Revolution. The early buildings by James Taylor of Islington were formed around a courtyard with its final, west range completed in 1819. However, the middle years of the century saw Catholic ambition and confidence burgeoning after the Emancipation Act (1829), the arrival of Oxford Movement converts, the Irish immigration and the Restoration of the Catholic Hierarchy (1850). Both lay boys and "church students" were taught the faith according to the requirements for diocesan seminaries, laid down at the Council of Trent (1545-63). This was reflected in the college's remarkable expansion led by its 5th President, Monsignor Charles Newsham (1937-63). Newsham brought Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin, Joseph and Charles Hansom and Edward Welby Pugin to build or rebuild chapels, the Exhibition Hall, the library, the Junior House, the museum, the infirmary, the laundry, the kitchens, the laboratory, the Bounds walls, the farm, the cemetery cloister and to carry out numerous alterations and additions to the existing buildings.

An area of playing fields situated immediately to the east of the main house and known as The Bounds was established as part of the original foundation. However the encroachment of the new library (completed 1851) necessitated the re-establishment of The Bounds further to the east. These new Bounds were designed as an integrated games complex, still present today, incorporating three ball places for "Keeping Up" (a game played with battledores, a form of narrow bat) or handball and six smaller racquet houses (also generally used for handball) and two courts for the game of "Cat", an ancient game thought to have been adopted at the English College at Douai.

The College had a strong tradition of distinctive ball games including handball, and "Cat", an ancient game thought to have been adopted at the English College in Douai. Some of the games bear similarities with the game of fives, and current views suggest they probably developed from the local game of handball played in the various surrounding mining communities. The shape of a fives court is said to be derived from the side of the chapel of Eton College which was supported by buttresses forming bays in which the boys could play. In 1840, the first purpose built block of Eton fives courts was built and the design of these echoed the chapel court. The form of the ball courts at Ushaw, while not fives courts, may have been influenced by those at Eton.

Joseph Hansom had a varied career, which included collaborating with a number of different architects including A. W. Pugin, inventing the famous carriage bearing his name and as founder of the architectural magazine 'The Builder'. He is most renowned for the design of various churches, mostly Roman Catholic, and has an entry in the Oxford DNB.

The reforms of the Second Vatican Council (1962-5) to the formation of Catholic priests placed an increased emphasis on contact with communities and starting training later. As a result Ushaw experienced a sharp drop in numbers but developed strong links with the University of Durham, providing degree courses accredited by the University. The Junior College closed in 1973 and the college itself closed in 2011 although proposals are being developed for new uses related to Catholic education.

Reasons for Listing

The Bounds Wall with Ball Courts at St Cuthbert's College, Ushaw is listed at Grade II* for the following principal reasons:

* Historic interest: as the Roman Catholic Seminary for the north of England, the college had a distinct identity partly derived from its lineage back to the English College of Douai. This was expressed particularly in the ball games which formed a significant elements of college identity;
* Architectural interest: as buildings designed for the purposes of sport, these are very unusual in being designed by a leading architect of the day, Joseph Hansom;
* Group value: the bounds wall and ball courts have a strong visual and functional relationship with the adjacent listed college buildings.

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