St Joseph’s College, Upholland is a former Roman Catholic seminary, situated at Walthew Park, Upholland, Lancashire, England. The foundations of the large building were laid in April 1880 and college was opened in 1883. The buildings have recently been deconsecrated following the announced closure of the College which saw the last students leave in 1992.
The seminary was founded in 1880 by Bishop Bernard O’Reilly to be the Seminary serving the North West of England. The college was formally opened in 1883 and was situated in Walthew Park, Upholland, the geographic centre of the Diocese of Liverpool.
The first Junior Seminary of the Diocese was founded at St Edward’s College in 1842 as a Catholic ‘classical and commercial school’ under the direction of the secular clergy and was established in Domingo House, a mansion in Everton. Its President for the next forty years was to be Monsignor Provost John Henry Fisher. When the junior seminarians moved to St Joseph’s in 1920 the school was taken over by the Christian Brothers (who also ran St John Rigby College in nearby Orrell) and continues to this day and now serves as the Liverpool Cathedral Choir School. In recognition of the heritage owed to St Edward’s College one of the two chapels at Upholland was consecrated as the St Edward the Confessor Chapel.
St. Joseph’s (usually referred to by its students simply as “Upholland”) was one of two main seminaries serving the north of England. Upholland served the north-west, Ushaw College the northeast. For many years, each of these institutions housed both a junior (minor) and a senior (major) seminary. The junior seminaries provided a secondary education in a semi-monastic environment to boys aged 11–18 who wished to pursue the priesthood, while the senior seminaries trained adult candidates (mostly aged between 18 and 24) in philosophy and theology as they prepared for the priesthood.
Although Upholland flourished until the 1960s, the rapidly changing social climate in that decade led to a sharp drop in enrolment. In the early 1970s, the northern bishops decided to consolidate the activities of Upholland and Ushaw; from 1972 all junior seminarians in the north attended Upholland, and from 1975 all senior seminarians attended Ushaw. Even as the sole junior seminary for the north of England, however, Upholland continued to suffer a decline in enrollment, and by the 1980s was no longer a traditional seminary but a “boarding school for boys considering a vocation”.
In 1986 the total number of students was down to 82, of whom only 54 were Church students, and it was no longer viable to educate them on the premises. From 1987 the remaining students attended St. John Rigby College in nearby Orrell for their schooling, an arrangement that continued until the very last of these students left Upholland in 1992.
In the meantime, following the move of the senior seminary to Ushaw, in 1976 the former Senior Seminary rooms had become home to the Upholland Northern Institute (UNI) with Fr Kevin Kelly as its first Director. He was succeeded in 1980 by Fr Vincent Nichols, now Archbishop of Westminster. Later the College buildings were used more generally as a retreat and conference centre for the Archdiocese under the leadership of Msgr John Devine.
A short video tour of the College, derived from footage taken a few months before its closure as a conference centre, and which highlights the functions played by different parts of the building during seminary days, is available online here.
The election of Archbishop Patrick Kelly saw the controversial decision to close St Joseph’s altogether and after being used for a short period as a conference centre in 1999 the property finally closed its doors and was sold to Anglo International who instructed AEW Architects for the conversion of the Grade 2 listed RC Seminary to 92 apartments, with 220 new build enabling units. Since then it has been left abandoned.
The major controversies of the decision were the ongoing financial viability of St Joseph’s (it had just started to make a small surplus under Devine’s management) and the sale and disposal of the art and artefacts in the college, much of which had been donated by various parishes and people of the Archdiocese who were not offered their donations back.
Visited after a call from Mars Lander telling me I had to be up and ready to meet with him, Luckypants and Perjury Saint at 3am for something not to be missed! Excited I threw the batteries onto charge packed my tripod in the boot and attempted miserably to try and catch a few zzz’s. Tired, hungry but raring to go We arrived in darkness and made our approach! Once inside we were greeted with some amazing sights, stunning architecture and a nice level of decay to give the place some character. It is sad to see the place declining so badly since previous reports. One of the entrances is now fenced off following the collapse of some of the stone surround of the turret visible on some of the rooftop courtyard photos. Sadly the taxidermy section has been trashed and most of the stuffed animals decapitated :(. Internally there’s a fair bit of water now getting in as the roof begins to fail in several areas leaving green mould and wet rot fungus trails throughout the corridors and most of the external rooms. The library is now bare, the observatory is getting very worse for wear but still very photogenic :).
Highlights have to be the small side chapel with the red carpet, the alter, the beautiful stone floor corridors on the ground floor and the spiral staircase in the library but its hard to choose favourites as the place has soooo much to offer. Anyone familiar with this place may also be familiar with its reputation for being a bit of a tricky devil to get done and I can safely say they are not wrong! One of the best but equally one of the most nerve-racking explores I’ve had to date certainly not a walk in the park! On with the photos
If you’ve made it this far… thanks for reading / checking out the pictures. Leave me a comment below or hit the like button to let me know you’ve enjoyed the shots and to encourage me to keep posting more 🙂
Limited Edition prints and Canvases, as well as regular prints, are available for all of the images above just ask me about prices.