In front of Ushaw College, there are gardens and walkways, all neatly laid out. Each walkway was assigned to a particular year (or School) for walking upon, and woe betide any members of another School caught trespassing! But, central to the gardens and stretching the full length of the College, and then some, was the College Pond. The view of the College Front, across the Pond and through the trees, is one of the iconic photos of the College.
This is a photo of the Pond as it is today. (Well, in April, before the leaves on the trees have become green!). I know that it doesn't look like a pond, more like an overgrown, uncared for, patch of wilderness. And that is what it is.
When I arrived at Ushaw in 1946, this area of the pond had a substantial amount of water in it, a few reeds, yes, but mainly water, and the water extended for a considerable distance along the pond bed. It was on this area of the pond that we youngsters learnt to ice-skate during the hard winter of 1946-47. Mind you, I fell over so many times onto my knees that I did some damage and suffered for it at the time. We also learnt to keep out of the way of trains. A 'train' happened when a number of skaters set off at top speed and joined in one long 'train', hands on the hips of the person in front, and, skating in step, sped down the pond at full speed, and at the last moment before crashing into the side of the pond, the leader turned to the left and stopped, the tail being flung around at great speed, some of the tail-enders having to leap off the ice onto the bank of the pond. A 'tea-pot' was an altogether more sedate affair - the leader, held under the arms by number two, went down on one skate and held up the other skate like a teapot spout; others joined in to push the pair around.
At some stage all the water seeped out of the pond, and the College blamed the National Coal Board,whose workings from a local mine were directly under the pond. The NCB accepted responsibility, and for a whole season workmen cleared the pond from one end to the other, led in tons of clay, and began to 'puddle' it into a water-leak-proof bed for the pond. The result was spectacular, and the next season we could skate from one end to the other.
Now all that remains is a few muddy puddles here and there, with an abundance of wild growth everywhere. The banks are just as over-grown. On the left of the photo above, none of the scrubby growth existed, or would have been allowed to exist, because behind them there were The Twelve Apostles, a row of shaped yew trees, which were carefully tended by people doing Public Work (see the Praeludium), including me. I can remember leaning a ladder against the side of a tree, climbing up with a pair of clippers and snipping away at overgrown pieces.
This photo gives you the iconic view of the front of the College as it appears today. The section along the front of the photo is the pond. It's a mess!