Saturday 18 September 2010

Ushaw College 1946 (posted 04/03/2010)

Ushaw College was founded in 1808 by a group of priests-professors and students from Douai College in the Low Countries who were thrown out when that college was forcibly closed in the 1790's. This group had tried to settle in various places in the north-east but eventually thanks to the generosity of a number of local recusant families they found refuge on the hill-top at Ushaw.
I arrived at the College in September of 1946 at the age of eleven years and a little bit; along with me there were another 50 boys of about the same age. Some of us were Church students, the rest were lay students.  Church students were accepted at the College in the hope that they would eventually become priests; lay students were there for the education and for the religious training.
The College at that time was in two parts: the Junior House and of course the main College.  Boys in the Junior House would go to the College Refectory for their meals, along with all the students of the Upper House, and we also attended High Mass in St Cuthbert's Chapel on Sundays.  Otherwise we led a separate existence, with our own profs, dormitories, classrooms and playing fields.
Ushaw maintained some of the traditions of Douai College.  For instance, all our professors were priests, but rather than address them as 'Father', we called them 'Mister'  and face to face as 'Sir'.  This was a custom going back to Penal Times, when any acknowledgement that someone was a priest could lead to real trouble both for the priest and for yourself.
In the Junior House in 1946 there were three year groups.  The youngest group was called Underlow, then there was Low Figures, and the third year was called High Figures.  Underlow was, I think, a fairly recent addition to the Junior House and its full title was Under Low Figures.  A full course of academic studies began in Underlow, with Latin, French, and all the rest; Greek was added to the studies in Low Figures.
After High Figs, we graduated to the College proper, and into Little Lads. There were two years in Little Lads - Grammar and Syntax.  After these two years came Big Lads - Poetry and Rhetoric (also know colloquially as Potts and Rhets).  The year in Syntax ended with O Level exams, and Rhets ended with A Levels.
Then came two years in Philosophy, more prosaically called 'First Year and Second Year Phils'.  Likewise there were four years in Divinity with the same simple year-names.
For holidays we had two weeks at Christmas, starting on Boxing Day and ending about January 13th; there was no home holiday at Easter but our families were allowed to visit for the day and take us out for a meal; for summer holidays we had a whole six weeks at home.  It was a very long time from the end of the Christmas Hols to summer for little boys!
You may recall that 1946 was the year after the Second World War ended.  There was rationing, and everything was in short supply.  In some ways we boys were insulated from the worst of the hardships of the times.  But even so the food was not very good.  Years later, when we had been complaining about the food, a very senior member of the staff told us, "The fud may not be gud (he spoke like that), but it's plain and wholesome." (Up to this point I don't think he had a nickname, but from this time he became The Fudder).  I can't remember much about the main course for the midday meal, except that sometimes we wondered about the origins of meat in stews, but the desert course was very predictable.  If it was Thursday, we had Pod. There was also Fly Pie, Semolina, Rice and Squirt. Bread was baked once a week and placed in a large wooden bin, only to get harder and harder as the week progressed; it also regularly acquired large gnored holes where Rattus Norvegicus had had his fill!
But in spite of all these little problems the College was full, from the 11-year-old entryists right up to Fourth Divs, round about 400 students, all the time that I was there in Ushaw.  The College produced not only lots of priests but also many devoted and knowledgeable laymen, who have been a credit to the Church in this part of the world.

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