St Joseph's College, Upholland

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For other schools of the same name, see Saint Joseph's College (disambiguation).

Coordinates: 53°33′12″N 2°43′56″W / 53.5534°N 2.7322°W / 53.5534; -2.7322

St Joseph's College Upholland
Upholland, Lancashire, UK
Religious affiliation(s) Roman Catholic
Opened 1880
Founder Bishop Bernard O'Reilly
Closed 1991

St Joseph's College, Upholland is a former Roman Catholic seminary, situated at Walthew Park, Upholland, Lancashire, England. The foundation of the large building was laid in April 1880 and college was opened in 1883. The buildings have recently been deconsecrated.


St Joseph's College 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.

The main Chapel at St Joseph's

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 northwest, 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. A detailed account of daily life in the junior seminary at Upholland during the 1960s was published in 2012.[1] This account also explores the reasons why the Church's traditional form of seminary training may have predisposed certain priests to molest children, which was one of the key findings of a major investigation conducted on behalf of American bishops into the causes of the sexual abuse crisis within the US Catholic Church.[2]

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.[3] Even as the sole junior seminary for the north of England, however, Upholland continued to suffer a decline in enrolment, 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.[4]

The election of Archbishop Patrick Kelly saw the controversial decision to close St Joseph's altogether and the property 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. 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.

St Joseph's Courtyard

Gradwell Collection[edit]

This collection, entrusted to Liverpool Hope University on the closure of St. Joseph’s College at Upholland, contains material covering the following subjects: theology, philosophy, church, secular and local history, ecclesiastical history, art, architecture, sociology, education and works of general reference. It also includes recusant works and early printed works. Donations and subscriptions aside, the book collection has not been added to since 1975, however, the journal and periodical collection which is mainly theological, has been kept up to date. The collection is particularly strong in Catholic studies with standard works of Catholic reference and extensive runs of Catholic periodicals and journals of use to all levels of research.

Notable alumni[edit]

  • John Battle MP (Lab) (b. 1951), Labour MP for Leeds West
  • Alexander Jones (d. 1970), considered one of the world's leading biblical scholars. He lectured extensively and authored innumerable articles and several books based on the Scriptures. Formerly a senior lecturer in divinity at Christ's College, Liverpool, he had followed his time at Upholland with studies at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome and at the Biblical Institute, also in Rome, as well as L'École Biblique in Jerusalem
  • Anthony Kenny Distinguished British Philosopher and Master of Balliol College Oxford. Nephew of Alexander Jones.
  • Michael Kenna (b. 1953), Artists and photographer
  • Paddy McAloon (b. 1957), singer with Prefab Sprout
  • Michael Joseph Pennington (b. 1971), AKA "Johnny Vegas", TV personality, actor, comedian
  • Bishop John Rawsthorne (b. 1936), Bishop of Hallam
  • George Carman QC (1929–2001), distinguished defence counsel in many of the most celebrated criminal and libel trials of the last quarter of the 20th century.
  • John Storey (b. 1963)- Presenter - Radio City - Liverpool
  • Alan Jones (b. 1967) AKA "Alfie Joey", comedian, presenter of BBC Newcastle's Breakfast show.
  • Paul Wroblewski, television drama director (b. 1963)
  • Johnny Vegas, actor

Popular Culture[edit]

The building has acted as a film location for the McQueen Church explosion in the Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks and in 2012 Lacey Turner filmed scenes for the TV series Bedlam.[5] In March 2013, the feature film 'Noble', based on the life of Christina Noble, filmed scenes at the college where it doubled as an orphanage.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Miles, Vincent J. (2012) Boys of the Cloth: The Accidental Role of Church Reforms in Causing and Curbing Abuse by Priests. Lanham, Maryland: Hamilton Books, 2012.
  2. ^ John Jay College of Criminal Justice (Terry, Karen et al.). The Nature and Scope of the Problem of Sexual Abuse of Minors by Priests and Deacons. Washington D.C.: United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2004.
  3. ^ Doyle, Peter. Mitres & Missions in Lancashire: The Roman Catholic Diocese of Liverpool 1850-2000. Liverpool: Bluecoat Press, 2005.
  4. ^ St. Joseph's College, Upholland, Short Tour (video).
  5. ^ "Bedlam - TV review « Shropshire Star". 2012-06-06. Retrieved 2013-11-15. 

External links[edit]