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Hidden Lancashire - St Joseph’s Seminary, Upholland

16:00 29 November 2016

St Josephs Seminary - Study Hall

St Josephs Seminary - Study Hall

not Archant

The gradual decay of this old Lancashire seminary, once home to comedian Johnny Vegas, has been captured on film by Alan Duggan.

St Josephs Seminary - The Squirrel RoomSt Josephs Seminary - The Squirrel Room

Lancashire Life is famous for its stunning photographs showcasing the beauty of the red rose county. But, every now and then, we come across pictures which transcend the barrier between the beautiful and the beastly.

These remarkable images were taken by Fleetwood photographer Alan Duggan. They come from inside the St Joseph’s Seminary in Upholland, near Wigan, and they highlight not just the neglect of this massive Victorian building but the beauty that can be seen in its decay.

Peeling paintwork, broken windows and rain-damaged floors are turned into darkly brooding atmospheric works of art by Alan’s lens. They also give us an small idea of what life must have been like for a boy confined here while studying for the priesthood.

The St Helens comedian Johnny Vegas was one of them, joining hundreds of others when he was just 11. He has talked about the immense feeling of missing his home and it’s not hard to imagine him and other children occupying the cell-like bedrooms in the dormitory.

St Josephs SeminarySt Josephs Seminary

His feelings were shared by his mother who burst into tears when he said he didn’t want to return to St Joseph’s. It was only years later that he realised they were tears of happiness.

He lasted four terms and later said: ‘I thought it was somewhere that I was going to develop my faith. And actually it felt like you’d joined this organisation that was about restricting the amount of questions you could ask.

‘There wasn’t that kind of open forum about what is God, and what is faith. It was more about “You’re not to question this, you’re just to follow these rules”.’

These days the main concern is about the condition of the building. Alan, who is a member of Poulton-le-Fylde Photographic Society, is what’s termed an ‘urban explorer’ travelling Europe taking pictures of crumbling buildings.

His fascination started when he visited a Lancashire asylum that was due for demolition. Taking pictures seemed like a way of marking its passing.

He is not always welcomed by the people running security but he stresses: ‘I do not break into any building to gain access. I use an access point that already exists or I leave. I am not a vandal.’

St Joseph’s, built in the 1880s and extended in the 1920s by Pugin and Pugin, is on the Top Ten Most Endangered list produced by the national charity, The Victorian Society. It described it as a ‘large and impressive three storey complex of gothic sandstone buildings, reportedly at the geographic centre of the Diocese of Liverpool.

‘It bears witness to a time when many young men wanted to train to become priests. Numbers dramatically declined after the 1960s and the seminary became a boarding school in the 1980s for boys considering a vocation.’

Comedian Tom O’Connor was also an alumni. ‘The buildings closed in the early 1990s and have been slowly decaying ever since, becoming a mecca for ‘urban explorers,’ says the society, claiming that some have caused damage.

Victorian Society director, Christopher Costelloe, said: ‘Lancashire and the North West has more buildings on our Top Ten than anywhere else in the country. But for the first time we have no entries for London or the South East. We simply got far more nominations from areas like Lancashire. This perhaps reflects the vastly different financial climate for development. But whatever the reason, I hope inclusion in the Top Ten will spur local authorities and owners to urgently find a way to bring these buildings back into use.’

Alan describes the day he went there to take pictures. ‘We were in just as the light was starting to flood in through the windows which was great timing as St Joe’s really needs light to help show its beauty. We headed off into the maze of hallways and rooms and started snapping photos of this amazing location.

‘Then we found the squirrel room aptly named as there is a dried out squirrel on the window sill. I don’t think I should say farewell to St Joseph’s but see you soon.’ w

You can see more of his work at www.alanduggan-photography.co.uk

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