A FORMER private school has been bought by ex-Newcastle United chairman Freddie Shepherd.
The £3,000-a-term La Sagesse, which overlooks Jesmond Dene, shut its gates in August due to growing cost pressures and falling pupil numbers.
The closure left 200 pupils looking for a new school and 54 staff members out of work, while news the former Victorian Gothic Mansion was on the market generated interest from potential developers all over the world.
Now, it has emerged Mr Shepherd, through family business Shepherd Offshore, has acquired the 26,000sq-metre site, which sits in 10-acre grounds.
The 67-year-old says he wants to find a use for La Sagesse that is “in the best interests of the city as a whole” and plans to meet council officials in the near future.
He said: “It is a fantastic building with a great history and we just felt it was so important a local, Newcastle-based family took control of it.
“That is why we stepped in to buy the buildings and the site and now it is a case of deciding what the best use for it is.”
Mr Shepherd, who left Newcastle United when he was bought-out by current owner Mike Ashley in June 2007, added: “We have had 101 proposals for the site, from several interested parties, ranging from care homes and hotels to spas and health clubs.”
La Sagesse actually began life in Low Fell, Gateshead, when nuns from France opened it in 1906. But after trying out several different locations, it settled at its current site, off Bemersyde Drive, Jesmond, in 1912.
The Junior School and Chapel were built in 1925 and Jesmond Towers, the former home of Tyneside shipbuilder Charles Mitchell, was taken over in 1946 from the Osborne Grammar School, which moved to Gosforth.
During the war, the school was run by French nuns and in 1948 The Towers were opened as a senior school. It became an independent public day school in 1974.
La Sagesse was originally a mixed-sex school until the 1970s but then it became a girls’ school. It opened its doors again to boys in September 2002.
Famous former pupils include billionaire and art collector Anita Zabludowicz and former Coronation Street actress Denise Welch. The site, which also includes a chapel, a gym dating from the 1970s and a former convent, was put up for sale after it was announced the school was closing last year.
A key reason for the decision was the move by its founding order of Catholic nuns – the Sisters of La Sagesse, or the Daughters of Wisdom – decided to triple rent charges.
Newcastle Property consultants Johnson Tucker were appointed to jointly handle the sale with London-based firm Stanley Hicks and reported lots of interest from potential buyers on Tyneside and beyond. But the Shepherds have swooped to secure a deal for the Grade II-listed building, which is understood to be in excess of £5m.
After a deal with struck, the blessing of the Daughters of Wisdom, based in Rome, had to be granted before it could be completed. Shepherd Offshore will officially get the keys on March 14.
Mr Shepherd’s brother Bruce, 62, a director at Shepherd Offshore, said: “We are experienced at working with listed buildings and looking after them so we are not going to destroy the character of these fantastic buildings.”