PRECIOUS historical artifacts could be at risk as thieves, vandals and trespassers target a Roman Catholic college set to close.
Ushaw College, home to St Cuthbert’s Seminary, where priests have trained since its foundation more than 400 years ago in France, will shut for good this summer amid declining rolls and financial difficulties.
Despite only having a few months left before the closure, a multitude of medieval manuscripts and some 40,000 books owned by the college are still housed in buildings on the 380-acre site.
Along with a range of fine Georgian buildings the 200-year-old college near Durham City owns the archive of the English College at Lisbon from 1628 to 1971 and an extensive collection of books on and by Cardinal John Newman.
But the collections and buildings could be at risk as Durham Police report the site has been subjected to various thefts and criminal damage in the past year.
Last week a member of the public spotted three men acting suspiciously and climbing into one of the buildings via a ground floor window.
When officers arrived they discovered six men and women of various ages inside one of the buildings, which had been left unsecured.
During questioning the group said they were on a photography project and had entered the property to take photos after reading on the internet the college was closing in the near future.
The incident has sparked warnings from police concerned intruders could be injured as parts of the college are said to be “in a poor state of repair in places and is potentially dangerous”.
Sgt Keith Wardle said: “Anyone entering the college is guilty of trespass and could be arrested.
“They are also placing themselves at risk because of the poor condition of some of the buildings. We would urge people to stay away from the college.”
Having announced plans to close Ushaw College its board of trustees revealed it had set up a steering group.
Chaired by Bishop Mark Davies, with members including Bishop Tom Williams and college teaching staff, it is tasked with looking strategically at the entire estate and what to do with its buildings, land, libraries, archives and collections.
Following the incident on February 24, a trustee spokesman confirmed the historical items hadn’t been moved from the site, adding: “The college is not due to close until the summer so the collections are still in place. There is security on site and our concerns are for the training priests as well as the estate.”
In recent weeks English Heritage (EH) has expressed concerns about the college closure and the future of its historic buildings and the artifacts.
An EH spokesman last night said: “We have already offered our support and guidance to the college to find a new future for the historic fabric of the buildings and their important associated contents.”