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Ushaw

- religious concentration-camp, from the best of motives
- one of Phil Baines' finely-crafted, exuberant display fonts
U/003

Diocesan Gulag

The story goes that when the Catholic bishops were considering where to establish their new seminary for the north of England one of their representatives headed west from the city of Durham until he found a place so remote and unvisited by man that the rabbits were not alarmed by his arrival.

Another story asserts that the college, perched on its ridge, is so high up that there is no land eastward until you reach the Urals.

Mgr McReavy, after some sixty or seventy years at the college, is said to have remarked "The only month I've never seen snow at Ushaw is August." Pause. "Of course, I've never been here in August."

A French student, perhaps in the Twenties, sent an aerial view postcard to his bishop. "What a charming village," replied the bishop. "Which building is the seminary?"

Believe as many of the stories as you like: they won't alter the truth that the senior seminary for the north of England and Shrewsbury is remote, inhospitable and self-sufficient to a degree that cannot be an accident. Is six years in a closed institution – a fair summary, given that all sorties are scrutinised – the most appropriate training for a life that will probably combine an astonishing lack of privacy with appalling loneliness? Perhaps it is, and perhaps we need not be surprised that vocations are falling even faster than priests are leaving the ministry.

Fruitful recollection

Phil Baines has calmer things to say about Ushaw in his notes on the font, and has managed to rework the benefits of the years he spent there. I haven't, yet, though I would never count them as time wasted.

His fonts fill me with admiration, combining lucidity with wit. I've seen them on his fine Christmas cards, on the 'Net and in typography magazines; least expected sighting so far was on the cover of a Swedish folk CD at a festival in Belgium. I am both pleased and grateful that we are on his Christmas card list, and only in part because of how beautiful each year's new card is.


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