THE UCHELDRE CENTRE TODAY
The Ucheldre Centre is the cultural home of several groups and societies. In addition to the The Ucheldre Repertory Company, it hosts The Ucheldre Literary Society, The Ucheldre Music Club, The Ucheldre Jazz Club, and other gatherings such as the Children's Art Club and the Embroidery Group. The Society of Friends also meets at the Centre.
Many classes are offered in conjunction with either the Workers' Education Association (WEA) or the University of Wales, Bangor including life drawing or portraiture, watercolour painting, mixed media and glass. There are also holiday programmes of art, drama and dance workshops for young people, often in collaboration with visiting performers.
As a performance space, it seats up to 200. Extensions have been added at the back and sides, to provide room for a gallery, restaurant, and other facilities. The main hall also doubles up as a cinema, showing mainstream and less well-known films, on the Centre's film nights. An exhibition of artists' works is always running and a look at the Ucheldre Diary reveals a constantly changing programme of drama and musical events of all kinds.
Sometimes called the 'artistic lighthouse of north west Wales', the Ucheldre Centre is a community effort to provide those who live in and visit the area with a centre for arts events, exhibitions, concerts, and other community activities of an educational and cultural kind. Before its inauguration, Holyhead had no venue for such events.
HISTORYThe school was fee paying but not prohibitively so, and girls came from all over the British Isles, though very few from Anglesey until the middle and upper classes prospered in North Wales. As years passed, the need for the students to be Catholic became less stringent although they continued to be taught in both English and French, seen to be the preferred language for the education of young ladies. The combination of low fees, falling numbers and considerable costs of lay staff meant that the school was continually subsidised by the Bon Sauveur order in France, leading to its eventual and possibly inevitable closure in 1983. Following unsuccessful attempts by a committee set up to save the building, it was bought by the council and sold on to a housing association who built several sheltered housing units in its grounds. In the late 1980s, the main convent building was found to be structurally unsafe. The interior decoration was also in a poor state with large damp patches, and plaster fell from the walls and ceiling at regular intervals.
The Ucheldre Centre is centred around the former chapel building of the Bon Sauveur (Good Saviour) Convent. The convent was established when nuns from the Bon Sauveur order arrived from France in 1907 in response to an invitation from the Catholic diocese to start a school in the area. The parish priest had searched for a suitable site, eventually buying an old mill on Lord Stanley's Ucheldre estate. The school began in the old Park House, which still stands next to the Ucheldre Centre. In its early days, it was more of a finishing school for girls and proved to be very popular, which led to the building and extending of the convent building which stood until 1988.
In 1988, the housing assoction demolished the main castle-like structure which had dominated the skyline of Holyhead for nearly a century.
The convent chapel, designed by Professor R M Butler of Dublin, was in much better condition having been built in 1937, in a modernized Romanesque style, with a tall square tower, and making good use of green local stone. The housing association passed it back to the council who would have demolished it but for the work of the re-formed committee championed by Professor David Crystal. They devised the Ucheldre Project in order to develop the building in to an arts centre. Since then, the Ucheldre Centre has been extended in keeping with the original design, along with an amphitheatre, a walled garden, and landscaped grounds. The Bon Sauveur nuns are still in Holyhead, too. When the school closed the few who were left bought a small house next to the Catholic church.