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26/11/06 Please note : This Page is devoted to the fire at St Columba's and its aftermath. The GALLERY section now contains several more photos relating to this event : see Page 32 and Page 267, for example.

Choose the article you wish to read:

  1. An Account of The Fire at St Columba's
  2. Newspaper Report of The Fire
  3. Danby Hall



DEATH CAME THREE HOURS LATE
Taken from The Pelican, Summer 1964 - transcribed for us by Robbie Dempsey

An account of the fire at St Columba's College on 2nd November, 1963

"Fire!" came the cry. "Fire!" Boys stood up astonished and bewildered and looked round for the cause of the disturbance. High up in Jedburgh dormitory flames were leaping from the windows and slowly licking their way along the roof top. Fr. Lynch, who was presiding at breakfast on that particular morning, leapt nimbly over the table and sprinted down the refectory. With one of the other Brothers he made his way up the main staircase but was beaten back by the smoke and the unbearable heat.

Slowly the boys under the supervision of Bro. O'Reilly made their way to the bank overlooking the football pitch, where they were counted to make sure no one was missing. Watching helplessly, boys saw the flames lick their way from window to window till eventually they came to the point where such and such a person's bed lay and they realised then that that boy's belongings had no chance of being saved

The while the fire still ravaged the dormitories, the boys were taken by Dormobile to the baker's shop in Newtown St Boswells. There they were given refreshments and sat thinking how lucky they were to be alive.


(source: Tony Smyth)

The Quad and cloisters at St Columba's, 1961




(source: Owen Gormley)

Meanwhile four Brigades from Edinburgh and South Eastern Fire Division fought in vain against the intense heat and suffocating smoke. Their job was made no easier by the fact that water had to be pumped from the river Tweed a quarter of a mile away. Then just after eleven o'clock buses to take the boys home were kindly arranged by Mr Joe Featherstone. None of them as they sat in the bus could really think straight. They had heard of such and such a person being run over by car, or so and so's house going on fire and always the same thought returned to them, "It's always somebody else, it'll never happen to us." Then the brief reality of life hit them. It will be their name in the paper, not someone else's. The seminary they were at, not someone else's, and as the buses pass through the towns, placards can be seen, "Big blaze in the Borders," and they realise that they're not dreaming.

The boys arrived home on Saturday, Sunday and even Monday, and some like the Irish boys did not go home at all. Parents were very glad to see their sons home safe and sound. From that night right up until the time at which this account is written, it can honestly be said that no one will ever forget that November's day, when death came three hours late.

I. MacDonald and M. Llenaghan (Form II)

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(source: Owen Gormley)

A view into Kelso Dormitory at St Columba's

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(source: Michael Gallagher)

The Study Hall at St Columba's

Michael Gallagher writes:

My desk had been in the vicinity of the large Cross, and my bed had been about half way down on the right hand side of the Kelso dormitory.

Actually the fire was quite traumatic for lads of 11 years of age and especially for the lads from Ireland (me included) who did not get to go home - the English and Scottish lads all went home but we, (Sean McAnallen, Andrew O'Connell, Seamus McAnallen and myself) were kindly put up by families in St Boswells, we helped the Fatherswith bits and pieces in the aftermath after the fire and then we eventuallywent along with Fr Gerry Wynne and another Father (I think the Burser at the time Fr John Lynch) to Danby Hall to make things ready for the studentscoming there.

Brother Owen and a couple of other Brothers whose names I can't recallat the moment did Trojan work and are to be commended - Brother Owen in particular was a great man and was very well liked by the boys.

How he put up with us all I do not know!!!"



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(Source: Owen Gormley)


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(source: Owen Gormley)


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(Source: Owen Gormley)

Note: stairs descend at the near right.

" The stairs to the basement , showers, and changing room for sports.
The open doorway
is to a telephone box. In one of the doors on the left was the room where we got our reports
and the decisions that had been made as to whether we had been “advised” or not. "

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(source: Owen Gormley)

The Refectory pulpit escaped unblemished!


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(source: Owen Gormley)



L-R: Andrew O'Connell, Sean McAnallan, Br. Nicholas Owen


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(Source: Tony Smyth)


L-R: Andrew O'Connell, Sean McAnallan, Br. Nicholas Owen



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(source: Owen Gormley)

" Andrew O'Connell in the kitchen. The mixer can be seen on the left.
The sturdy chair in the foreground survived well. The radiator on the left
has
clearly clattered down from above.

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Newspaper Report of The Fire
Source : Mike Ellis
(Newspaper and author as yet unknown)

"Scotland's First Missionary College Gutted"




This picture was taken immediately after the roof collapsed. Onlookers are helpless as the flames take a grip on the centre part of the building containing the dormitories. On the right is the new wing, which was undamaged. The chapel, also undamaged, is behind the building.





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The major part of the 25-years-old college of the White Fathers at Newtown, St Boswell's Roxburghshire — the first missionary college in Scotland — was destroyed by fire on Saturday morning.

The chapel and new wing escaped. The building containing the refectory, dormitories and classrooms was totally destroyed.

St Columba's College is the junior seminary. It houses 63 boys — Scottish, English and Irish.

The staff of 5 priest and boys were at breakfast when the outbreak was discovered by one of the lay brothers.

Within minutes of the alarm being given the top storey of the dormitory was ablaze.


Fire engines

Four sections of the fire brigade from neighbouring towns fought the blaze.

But in less than an hour the roof caved in.

Fortunately, no one was hurt.

The White Fathers immediately set about making arrangements for the boys.

Telegrams were dispatched to parents advising them that their sons were safe.

Speedy arrangements were made to send the English and Scottish boys to their homes.

The small group of Irish students was sent to the White Fathers at Southampton.

The local people, Catholic and non-Catholic, came forward with offers to house the boys.

The local baker fed them.

Students from St Andrew's college, who were quickly on the scene, worked hard gathering the boys' belongings.



Free meals

Mrs Weir, proprietress of the local hotel, laid on meals for the priests.

On Monday, the White Fathers' Provincial and the Superior, Fr Thomas Stoker, were at St Boswell's. They discussed with the architect and surveyor whether it was possible to re-build on the same foundations . . .


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DANBY HALL
By John Brighouse and Michael Gallagher (Form I)
Taken from The Pelican, Summer 1964 - transcribed for us by Robbie Dempsey


(source: Michael Gallagher)

Danby Hall - front view

Danby Hall belongs to the Scrope family. They have owned it for nearly five hundred years.
The oldest parts of the house date from the eleventh century.

There were two priests' hiding holes in the Hall but one has disappeared. The other has been bricked up. Three priests are buried in the chapel. They are under the floor. In its time the Scrope family was one of the most powerful families in England. They played a great part in English history. Their name is mentioned in one of Shakespeare's plays. The family intermarried with the de la Poles and the Percies. One of the Scropes became Archbishop of York. This was a very high position in England at this time. He was executed for high treason in 1405.

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(source: Michael Gallagher)

Danby Hall - viewed from the roof.




The family have leased the Hall to the White Fathers who have made it into a junior seminary. There have been lots of changes at Danby since the beginning of the year. Extra wash basins have been put in and there are showers being built. There has also been a new dormitory built near the house.

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(source: Michael Gallagher)

The new Dormitory at Danby Hall

Originally it was to be a classroom but the Fathers found that there wasn't enough sleeping space, so it is now a dormitory. It is very comfortable and warm.

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(source: Michael Gallagher)


An exterior view of the new Dormitory at Danby Hall


Since the beginning of term there has been a football and rugby pitch marked out.

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ALSO Taken from The Pelican, Summer 1964

Captain's Notes for 1963—64
Written by Anthony Quinn (Captain) and Francis Barnes (Vice Captain)

The success of this year has been obtained by the spirit and co-operation of the Fathers.

We began the year wonderfully, prepared to face the hardships of the term ahead. With the help of the staff and the old boys, the first year boys settled down marvellously well. Soon the houses were arranged and we got along with enthusiasm for house activities and competitions.

In studies and classwork we progfessed steadily and soon found ourselves in the mid-term examinations. This was however interrupted by the disastrous fire which gutted the building. We were taken home and after a month a place obtained for the second form at Danby Hall and at Totteridge for the first form. Both forms continued as normal, and worked especially hard to regain their lost time.



(source: Michael Gallagher)

Danby Hall Chapel

In the Easter term both forms were united again and, gradually
regaining the time lost, space was found for one or two holidays.


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(source: Michael Gallagher)

A more recent photo of Danby Hall


Grateful thanks to Mike Gallagher for the photos of Danby Hall.