A RETIRED firefighter has been “playing with matches” to impress visitors at a popular North-East cultural attraction.

Clive Holmes, 81, spent much of his professional life educating people about the dangers of matches, but during an uneventful shift working for Lincolnshire Fire and Rescue Service, he discovered a talent for putting them to a different use.

After retiring in 1976, Clive now spends his days carefully assembling meticulously detailed models of famous landmarks, and he is well underway with his latest piece for Ushaw on the outskirts of Durham.

Clive’s spectacular matchstick models of Durham Cathedral – containing 146,000 matchsticks – and some of the main Ushaw building are already on display and he’s now working on the Junior House.

Grandad-of-four Clive said: “I was a bit bored at the fire station one day, and I spotted a Lincolnshire roadmap with a picture of Lincoln Cathedral on the cover. I had some down time and a box of matchsticks, so I thought I’d have a go at building that.

“I’ve been making models all my life, but I’d never made anything out of matches before. I cut off all the flammable heads, and I just got on with it. It took a while, but that was my first matchstick model. That will have been about 40 years ago.”

Clive added: “My wife was very relieved when we donated the Durham Cathedral model to Ushaw, as it meant we got our dining room table back. When I dropped it off, I saw the beautiful architecture of the college and I knew what my next model would be.”

Starting with the college’s St Cuthbert’s Chapel, Clive has since also made striking models of the library and the main administrative building, before starting to assemble the college’s Junior House. Built in 1859, the Junior House closed in 1972 and is now delipidated although there are plans to return it to its former glory.

Clive began working on the Junior House model in October 2018, and expects to be finished by the end of 2019. He estimates the completed model will be made up of 45,000 matchsticks and will require 60 tubes of glue.

“When my daughters were young, they earned their pocket money by removing the heads from thousands of matches for me. Being able to buy bags of modelling matchsticks saves them a lot of effort,” he said.