November 11th may have been a particularly wet and miserable day for my weekly visit to the old Church High site, but it certainly turned out to be a very memorable one. For, walking back down Tankerville Terrace on my return to work, as I passed the front door of the main building, to my amazement, it now stood wide open!
One of the men at work inside the building had opened the teal-blue make-shift gate in order to deposit some pieces of wood into a skip. As he became aware of a rain-bedraggled woman across the road from him frantically fumbling for her camera to take a quick shot of the dark interior which had fleetingly been revealed, he stopped to talk. When I told him ‘my story’ – parallels to Coleridge’s ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ were becoming hard to avoid by now – he took pity on me and, taking the camera from my hand, offered to take some photos inside for me to see the work that was going on.
I had to wait until I got home that night and uploaded the images to my PC before I could properly appreciate the shots he had captured for me. I know the building well, but it was dark inside and the re-fit had now reached the stage where some of the plaster had been removed and the walls stripped back to the brickwork. On the screen of the digital camera, this had proved a bit disorientating. He wasn’t away from me for too long, so the areas the guy had photographed had been limited to the ground floor, but it was still enough to give insight into the scale of the transformation taking place inside.
As anyone who has renovated a house or fully re-decorated a room will know, empty of all furnishings and fittings, even the most familiar spaces can appear alien or strangely sad and bereft. The inside of Church High was no different, provoking complex feelings. Whilst it was good to see the old familiar rooms and corridors once again, it was hard not to feel pangs of sadness for they way they had once been: vibrant, colourful, full of activity, peopled by old friends.
The first shot was taken from just inside the main doorway and revealed the entrance lobby looking towards the LRC. The window into Reception had now been removed and, to the left of the shot, grey breeze blocks clearly showed where the Meeting Room doorway and Reception Waiting Area with its Alumnae display case used to be. At present, this has created a uninviting, very narrow corridor space, although the plans for the new school show that Reception is to be open plan on the right-hand-side of the entrance.
The second shot was of the LRC taken through a recently opened-up window off the main corridor. This is the area of the old building where we will notice the most change and, for some, that will be hard to take, as it was a beautifully-designed room always vibrantly buzzing at the very heart of the school. I believe the raised floor is to do with disabled access; clearly a lot of space will be now wasted.
My workman had clearly turned right in front of the LRC because the third shot was unmistakably of the Small and Large Dining Halls taken from the bottom corridor at the foot of the north stairs. The lovely light ash woodwork and dividing doors, installed during the bottom corridor renovation in Lesley Smith’s time, had now all gone. In the new school, the Small Dining Room is to be a Conference Room and the Large Dining Hall will house the admin support staff.
The fourth shot took a little bit of working out, but my workman had clearly passed through both dining rooms and then turned left. In our time, we would now be facing the cafeteria serving area of the Dining Hall with the open plan kitchen visible behind it. Instead, the camera now showed really big changes: the demolished single-storey kitchen block to make way for the new circulation extension.
The workman had then clearly returned back along the bottom corridor and taken a photograph with his back to the Dining Hall looking towards the south staircase (which unlike the north staircase is to be retained) and the side door of the building: the girls’ entrance. The grey breeze blocks to the left of the picture indicate that the glass trophy display case has now been bricked up.
On his way back out of the main door to return the camera to me, the workman, my very first ‘helper’ who I now know was called Dave Cartwright, had taken one last shot: a close-up of the now frameless Reception window where Lesley Ferguson, Church High Receptionist, used to welcome visitors to the school with a warm smile.
As I have said before, the people who gave that special spirit to the building cannot ever be separated from our memories of the place.