Another Brick in the Wall, 13th January 2016


The red-brick frontage of the Victorian main building seemed richer in colour when I passed by today, as if refreshed rather than dampened by the recent prolonged bout of wet weather.  No doubt the ‘Old Girl’ has seen a lot worse winters than this in her time, however depressing near constant rain might feel.  And, despite having been cut off from its roots, the ivy cross looked almost green again too.

I noted one of the four dormer windows in the eaves (of Brenda Cavagnah’s Assistant Bursar’s Office) was open to the elements today indicating work was underway on the top corridor once again.  A white worker’s helmet visible through the window of Room 4 also suggested there was a lot of activity inside the main building today.

Work going on in the eaves again and in Room 4.
Work  is going on in the eaves & in Room 4.

Speculating what might be happening in the main building was always intriguing, but the main objective today was to discover how far the new build roof had progressed since Monday evening and I wasn’t disappointed.  On arriving at the old Junior School gates, it was clear that the roof was already nearly three quarters complete.

The new build roof has progressed fast in two days.
The new build roof has progressed fast in a day and an half.

Traffic was heavy again on site today and an open-topped lorry parked just in front of the gate helpfully provided a striking red frame for a shot of the two new steel structures side-by-side.   I have my Dad to thank for the tip of trying to get red into a frame.

The two new steel structures side-by-side.
The two new steel structures are not actually that far apart.

Unlike on Monday evening, I could see the progress on the main building’s new extension for myself now and was curious to discover how the pile of steel photographed on Monday had been utilised.  However, on approaching, my eyes were drawn to the ground floor first of all where a fluorescent-jacketed man was hard at work.

The ground floor of the circulation extension.
The ground floor of the main building’s new extension.

The man was named Mark and was just in the process of putting ‘another brick in the wall’ which was now being re-erected between the new extension and what used to be the old kitchen storage areas.

Another brick about to go into the wall.
Another brick about to go into the new wall.

Beyond Mark and the steel supports, the new flight of stairs to the rear of the extension looked even greyer than it had done at the turn of the year now that steel flooring had just been laid on its first floor.

The extension's steel flooring is now in place.
The extension’s first floor is now in place.

Despite the steel flooring of the upper level being not quite finished, the steel structure was now beginning to look more like a building.

The second floor is nearly laid.
The steel for the second floor is not quite all in place yet.

It is funny how watching changes to a familiar building makes you notice structural details you weren’t consciously aware of before.  Although I must have walked past it thousands of times, if anyone had asked me to describe the layout under the Dining Hall windows I wouldn’t have been able to.  And as I walked back past the main building on my way back to work today, I saw a set of black railings standing up against the wall I hadn’t noticed as I’d passed by before.

New work underway in front of the main building.
New work is now underway in front of the old Dining Hall.

Without the railings in place, I now became aware of a deep recess beneath the windows where yet another new site of work was clearly underway.  I realized from its position it must lead down to the Boiler Room.  Although vaguely aware of its existence, this was one of the few areas of the old Church High building I had never visited.

Work has begun on the Boiler Room under the Dining Hall.
Work in the area of the Boiler Room under the Dining Hall.

I mused that this unexpected little discovery proved that even a building you know very well can present you with the odd occasional surprise.  However, this would be nothing compared to the hugely serendipitous surprise still awaiting me on Tankerville that day.

The New Build Roof at Night,11th January 2016

I had a feeling that the new build roof might go on quickly.  And I was right.  It did.  The only lunchtime my timetable allows me out of school this year with any comfort is a Wednesday, but I didn’t want to risk leaving it a full week at this particular stage in the process.  As I was meeting a friend after work anyway on the Monday evening, we decided to walk up to Tankerville before heading off into Town.
Me peering through the gates at the flood-lit new build site.
Me peering through the gates at the flood-lit new build site.
Having struggled with the vagaries of winter weather for so long, it was initially a bit of a shock to the system to see the building bathed in light.  I don’t know why I hadn’t realised the site would be flood-lit at night for security purposes.  This turned out to be the perfect way to photograph the progress of the roof now being put into place.  Grey steel against grey sky had been causing me some issues recently, but shiny, silver steel flood-lit against a darkening sky was ideal.  Only a small area was covered so far, but it still looked impressive.
The new build roof is now starting to take shape.
The first section of new roof is foregrounded as dusk falls .

It is usually the opposite way around for me, but this evening it was not the grey new-build structure but the old building that lacked warmth, brooding in the shadows beyond the range of the lights.  Through the criss-crossed wire fencing and dark twisty branches of the big tree, it was a strain on the eyes trying to discern any changes to the steelwork of the new circulation extension as dusk was falling.

In contrast, the old building to our left is much more shadowy.
In contrast, the old building to our left lurks in the shadows.

At this point, right on cue, two late shift workers emerged from the cabin.  This wasn’t the first time – and no doubt won’t be the last – that I have had to explain my motivation for poking a camera lens through the site gates.  Neither was it the first time someone has offered to help me out – and hopefully it won’t be the last time either!  When I got back home, the shot of the old build extension frame taken for me by a kind gentleman showed steel flooring ready to be laid.

Metal flooring waiting to be laid in the old build.
Metal flooring waiting to be laid in the old build extension.

The reversals tonight were not just visual, but aural too.  The new build site in the day-time is usually abuzz with the sound of machinery at work, but, tonight, the only noise was occasional ‘clanking’ sounds emanating from within the old building itself.  I remembered hearing that Wates had applied for, and had been granted, a slight extension to their interior working times.  Tonight, as we passed illuminated windows, it was impossible not to try to sneak a peek inside.

The old building is all lit-up inside for the night shift.
The old building is all lit-up inside.

New Stairs Ascending, The Jesmond Puddle or What You Will, 6th January 2016

Christmas 1995: the bottom corridor still 'sporting' the infamous wallpaper.
Christmas 1995: the bottom corridor still sporting the ‘infamous’ wallpaper.

As you may know, Newcastle High School was founded by the Church Schools’ Company and, because of this, a strong Christian ethos was always at the very heart of the school even before it became The Newcastle upon Tyne Church High School.  If I was ever in any doubt over this, it was made clear to me the moment I walked through the door for my interview with Jill Mortiboys, who would become my Head of Department, mentor and a very dear friend.  This smiling, vibrant figure in a white blazer, with sleeves pushed up ‘Miami Vice’ style, greeted me with huge apologies for her lateness as “Revd Macey’s Ascension Day assembly for the School had rather overrun.”  And so it began.  Although I don’t recall the date of this particular ‘Holy Thursday’, the Internet tells me it was May 16th.

The Church calendar was on my mind today because January 6th marks ‘The Feast of Epiphany’, or ‘Twelfth Night’ as it is more commonly known.  Epiphany Eve is the Twelfth Day of Christmas which brings to an end all yule-tide festivities.  It is also the day by which, traditionally, all Christmas Trees must be taken down.  And often, as was the case this year, it also coincides with my return to work.  The only saving grace today was that it was a Wednesday.

The word epiphany means ‘manifestation’ or ‘showing forth’ and this is often what it feels like for me each Wednesday as I venture up the road to ask “What’s new this week?” of the Wates’ workmen.  The rate of physical progress each week never ceases to surprise & thrill me and, this particular week, my first visit of 2016, was no different.

The New Build steel structure which 'saw in' the New Year complete.
The New Build steel structure ‘saw in’ the New Year complete.

Epiphany is also ‘The Day of Lights’, a fact I mused on with some irony.  2016 may be the year that will return the school to Tankerville, but, yet again, another Wednesday camera day had turned out dull and very wet.  Shakespeare’s play Twelfth Night: Or, What You Will ends with the song ‘For the rain it raineth every day’ and recently in the North-East this had certainly been the case.  However, despite the incessant rain over the holiday period turning the newly-concreted floor of the new-build steel structure into one big ‘Tankerville Puddle’, it was still exciting to learn that the nondescript stacks of grey material visible in the distance would soon become a roof.

Under the steelwork has become one big 'Tankerville Puddle' with the incessant rain.
The new build floor has become one big ‘Tankerville Puddle.’

The Gateman has told me the construction work continues to draw a steady stream of visitors of all ages to the site gates, the common denominator always being a Church High connection of some sort.  However, despite the keen interest in the changes manifesting on the Tankerville site, today turned out to be the day the eyes of the world were much more focused on Jesmond Road, Newcastle High School’s first home, thanks to #DrummondPuddleWatch going viral.

The four houses on Jesmond Road which first housed Newcastle High School; off picture to the left are the offices of Drummond Central.
The green doors mark three of the four houses on Jesmond Road which first housed Newcastle High School; just off picture, to the left, are the offices of Drummond Central.

Drummond Central are the strategic creative agency behind the marketing and sea horse marque for Newcastle High School for Girls.  They are also the people who, rather strangely, set up a live ‘feed’ of a puddle near the A167 in Jesmond which ended up being streamed online to people as far away as Denmark and the USA.

The ‘Drummond Puddle’ became the centre of a social media storm as thousands logged on to watch passers-by on their way to Newcastle city centre trying to avoid getting their feet wet whilst negotiating a 1.5 metre-wide puddle blocking the end of a pedestrian tunnel under the A167.  The Drummond office workers’ mischievous camera-watch and the sheer ingenuity of the folk tackling the puddle both seemed to me very well-suited to ‘tricksy’ Twelfth Night.

My hope is that this little ‘puddle interlude’ may have served to brighten up what could otherwise have been a very dull post indeed, the construction team having only been back on the job for two days after their long Christmas break.  In that short period of time, nevertheless, the steel frame of the new circulation extension to the old building had only just been completed, I was told – indeed it was so new that the tags still remained on the steel in one or two places.

The steel frame of the new extension to the old build is now complete.
The steel framework of the new circulation extension to the old building is now complete.

However, in the context of the on-going construction process, the real epiphany moment on site today for me was the dawning realisation that, deep within the murky depths of the grey steel frame in the fading winter light, I was actually looking directly at a brand new flight of concrete stairs.  This jagged ‘stairway to the sky’ was certainly no-where near as attractive as the old, wooden one it was replacing in the building, but this certainly felt like real progress.  From now on in 2016, the stairs seemed to be saying, the only way was up.

'The only way is up': new stairs in close up.
‘The only way is up’: the new stairs in close-up.


Tankerville Interior Through New (and Old) Eyes, Part 3: First Floor, Post 2, 5th January 2016

Room 5, my classroom on the main corridor in 2003.
My  sunny classroom on the main corridor, Room 5, in 2003.

I already knew from the site plans that one of the biggest physical changes to the main corridor would involve my teaching classroom, Room 5 (English 3).  I had mixed feelings about this fact.  In one way, it was nice to think that I would be the last person to actually teach a lesson in that particular room; however, at the same time it was also a shame that a room with such a lovely aspect would cease to exist.

Church High Open Day in Room 5, 2008.
A Church High Open Day in Room 5, (English 3), 2008.

When NHSG moves back into Tankerville, the rooms off the main corridor, other than Room 5, will all be designated to the Sixth Form.  This classroom is to be be divided up into three sections to create offices for the Deputy Head Academic and the Examinations Officer in addition to an open plan Group Room or Meeting Area.  Taken through the Hall doorway, Alan Younger’s photograph of November 25th 2015 shows the new partition walls are now in place.

Old Room 5 is now divided up into three.
Old Room 5 on the main corridor is now divided into three.

In direct contrast to this situation, the two Church High Geography rooms, situated off the main corridor on the way to the Art rooms, have been knocked into one big space at the moment, as Alan’s photograph below makes clear.  This huge space will be familiar to some, as, initially, this room housed the School’s first Science Laboratory.  When I joined, it was known as the Large Geography Room and because of its size was used as the changing area for the School Play.  At present on the plans, it will house two Graphic Design rooms.

At present, the two Geography rooms have been knocked into one.
The two Geography rooms have been knocked into one.

The modern 1998 Art Wing provided light and airy, state-of-the art, purpose-built Art rooms with glass panels in both ceilings and dramatic red beams on which artwork and sculptures could be hung.  One imagined that these rooms would need very little tweaking for the new school and Alan Younger’s photos show this to be the case.  The surrounding fixtures and fittings have all been stripped out, but both Art Studios are clearly recognisable still as Grant Wells’ spaces.

The Key Stage 3 (right-hand) Art Studio now.
The larger Key Stage 3 &4 (right-hand) Art Room at present ..
Grant Wells teaching in the Art Studio.
Grant Wells teaching in the same Studio
.... and the (left-hand) Sixth Form Art Studio now.
… and the (left-hand) Sixth Form Art Studio as it looks now.

Before he left the building, Alan also visited the 1984 Science Block which can be entered at first floor level from the south end of the main corridor.  This floor of the block housed Church High’s two Physics Labs & Preparation Room and the flight of internal stairs leading up to the two Biology Labs up on the second floor.  Although the red brickwork exposed by the removal of plaster gives the corridors a much warmer feel than when they were painted steel grey, as with the Art Rooms, this stairway area has also changed very little.

Science stairway as it now appears ...
Science Block stairway as it now appears …
... cooler in hue when all painted grey as Church High.
… & cooler in hue when grey as Church High.

The final shot Alan took looking back onto the main corridor again not only highlights the beauty of the newly exposed brickwork but also yet another distinctive Church High semi-circular door arch .

Looking back again onto the main corridor.
Looking back again onto the main corridor.

When I joined Church High in the mid 1980s, the School Caretaker was Mr Volpe, who I always seem to visualise wearing a woolly hat.  In the late 1980s and 1990s, the job of looking after the Church High buildings fell to Dave Stout.  When Dave Stout moved on, the role of Caretaker, later expanded to Site Manager, was carried out with great loyalty and passion by Gentian Qeku until the School eventually left the premises in August 2014.  When Alan Younger has the keys handed to him in August 2016, as I said at the start of this very long post, he will be the 4th Site Manager I have known.

Gentian Qeko, the last Church High Site Manager.
Gentian Qeku, the last Church High Site Manager, 2014.
Church High Site Management Team 2011
And once again with the Newcastle Church High Site Management Team in 2011: Chris Melrose and Paul Wilson.
Alan Younger will hopefully receive the keys to the building in August 2016.
Alan Younger, NHSG Facilities Manager, will hopefully be taking possession of the ‘keys to the building’ in August 2016.