You may remember Nick White, Wates’ Project Manager, from an earlier blog post for November 11th. That Wednesday wasn’t just memorable because it was a particularly rainy day – which it was; we did suffer rather a lot of rain last Winter, you may recall. No, for me it stands out because it was the first time since 2014, thanks to a kind workman taking photos for me, I saw inside Church High once again. At the time, I was so grateful for – and excited to have – those six images. I didn’t know then I would get inside myself and certainly couldn’t have imagined only four months later spending a sunny Saturday morning being guided around the building by Nick himself.
I knew from my tour with Conal on February 24th that the stripping back of the old building had recently revealed some fascinating original features and I badly wanted to document them properly on camera. Peter, the Gateman, suggested a Saturday morning when the site would be free of workmen and Nick offered to conduct the tour. I was accompanied by sculptress Zoe Robinson (Art Teacher at both Church High and NHSG) who was keen to gain inspiration from the bare bones of the old Victorian building for a piece of original art work. Zoe is a talented and very successful commercial artist, who is regularly represented by The Biscuit Factory Art Gallery. I felt that Zoe’s preferred medium of metal and wire would lend itself very well to the scaffolded, skeletal school interiors and Nick, who was in finishing off paperwork prior to a holiday break, was happy to oblige.
As Nick talked Zoe through specialist details of the metal work involved in various stages of the site renovation work, I was more than happy just to tag along and take my photographs. I know now that this was the ideal time to undertake a tour. Not only was it a bright, sunny morning, but the work was also at an interim stage. The strip out and restructuring work was now all complete and plastering had recently begun. Most importantly, the stripped back internal spaces were not yet cluttered by the multitudinous building materials which would be needed for the fitting out stage of the process. What luck! I took over 250 photographs that morning, enough to make video slideshows for three blog posts: outside spaces and Ground Floor, First Floor and Second Floor of the building. As we moved from room to room, it felt like a game of ‘I Spy’ as I hunted out old architectural features standing out more now in stark relief.
I thought I knew the building very well indeed but was startled to be told that the bright white squares which immediately caught my eye, shining in the sunlight high up on the west wall of the 1984 Science Wing, were not newly installed. Apparently there were always two bat boxes tucked away near the eaves while I was at Church High!
Along similar lines, if I asked you where the Holocaust memorial plaque was at Church High, would you be able to tell me? I knew there was one, having featured it in the 2011 School Magazine. I also knew it was destined for the courtyard but exactly where? I don’t know. However, approaching the courtyard from the rear on March 12th, eyes searching for quirky features, there it was, all of a sudden, shining in the sunlight. How had I managed to miss that?
On the opposite side of the courtyard, an architectural feature I didn’t need a game of I Spy to locate thankfully still remained in situ. I’d always thought the shaped bronze plaque dated the building work on the extension but zooming in to photograph it, the date seems to mark the school’s Centenary. It’s always looked very beautiful to me against the rich red brick. Did you know it was there too, I wonder?
Inside the building at ground floor level on March 12th two more features worthy of note caught my eye. When the building opens as Newcastle High School for Girls on September 6th, I’m sure the feature which will cause the most excitement is the lift. At present, the site of the lift shaft is marked by a wooden box on the ground floor.
The other thing which caught my eye at ground floor level that day was an empty wall where the Tankerville Terrace mosaic used to be.
My first tour of the old building took place on January 13th; my second one on February 24th if you want to compare the changes. Your third site tour with me of the old Church High building ground floor starts here starting on the Chemistry floor of the Science Block and ending up in Home Economics and History in the Barbour Wing.