I’ve focused on the refurbishment of the Church High old building – and the history revealed in the process – so much of late that you’d be forgiven for forgetting there is a new building taking shape too. You may remember I toured its outer structure on January 13th and first stepped foot inside the ground floor on February 23rd and 24th. It took another month before I got into the building properly.
My guide was once again ‘chief baby-sitter’, Peter Wilson, and it was a real thrill to be walking up the new staircase I’d previously photographed only from the outside as it was being assembled. As we hit the first floor I could see just how far the interior partition walls were advancing and on the top floor things were even more advanced. Very excitingly, rooms were definitely now taking shape.
The exciting thing about EWA’s design for the second floor of the new building is that only two thirds of the actual floor area is taken up with classrooms. The south-west third is a Roof Terrace with a Roof Garden which can be accessed from the four labs adjacent to it. And it was the Roof Terrace that Peter wanted to show me today.
What Peter had brought me up to see was the roof surfacing actually being laid. It was a real hive of activity up there today.
Straight-ahead of me, a very friendly workman was only too happy to show me how the process worked: heat is applied then a roller.
In the south east corner, nearest to the old building, not only was there felt being fitted, but work was being done on the railing too.
On re-entering the building again through the roof door of Room 45, I took the opportunity to take some shots through the lab’s side windows which face onto the north elevation of the old building.
As on the first floor, along the central corridor running between the labs men were working on the ceiling pipe-work via scaffold towers.
Descending to the first floor once again, it was necessary to keep making way for busy men moving to and fro carrying plaster-board.
The design for the first floor of the new building features eleven rooms and two stairwells (each containing toilet cubicles) on three sides. The fourth side, facing St Mary’s Court, and the entire centre section is taken up by the upper half of the new school assembly hall.
The three classrooms on the south side of the first floor are all allocated to Mathematics. Their windows face onto the old building.
The last room I managed to sneak a look into before we returned to ground level has a dual aspect and should be a very sunny room. This room was of particular interest to me because it is going to be the new staff room. I’m not sure how much time I will manage to actually spend in there since I’ll be based in my beloved old building. However, it’s nice to think my favourite sunny corner of the Church High social staff room could very possibly be recreated once again.
You know the saying ‘can’t see the wood for the trees’? This image of the new building reminded me of that. Each time I start a new post, I look at the photos I took that day, recall what was happening at the time and try to find a starting point. The narrative I share with you is more than just the facts, of course. By the time I write, the events of that day will have been marinated by time, enriched by things I learned or came to understand later. And at the moment we are just over 3 months adrift. This fact has been pressing on me for some time now, whilst life has prevented the writing. But all things work together for good (Romans 8.28) and the consequence here is that what was important then, may not be so important to me now. I’m a different me. The wood and tree thing may well have changed.
Sorry about the weird opening to this post. I’ve just been watching Adele on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury and it made me think. Realness and people are what’s important. One of my favourite children’s stories is ‘The Velveteen Rabbit.’ I ‘get’ the idea of being loved to bits and rubbed into realness. That can be just as true of buildings as people. I love the old Church High building; she has been rubbed into realness over a long period of time. The key to understanding this is never to forget it’s all about the people. Both then and now.
You’ve already met a number of people who have added to the building in lots of ways, past and present. Remember Peter the Gateman, my first friend on site who allowed a different level of access to – and therefore understanding of – the build? You met him first on November 11th. Well, he does a lot more things than just control the comings and goings on site each day. Peter also drives the fork-lift and, as the build progresses, he is needed to do this more and more. Wednesday lunchtimes are now getting very busy. This has meant I am increasingly ‘handed over’ to the care of others for short spells of time. Sort of ‘Christine Baby-sitting.’ I’m liking it. I get to meet new people and they then become my friends. I always ask their names, try hard to remember them and, most importantly, also what they do. I have learned a great deal this way.
You probably won’t remember this, but you first met Bob three months ago in my post for December 16th. He was new on site then and I remember him telling me he thought it a beautiful building. I liked him immediately. A man of good taste with a feel for history. Bob likes to talk. And so do I. And so does Peter. We all get on well.
In case you’re wondering, I haven’t lost my way here. This is the important stuff. It’s true the main fact about the new build this week is that a layer of wood is being added over the insulation on the concrete-board panels of the structure. The ‘wood’ you may have spotted through the ‘trees’ in my opening image. The build progresses.
The pick-up truck is so important now because, as the build continues to progress, deliveries to site are ever more frequent. Today, March 16th, while Peter was needed on the pick-up, I killed time in the delivery bay beyond the Gateman’s cabin. This was interesting. The new deliveries, all swaddled in layers of plastic packaging like a mummy, intrigued me. Eventually, they too would all connect together in some way, adding to the building, creating a new whole.
Each delivery is a key detail, another piece of the jigsaw that will eventually become the second incarnation of Newcastle High. That’s the bigger picture, of course. However intriguing individual details, layers and side-alleys of this story may be, don’t ever lose sight of that. I have recently made a new friend called Giuseppe – someone I can’t really introduce you to in this post because ‘in blog time’ I haven’t even met him yet. Giuseppe has a real eye for detail – and I mean the nitty-gritty details of this build in all its forms. But he also has a keen appreciation of the history of the building, for which I am very, very grateful. Giuseppe takes good photographs too and is a kind man. He’s cleared it for me to have access to all his images so I can share them with you. Some photos are taken on a Wednesday too, thus capturing some of the same things I do in a different way. To say this will add yet another layer to my project is an under-statement. For me, it’s the tiny details that make his image below such a great shot: ‘We’re safer together’ and ‘The only way is up.’
Did you know that there was such a thing as National Window Safety Week? Well neither did I. It seems it is marked annually in early April, but it was new windows that were the focus on Tankerville Terrace when I visited the site today on Wednesday March 16th.
We’ve now reached week 26 of posts from this academic year with Wates working on the building and I have made a lot of new friends. It’s a lovely feeling to be expected & accepted as one of the ‘family’ now and there’s a game developing to see who can get into the blog!
Wates are in the process of replacing the old building’s double-glazed windows at the moment. As a passer-by commented to me as I stood across the road taking these photographs, “They’ve done a very good job.” You have got to look very closely and know exactly what you’re looking for to be able to distinguish the new from the old. The windows look identical, but there will be no more need to stand on chairs to open them anymore. These new ones will open at both the top and bottom, not only via the middle frame as before.
My lunchtime visits to the site have often co-incided with a good photo opportunity and today proved no exception. Within minutes of my arrival, the man on the cherry-picker who was in the process of fitting the new frames to old ‘Room 2’ began yet another ascent.
Having begun to the left of the front elevation, Wates now appear to have almost finished refurbishing all the windows between the north & south gables of the original Newcastle High School building. At roof level, however, only the first dormer window has been done.
By the time I walked back down Tankerville to return to school, the man appeared to be hard at work preparing the frames for the glass.
It won’t be too long before every classroom has a new perspective. Unfortunately, owing to the way the windows now open, my old ivy-covered ‘window on the world’ will now become a thing of the past.
It’s highly ironic that a post I’ve been wanting to write for ages – ever since I first laid eyes on those curious, old wooden beams in the centre of the newly-opened up top floor of the old building on my March tour – has been so delayed. Apologies. Schools are always very busy places near the end of the summer term and teachers get very tired. Posts which delve into the past are the most demanding ones to write too. They feel more important. Need more research.
That has certainly been the case with the bell tower. It’s there visually in all the old photographs, but, despite scouring both histories, there is little to find there other than the following reference to its demolition in the Centenary Book: ‘An expansion in the buildings was necessary in the post-war period both on account of the increased number of pupils and the desire to improve facilities. The neglect of six years needed to be made good before new work could be undertaken. The tower on the main building was demolished in 1951 as it was unsafe.’
It seems to me the above photograph must be one of the very last ones taken of the school buildings with the bell tower still in place. Indeed, one wonders whether the image might actually have been taken as a final photograph just prior to the tower’s demolition.
I first came across the bell tower as a line drawing illustrating an article on The Centenary Service in the first Church High magazine I ever read and I never forgot the image. Now that technology allows us to digitise and enlarge images, we can see that Katie Arthur has produced more of an interpretation as opposed to an exact copy of the structure; she would have been relying only on her eyes, of course. Viewed in close-up now, the architecture was actually much more substantial and elaborate with a weather vane at the very top.
Whether it actually contained a bell, I don’t know, but my feeling is that it must have done. I am no expert on architecture at all, but I find the design fascinating: a mixture of perpendicular gothic at its base, with gable finials in keeping with those on the neighbouring United Reformed Church, and Italian octagonal renaissance style at the top. The above image also shows one of the many stone ball finials which make the Church High building’s roofline so distinctive.
In a detail of the 1951 image (below) showing the tower ‘front-on’, the intricate stonework of the bell rotunda is clearer. By this point in time, following the addition of dormer windows, the skylights, which remain a feature of the roofline to this day, are visible.
One of the most interesting aspects of the renovation has been the revelation that the bell tower’s structure still remains even now. When Wates came across large vertical beams in the centre of the top floor during the strip-out stage, they fully intended to remove them until they realized they were structural to the building. I’m sure they would have ‘got-there’ by themselves using old plans, but I was delighted to be able to tell them all about the old bell tower.
The top floor of the building is destined to be sixth form study space once again – another example of things coming full circle – and the newly-exposed bell tower will now be a part of its interior design.
In addition to providing structural support for the impressive tower and perhaps a platform for a bell ringer, it’s likely that these beams also mark the site of an access stairway. It is clear as day to me now that, not only was it hidden away on one side of the top corridor all of the time I was at Church High, but, most fittingly, the bell tower formed the walls of the cupboard half-way along the corridor, its door raised slightly above floor level, used for the Alumnae Archive.
Another of Church High’s hidden storage spaces in the roof – the area I used to call the ‘Computer Graveyard’ – is also now opened up by the renovation process. This narrow space under the north west eaves didn’t even allow Steven Farrell to stand upright, but was an ideal ‘out-of-the-way’ place for storing those IT bits & pieces that might still come in useful some day – and often did thanks to the technical nous and creative ingenuity of our school-based IT Team.
As the chalk writing on one of the only existing roof trusses makes clear, the main IT area in the eaves is destined to be closed off again.
At the opposite end of the top floor an alabaster tiled fireplace, possibly installed when living quarters were created in the roof space for the caretaker in the late 1930s, is now opened up for all to see.
Who’d have thought this was sitting behind Deputy Head Alison Roe in her office at the south end of the top corridor for all of that time?
My March 12th tour of the top floor of the old building, beginning at the old south staircase, progressing along to the ICT Suite (now divided into two English classrooms) and ending at the top of the newly-created lift shaft just to the left of the new north staircase within the glass-fronted extension, can now be shared by you too: