Saturday Morning ‘Old Building I Spy’ on the First Floor, 12th March 2016

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I’m sure when you think of the first floor of the old Church High building, it will be the Hall that comes to mind straightaway.  It’s certainly that way for me.  For the last 131 years, there has been a timeless quality about this space that has been very reassuring.  Things can’t stay the same forever though.  As the saying goes, ‘The only thing that is constant is change’ and, sadly, that goes for rooms too.

A music class in the Church High Hall in the 1960s.
Music class in the Assembly Hall c1960s (Image Newcastle Church High School Prospectus, Tyne & Wear Archives).

To continue our little game of ‘I Spy’, how many of you noticed the first stage of structural changes to the Hall from the pictures above?  And I don’t just mean the removal of the old Honours Boards which are at present being kept in storage.  The architects want the Hall to be a much lighter space so two square vents have been opened up near the apex of the north and south walls.  As this room will now be the Sixth Form Common Room and include a kitchen area, a smaller square has also been cut into the south wall for an air extractor unit.  At the north end, the stage entrance and exit doors have now gone.  The door stage-left has always provided access to the platform for the Headmistress, as one of the earliest pictures of the Hall in the 1910 Newcastle High School prospectus shows.  The performance door stage-right was cut into the Honours Boards at a later date.

An early 1910 prospectus picture of the Newcastle High School Hall.
1910 prospectus picture of the Newcastle High School Hall.  The platform was lower than we remember it, hence the stairwell leading to the door at the back of the modern stage (Prospectus image reproduced courtesy of Tyne & Wear Archives).
In November, the stage doors were blocked up; by May the north wall looks very different.
In November, the stage was still intact but the two doors had been blocked up; by May, the north wall looks very different.

Church High Hall north wall

The addition of light sources in the roof space just shows everything comes full-circle eventually.  When the Tankerville building first opened, new electric lighting was not installed; instead the Hall was lit by gas-lights.  Natural light would have flooded in through dormer windows in the roof, however, a trade-mark Oliver & Lesson design.

Dormer windows in the Church High Hall roofline c1910.
Dormer windows in the Church High Hall roofline c1910 (Church High School Prospectus, Tyne & Wear Archives).
Different coloured slate at the back of the main building show where the dormer windows used to be (Google Earth, March 2016).
Darker slate at the back of the main building roof shows the position of the dormer windows (Google Earth, March 2016).

Many such ‘modern’ features of the original building’s design were heralded in a fascinating little article published in The Newcastle Courant in the late 1880s reporting on the plans for the new school.

Description of the proposed plans for the Newcastle High School building published in The Newcastle Courant.
Description of the proposed plans for the Newcastle High School building published in The Newcastle Courant (Alumnae Archive).

It refers to the first floor of Newcastle High School as follows: ‘The whole of the teaching departments, including the assembly hall, class rooms, art rooms, and science laboratory, are placed upon the first floor, with a view to obtain better light and air….. The Assembly Hall will be a handsome room, with panelled dado and open timbered hammer-beam roof … There are three separate entrances shown upon the plans, and two main staircases for approach to the first floor.’  The article goes on to record another ‘modern’ feature: ‘The whole of the rooms are intended to be warmed by open fireplaces, with the addition of hot water pipes and coils, the latter being so arranged in each classroom as to warm a large volume of incoming fresh air.  Each room has a separate system of pipes provided with a valve, so that the heating power will be entirely under the control of the teacher.’ Which leads neatly back to ‘I Spy’ again.

Church High Room 2 Computer Room at lunchtime on 4th July 2014.
Church High Room 2 Computer Lab on the 4th July 2014.

At the very centre of the lovely image above of Home Economics teacher Lynn Batchelor signing autographs for girls on the last day of Church High, you will spy something grey.  Get used to this colour.  There will be a lot of it in the refurbished building.  Here it is the painted mantel of an old fireplace I must have put my mug of water on countless times without thinking about it over the years.  All the teaching rooms on the main corridor had a slanted wall which clearly marked old chimney pieces and I remember many a lesson in the ‘old days’ when girls’ heads would turn uneasily in lessons because of scratching sounds behind them.  Mice they said; pigeons most likely.

The chimney breast in Room 5 always served me well as a noticeboard.
The slanted chimney breast wall (left of picture) in Room 5.

Certainly the oblique chimney breast wall in my classroom, Room 5, always served me very well as an English display board.  As we found out when Tolent started the preparation work for the strip out, what actually lay behind the plaster was something like this.

The hearth and chimney piece newly exposed in Room 5.
Room 4 hearth & chimney piece newly exposed.  No disorientated pigeons here now.

I prefer to think of these covered over hearths and fire places, all clearly integral to a state-of-the-art Victorian heating system, as they would have appeared in their prime.  As this photograph from the very first prospectus makes clear, each teaching room had one.

A typical classroom at Newcastle High School complete with its Arts & Crafts fire place.
A typical teaching classroom at Newcastle High School around 1900 complete with its Arts & Crafts fire place (Image Newcastle High School Prospectus, Tyne & Wear Archives).

As I mentioned in an earlier post (24th February), Hayley Temple, one of the EWA architects who was instrumental in displaying the High Times and Heritage website links on the NHSG Project page of the company website, incorporated the three surviving fireplaces revealed during the renovation work into the new design.  The fireplace I photographed then was positioned in the corner of Room 7.

The old Arts & Crafts influenced fireplace still in situ in the corner of Room 7 on the first floor main corridor.
The Arts & Crafts influenced fireplace still in situ in the corner of Room 7 on the main corridor is very similar to the one in the prospectus.

However, the one I saw for the first time on 12th March was even more beautiful.  The tiles on this one, very appropriately for the new school, were teal coloured.  And it was my ‘old friend’ from Room 2.

The Room 2 teal-green Arts & Crafts fireplace finally uncovered is really beautiful.
Now uncovered, the old Room 2 teal-green Arts & Crafts fireplace is very beautiful indeed.

Along the main corridor now, Wates were in the process of installing the most up-to-date modern radiators (white of course) into rooms.

Modern white radiator recently installed in Room 4.
I spy a new white radiator installed in Room 4.

I’m sure they will do their job excellently, but there’s a part of me which will always fondly remember the solid, Victorian, sky blue ‘monster’ in Room 5.  I didn’t know it at the time, but it matched perfectly The Newcastle Courant’s description of ‘hot water pipes and coils, the latter being so arranged in each classroom as to warm a large volume of incoming fresh air.’  Indeed it did its job so well, I invariably had to have all the windows wide open, as my pupils will recall!

Another 'old friend': the huge old coiled pipe radiator in Room 5.
Another ‘old friend’: the old coiled pipe radiator in Room 5.

But this blog is meant to be looking forward to the future as well as reflecting back on happy memories of the past, so I shall end this post with an image of the newest addition to the first floor teaching rooms within the old building.  This area of the new extension fills the space where the fire-escape adjoining the old social staffroom used to be.  There’ll be plenty of scope to play ‘I Spy’ from here!

The new glass-fronted first floor classroom in the modern extension.
Glass-fronted first floor classroom in the modern extension.

Enjoy your tour of the first floor of the old building beginning here and ending at Rooms 7 & 8 at the opposite end of the main corridor.

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