On my tour of the old building on April 13th, I got my first view of the new build from the old – from one of the ICT Suite north-facing windows to be precise. It was an interesting change in perspective. The view isn’t as pleasing on the eye as the leafy Junior School grounds used to be, but it isn’t awful either and it will improve. On my way out of the building, I also took some shots of how the wood panelling on the south side of the new build was progressing. This façade will be two-thirds glass and only one third metal finish.
There was no time to visit the new build that day, but it looked very busy through the entrance. Conal Stamp gave me a wave though.
The following Wednesday, however, I was able to get inside to see how things were taking shape. Rather than through the Main Entrance in the south-east corner of the building, Peter and I entered the Ground Floor from the north side – basically through a door space in the outer wall of what will be the new Fitness Suite (35).
The whole north side of the Ground Floor, the area nearest to the Sports Hall, is the domain of the PE Dept. As I understand it, as well as being used by the girls, the Fitness Suite will be open to the public.
From here (a route you can follow yourself in the video at the end of this post), we went west down the side corridor and turned left into the Main Hall area, right in the very centre of the building. Entering the Hall at this point at the moment, you can see straight through to the open-plan Dining Area beyond it and then the windowed wall which will look out onto the Pupil Plaza between the two buildings.
The Dining Area will be the main recreation space for NHSG girls.
In the outside area today, a mechanical digger was at work in the area between the two buildings soon to become the Pupil Plaza.
As the floor plan for the First Floor clearly shows, the Hall Auditorium roof space expands right up into the centre at first floor level.
We made our way up to the First Floor today via the back stairs (in the building’s north-west corner). Toilets are also situated here. At the moment, this approach provides an impressive view of the Hall.
The teaching rooms on this floor of the building are allocated to Mathematics and Humanities. In the north-east corner there is a Conference Room and the Staff Area occupies the south-east one.
The Second Floor of the new build is largely devoted to Science.
There is a small Spiritual Room on the south side of this floor, but, other than that, this is all Laboratory and Science Prep Room land. On this level we met Jonathon and a colleague, who work for NEIT, in the process of installing network cabling throughout the building.
We bumped into them on the corridor leading onto the open-plan Science Demonstration Area, an important new feature of NHSG.
The Lab furniture isn’t due to be delivered until June 13th so, for the moment, all the rooms designated as laboratories look pretty much the same. They are either self-contained or adjoin the Roof Terrace.
The Roof Terrace will undoubtedly be a huge asset to the new school. It is to include a Roof Garden along its western edge (overlooking St Mary’s Court), seating and possibly a greenhouse too.
We finally made our way down to ground level again via the back staircase which, like the front one, contains toilets on every level.
The fact that April 20th was a lovely sunny day was a real bonus, but I’m sure you’ll agree the new building is really starting to look good.
If you’d turned up to view Buckingham Palace in 1913 only to be confronted with this prospect, I’m guessing you’d have been very disappointed. It won’t have been what you were expecting to see, nor the photo you wanted to take, yet there is a form of structural beauty there. The familiar made strange. This is how the poet Novalis defined Romanticism. But you’d still be glad it was temporary. The same was true of the old Church High building on April 20th.
‘Photographs turn the present into past, make contingency of destiny. Whatever their degree of “realism”, all photographs embody a “romantic” relation to reality…. The camera’s uncanny mechanical replication performs a kind of magic, both creating and de-creating what is photographed‘ wrote Susan Sontag in an introduction to Peter Hujar’s coffee table book ‘Portraits in Life and Death’ (1976). I’m sure you’ve already worked that out about this blog. In my photos of the old building, you see what I see. And for me it is always beautiful.
Rather than being disappointed when I turned the corner to be faced by a huge expanse of scaffolding, I actually was pleased. It gave me the opportunity to capture the familiar redbrick façade in an unfamiliar light. And the scaffolding was a work of art in itself.
What caught the eye most, however, were the moving dots of orange, lurid in the bright sunlight. Just workmen in orange boiler suits but it didn’t take me long to see a pattern emerging as they positioned themselves to pass up the metal tubing stage by stage. As a little girl, I loved kaleidoscopes; the way the little dots of colour fanned out, fragmented and regrouped in various shapes and forms. The moving men in orange reminded me of this. Also of Thomas Hardy’s descriptions of small-scale usually-unobserved insect life.
I bet you’ve never seen old Church High looking quite like this before. My main aim on Wednesday, April 20th had been to see how things were progressing with the new build. The timing was lucky once again because Peter was in his cabin and able to take me there. I’ll show you inside in my next post, but the view from the roof top terrace made clear the full scale of the scaffolding in place around the building. And those little men in orange were back again too.
From this position, it was also interesting to see how the second floor west side-wall of the new extension had been designed. Unlike its east wall, this one is freestanding because of adjoining the two-storey 1920s extension. The very first extension, you may recall. From here, I also noted the neat finish of the re-tiled Main Hall roof. Before, you could always see where the dormer windows had been.
As well as making the familiar look unfamiliar, scaffolding also serves an important purpose, of course. Wikipedia defines it as ‘a temporary structure used to support a work crew and materials to aid in the construction, maintenance and repair of buildings.’ It is sometimes also called ‘staging’, echoing the idea of a work of art. Indeed, sockets in the walls around the famous Palaeolithic cave paintings at Lascaux in south-western France suggest that a scaffold system was used for painting the ceiling, over 17,000 years ago. How else could they have been done, of course, but it is still amazing.
Temporary ugliness or ungainliness is clearly an unavoidable part of any creative process. Or to quote Plato’s theory of Forms and ideas: we now see the mere shadow of objects, but will one day see the objects themselves and in their true light. This scaffolding is serving an important purpose at the moment: those old red bricks will soon be repointed and cleaned. The building will ultimately be returned to its original shape, the repaving of the footpath completed and the wonderful warm glow of the brickwork will be evident once again.
Light is the only thing we can see. Rays of light disturbed by the properties of surfaces. The image we perceive is the end product of every ray hitting our retina at that one moment. The rays have come from different directions, travelled different distances and may have reflected off many objects before hitting our eye. Just as the view through my old classroom windows is now altered, in the old Church High building, the way light falls inside is being changed. Because of this, to quote Thomas Hardy, things are ‘the same, but not the same.’
To extend is the act of creating more time, space, or length. The extension the part added to something to enlarge or prolong it. The Newcastle High School building has changed in this way numerous times over the years (in the 1920s, 30s, 50s, 70s, 80s, 90s and either side of the Millennium). Old light sources closed up: new ones being opened. Its interior an ever-changing chiaroscuro of light and dark.
The new glass-fronted circulation extension will clearly allow the entry of a lot of light. Yet, despite this, some rooms will now be darker. Today old Room 9 is completely ‘light-locked’ and the west elevation of the 1930s north end extension has totally disappeared. The building’s footprint has not altered. This extension is all ‘in-fill’.
This is in no way a criticism of the remodelling of the building in this area; it’s a clever use of space and the views from the Headmistress’ Office and the two newly-created classrooms will be spectacular.
The new structure was really ‘coming on’ when I visited the site on Wednesday 13th August. I arrived at a time when Peter was free and because of this I gained an unexpected ‘mini’ tour. Once again Peter said, “Where do you want to go, Madam?” and once again I said, “Old building.” The new extension was just right for the time. I was really pleased with the photos I took that day, but, thanks to Giuseppe, I can now supplement them from different perspectives. And as I’ve said before, Giuseppe gets to places Christine cannot go.
I’ve always loved skylights. Open ones have been used in architecture since Roman times and the glazed variety since the Industrial Revolution. Because of this, my favourite room in the Church High building was the ICT Suite (formerly the Library) where daylight flooded in from four angles. The circular skylights ‘made’ the room.
Once again yesterday someone new to the building said to me how much the building had been ‘lightened’ by the white walls. I always smile politely. It depends what you mean by ‘light’, I guess. I’ve never thought of the Church High building as dark and white walls always seem to make rooms flat and two-dimensional to me. On my tour today, when I realised the ‘port-holes’ in the old ICT Suite ceiling were being blocked up, I couldn’t believe it. There must be a reason for it, but the divided room is now a shadow of its former self.
Thanks to Giuseppe again, I got to see what was happening above us that day. I think a new flat roof will son be laid and the modernised teaching rooms will all have suspended ceilings, but it’s still a shame. The building brief is that there should be no difference at all between a teaching room in the new or old building – in any way. But we can’t escape ‘The same but not the same’ here too it seems to me.
Do you remember the vent for the Hall delivered to the site recently? Although I didn’t visit the main corridor on April 13th, Giuseppe.cam allows me to show you that they are now installed.
The new staircase is being boarded out at the moment. As it’s totally enclosed, the stairwell will always require electric lighting, I think.
As the video slideshow at the end of this post will show, there was a lot of activity on the very top corridor today. The lovely, evocative eaves room has now been boarded off completely, presumably for posterity, and the last of the dormer window units were being fitted.
It was unusual to see what looked like a painting and decorating table in place where two guys were focussed on a piece of metal.
Always curious, I asked what they were doing. I’ve learned a lot that way. They directed me to the open window behind them. Looking out it was instructive to see the lead being fitted in the roof gullies.
This area under the eaves is destined to be the Sixth Form Library. It’s going to be one of the nicest remodelled places in the building. On the floor plan below, this is the area coloured blue. The old eaves space has been left white, as has the new staircase and circulation space. The converted ICT Suite and new classroom are in peach.
I’m hoping that adding some floor plans will make orientation in the slideshow tour a little easier – especially as a lot of this is new space. I basically start at the new north side entrance, briefly photograph around me in the old Dining Hall area and then head for the stairs. It won’t take long before the new glass extension seems like it’s always been there. For now, it certainly shows the ‘Old Girl’ in a new light.
The Church High Sports Hall – or Sports Pavillion as it was intended to be called – was opened on April 18th 2002 by Dame Margaret Barbour, President of the New Century Challenge Appeal. The Challenge was to raise £600,000 for the development of a new ICT Suite, Sports Pavillion and Learning Resources Centre fit for the 21st Century within the school campus. The Appeal was launched on 12th October 2000 and the final stage was only reached in 2003 when the Old Gym was transformed into the mezzanine-level LRC.
Church High’s Sports Co-ordinator at that time was Dorothy Chipchase, former international athlete, GB team manager & coach, national athletics coach and national UK Athletics Education and Training Manager. She successfully drove the Sports and Fitness Challenge which culminated in the School achieving a ‘Sports Mark’.
The heart of the success of the Sports Challenge fundraising was the ‘Buy-a-Brick’ Appeal which was celebrated in the Donors’ Plaque which used to be prominently displayed in the Sports Hall Entrance.
There’s no doubt The Sports Pavillion was successful in substantially upgrading facilities for sports and team games for the entire school. It also allowed a wider range of clubs & individual fitness activities.
However, the hope was that it would also greatly extend the Church High campus by providing a new venue for larger school drama, music productions and other social events. But more of that later. The plan was to build the Sports Hall, Dorothy’s pride and joy, on part of the existing tennis courts and link the entrance to the Junior School.
For many years, in addition to the rented school field we shared with Central, the tennis courts were integral to the life of Church High.
Right up until Church High merged in 2014, the tennis courts were where the School gathered for Fire Drills, though, thankfully, never for a real fire. To mark the School’s 110th Birthday, they were also memorably the venue for a celebratory blue & green balloon launch.
However, according to Miss Gurney’s 1918 plan of the Newcastle High site, the tennis courts were originally in a very different place.
I am indebted to Giuseppe Ferrara for a series of early maps of the Church High site used during the redevelopment which show the gradual change in land usage on Tankerville as the school expanded. They also offer a fascinating insight into the growing importance of tennis as a sport at both Newcastle High and Church High School.
There are two illuminating references to sport and tennis in the 1935 Church High Jubilee Book. In her reminiscence of Newcastle High School as both a girl and teacher, ‘I Remember’, Miss Dickinson writes “When I came the only game that the School played was tennis, but we soon started hockey, first on the Orphanage ground, then on one of the moor intakes.” From this it is clear the Orphanage grounds were used by the school long before they became the Junior School. Alex Cowan (A.C.), one of the book’s joint editors, also mentions tennis in her own memoir, ‘The Glory and the Freshness of a Dream’. Writing about herself in the third person as a young girl, A.C.: “She enjoyed the games too; hockey on the Orphanage ground, and later on the fun of going away to play matches ….. The summer term brought tennis, not a widely popular game, but she loved the scramble over the play-ground wall up and down a ladder, which for long was the only way of reaching the two courts on the Fleming Hospital ground.” Although this endearing account refers to ‘scrambling over’ the wall into the Fleming Memorial Hospital grounds, the following pictures reproduced in Newcastle High School prospectuses, clearly taken a little later on, indicate that by then, a double-gate had been created in the wall.
Despite being repeatedly referred to as ‘two tennis courts’ in the history, if you look closely each of the two wired-off sections seems to contain two tennis courts in each case. Perhaps there was also one more which would make sense of another tantalising reference in the 1935 Jubilee Book in relation to the purchase of land for a playing field in Reid Park Road: “In the meantime, the five tennis courts ‘over the wall’, upon which the school had for many years looked with longing eyes, were lent to us. They had belonged to the Brandling Tennis Club and when the club moved to the new county ground, the governors rented them for the school. The possession of these courts actually adjoining the playground has resulted in a tremendous improvement in the standard of the tennis in the school as a whole, and they are much envied by other schools.” The Church High Jubilee history also makes reference at this point to the ‘Tennis Shield’ explaining that ‘the wooden shield was given to be played for only by the four high schools [Newcastle High, Central High, Durham High and Sunderland High].’
Sport has always been important at Church High and the use of these tennis courts was clearly invaluable before facilities improved. Prior to this, things were clearly not so easy as the Jubilee history makes clear: ‘Though the school’s success in games was outstanding they were carried on under some difficulties. For hockey there was the Grove field and St George’s; netball had the asphalt court in the playground, later replaced by red ash; this also provided space for two tennis courts in summer, but these were of little use for the whole school and courts always had to be hired, one year at the Medical College ground, another year in Gosforth, but always at some distance from the school.’
The creation of the Sports Hall meant fewer tennis courts at Church High than in the past, but it brought other benefits. As Lesley Smith had hoped, it became a key social venue. The Sports Awards Evening was held there every year and, as well as hosting the external examinations, it was occasionally used for Leavers events too.
In 2011, the tennis courts were resurfaced with astro turf and were opened by Newcastle footballers. The event was covered by Sky TV.
The astro turf made an ideal surface for House ‘Silly’ Sports Day.
But surely most memorable of all, the Sports Hall provided the perfect venue for the School’s 129th Birthday Party, the last birthday of the building to be celebrated as Church High. The whole school attended from young to old and we celebrated with pizzas, fizzy pop, 4 House birthday cakes and a really fantastic ceilidh band. On the first staff training day of NHSG, a representative of GDST told the new joint staff that “GDST is not in the business of taking on failing schools.” If anyone was ever in any doubt about this, I’m sure this post and the vibrant images below show just how true this was.