‘Time To Say Goodbye’: Ode to Green Ivy and Sweeter Things, 18th May 2016

Well, we all knew it was going to happen someday.  When the merger was first announced, the standing joke amongst the Church High staff was “How long will the ivy cross last after July 4th 2014?”  The answer was actually an awful lot longer than anyone had expected.  By my calculations, it lasted for 22 months and 2 weeks in the end.  Because of this, I didn’t realise what was happening at first when I turned the corner into Tankerville and saw a ‘Cherry Picker’ in action.  Then the penny dropped.  The green ivy cross had now gone.

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A man on an hydraulic crane continues his ‘ivy-killing’ brief.

As I mentioned in a very early post in April 2015 when Tolent were carrying out enabling work on the old building, early descriptions of Newcastle High School refer to its “red brick and deep red brick mouldings” being lined with creepers presenting “a pleasing and picturesque appearance.”  So creeping ivy has clearly been a characteristic feature of the Tankerville Terrace building for many years.  However, it was only at the time of Church High’s 125th Birthday in 2010 that Site Manager, Gentian Qeku, for whom the beautiful front gardens were a source of great pride, had the idea of training the ivy into the shape of a large green cross to represent the school badge.

Newcastle upon Tyne Church High School
Gentian Qeku’s lovingly-tended rose-garden and the ivy cross.

Newcastle upon Tyne Church High School

As the front cover of this 1917 Newcastle High School magazine shows, the cross in the school badge/logo pre-dates Church High.

Newcastle High School for Girls
The original Newcastle High School for girls branding (1917 School Magazine).

Although the detail was modified in subsequent re-brandings, the actual badge itself was not changed when Newcastle High School became The Newcastle upon Tyne Church High School in 1925.  This of course explains why many a person has tried and failed to locate the ‘C’ in the inter-locking initials on school jumpers over the years.

Newcastle High School for Girls
Original Newcastle High School for girls badge and motto.
The final modification of the Church High logo.
The final modification of the Church High logo.

In April 2015, the base of the ivy cross was traunched, presumably in an attempt to make its removal easier when the time for that came.

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Tolent cut a traunch at the base of the cross in April 2015.

Giuseppe’s Clerk of Works photographs after Wates took possession of the site chart the die-back process in fascinating detail.  The very earliest image taken in October 2015 reminds us, if anyone had forgotten, that there used to be a white flag-pole in front of the main building.  For me, the sight of Mr Hyde being tied to it by marauding indian squaws one Sixth Form Leavers Day is very hard to forget.

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The flag-pole is still intact in front of the main building and Gentian’s roses are still in late bloom on October 2nd 2015.
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There are signs of green growth in the ivy by November 2015.
newcastle high school for girls
March 2016, Mother Nature works her magic: the base is green again, but only the concrete flag-pole stump remains.

I know I am not alone in finding ivy a most beautiful plant.  As an evergreen, for the Victorians it symbolised life and eternity (basically immortality) as well as all binding love attachments because of its essential nature.  Taking its name from the Celtic word for cord, ivy featured heavily in Victorian Art.  Modern day composer, Isobel Waller-Bridge created a beautiful haunting piece of music called ‘Ivy’ (do listen to it on YouTube) and James Henry Leigh Hunt (best known as just Leigh Hunt) published a poem called ‘On Receiving a Crown of Ivy from John Keats.’  In his ‘London Journal’ of 1834 he also wrote a fascinating article ‘Ivy Does Not Make Houses Damp’: ‘Inspecting the repairs of a public building from the western gable (by the way, the part in our climate most exposed to rain and storm) of which a complete covering of ivy, of several years’ growth, had been unnecessarily just cut and torn down; when I observed that this was a most unwise and uncalled-for proceeding … the gentlemen present expressed surprise, saying that it must occasion internal damp; all with the exception of one, – who agreeing in opinion with me, said that the driest part of his house was that which was many years covered with ivy ….’  Well said, Sir!

Evocative images of the ivy growing over the west gable of the old Church High Main Building, November 2015.
Evocative images of the ivy growing across the west gable of the old Church High Main Building, November 2015 (G.cam).

newcastle high school for girlsLeigh Hunt may well be right about ivy protecting walls from damp.  However, it has to be said it can cause other problems on brickwork.  Giuseppe’s close up shots of the lead work up on the haunch and the UPVC window sills on the west façade clearly show that, owing to ivy’s clever method of climbing (described in scientific detail on the BBC Earth News web page), it’s a tricky beggar to combat.  This is perhaps the reason why GDST decided the ivy had to go.

newcastle high school for girls
The ivy’s attachment system also works if the plant is dead.
newcastle high school for girls
Mr Meltzer explains the root hairs fit into cavities within the climbing surface, where they dry out and scrunch into a spiral-shape locking the root into place.  Because of this, it makes no difference if you wait for a while before pulling it away.

Ivy damage NovemberFriday 26th August was ‘Handover Day’ when the building transferred back from Wates to NSHG.  Whilst this was a happy day, I was genuinely shocked to notice that the bronze plaque displaying the date of the Science Block, which I photographed on March 12th, was no longer on the wall where it was mounted after the building work in 1985.  As a commemorative monument, like the stone at the front of the building, this should have remained in situ.  Unlike the ivy cross, I see no justification for its removal other than its shape.  It’s hard to avoid the thought there may be downsides to blogging.

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The Science Block Commemorative Plaque.

Anyway, as you may remember from my Room 5 window in July 2014 and can see from Giuseppe’s November 2015 exterior shot below, Cherry-picker Man had quite a job on his hands with the ivy.

The ivy cross viewed from inside Room 5 in July 2014 and from outside in November 2015.
The ivy cross viewed from inside Room 5 in July 2014 and from outside from a hydraulic crane in November 2015.

newcastle high school for girlsBy the time I got to site that day, most of the heavy work had already been done and a mound of debris was piled up by the fence.

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The cherry-picker now at rest and ivy debris.

By the time I left, the man was edging across the west façade trying to remove the aerial roots, first only with his hands then with a saw.

Those little aerial roots are almost impossible to remove completely.
The aerial roots are almost impossible to remove completely.

Once up close, the ‘ivy-killer’ proved to be a very nice man – all the workers on site are – and with a twinkle in his eye made a promise.

The gentleman sees the funny side of his 'ivy-killer' tag.
The guy’s only doing what he’s been told to do.  He assures me that he likes ivy a lot too.

It’s been ‘Time to say Goodbye’ (which has to be one of my favourite songs by Andrea Bocelli) to an awful lot of things for me of late and this last week has unfortunately been no exception.  I had intended to write a post midweek but on GCSE results day I sadly had to say goodbye for the very last time to my beloved, old-lady cat, Saskia.  Things like this put green ivy into perspective.  Nineteen years is a long time to share a house with anyone and Sassy was like me in many ways.  She loved to look out of the window at nature too.  I will most miss her companionship in the ‘wee small hours’ though.  She used to settle down beside me in the lamplight as I did school-work, read or wrote.  Who’s going to hint it’s past my bedtime now?

Saskia loved to keep me company when I work at night.
Sassy often liked to keep me company when I write at night.
'- yet, do not grieve;/ She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss,/ For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair!' (John Keats).
‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty’:’ -yet, do not grieve;/She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss,/For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair!’ (From ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn,’ John Keats).

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