It is some time since I last posted something – apologies. I think it’s partly owing to where in the story I’m up to. Even though I’ve been back on Tankerville for half a term now, I’ve probably only been into the old Hall a handful of times. It’s the room I try to avoid. A huge irony considering it had been the space I loved most. But that paint. The only thing that helps is that, thanks to Giuseppe, I’m aware it wasn’t just a case of slapping on a coat of Dulux Brilliant White. As this image shows, a lot of care was taken to get the colour just right.
Clearly a lot of dabbling went on first. The large darker area (bottom right) is one coat of water satinwood with the slightly lighter area at its top left painted with two coats of water satinwood. From the left, on the bottom line the first two sample panels are oil primer, the third water undercoat and the fourth is water satinwood. The shade gradations work as follows. First sample column: middle row, oil primer + one coat oil satinwood and top row, oil primer + two coats oil satinwood. Second sample column: middle row, oil primer + one coat water satinwood and top row, oil primer + two coats water satinwood. Third sample column: middle row, water undercoat + one coat water satinwood and top row, water undercoat + two coats water satinwood. Fourth sample column: middle row, two coats water satinwood (no primer or undercoat) and top row, three coats water satinwood. Ultimately, this latter spec was chosen for the beams.
As I’ve said before, none of the Wates guys I talk to wanted to be the ones to have to paint the Hall beams white: that job ultimately fell to Purdys. I guess the best that can be said here is that they made a decent job of it. Although I didn’t want to see it being done myself, I’m still glad that Giuseppe was on site to document the process.
Giuseppe has said to me that the images he took of the Hall ceiling are probably his favourite photos of the whole site renovation. It is certainly very interesting to see the various stages of the work. I think I could probably have just about stomached one coat of water satinwood. It would have produced a mellow barley white effect. But ’twas not to be. So, from here, the pictures must do the talking.
It was a big job, of course. I believe it took three days in total. By Day 2, the painters were working on the centre section of the Hall.
The final day, it turns out, was May 26th – the very day Paul Carmichael went ‘undercover’ for me taking the shots I shared in the last post. Giuseppe’s photos show the same scenes in portrait format.
His most striking image of the roof, however, was a wide-angle shot.
I probably do agree with Giuseppe that you now see the detail of the Hall beams more clearly and at least it’s a creamier white than I’d at first feared. But you’d hardly expect a member of The Victorian Society – as I am – to like it. The décor reminds me of the Dulux Dog.
Now I don’t go into the old Hall much if I can help it. I just imagine everything in there is still very much as it was. It helps. For nothing stays the same forever: ‘And although my eyes were open/They might just as well’ve been closed./And so it was that later/As the miller told his tale/That her face at first just ghostly/Turned a whiter shade of pale.’
I’ve always believed we make our own luck in life. In class, I tell the girls a story about Lady Luck someone once told me. Whether it’s true, I don’t know, but, as an analogy, it does the job. Apparently, Dame Fortune used to be pictured with a bald head at the back and only a quipped forelock at the front. If you don’t grab her when she comes towards you, you’ve lost your chance. Seneca said “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity” and the scientist Louis Pasteur put it like this: “Chance favours the prepared mind”.
So what to do when ‘banned’ from a building? Well, it very much depends on you, I’d say. The Saturday I learned it, I was stunned. All day Sunday, I fumed: “It was beyond the pale!” On Monday, when we were officially ‘told’, there was a clue to what had happened. By Tuesday, I was sure. On Wednesday, my usual Tankerville camera day, I mulled over things and mused. And by Thursday the 26th? Figuring Fortune favoured the brave, I was back up that road again. The blog must go on – even if my shots would end up being like the first ones I’ve posted here. However, the most magical thing about creativity, is that it frequently emerges in the face of constraints.
The news had filtered through by then, of course. The guys were amused and bemused in equal measure. I must have looked pitiful with my nose pressed up against the wire mesh fence, because it wasn’t long before another knight in shining armour came to my aid. Christine didn’t have to break her promise not to go into the building. An ‘undercover agent’ with camera would go in instead.
They told me the Hall ceiling had finally been painted white – a much-discussed topic since April, when I had finally gleaned the full story . No-one on site wanted it to happen and everyone I talked to was glad it wouldn’t be them doing it. Like most of the building work, the job would be sub-contracted. So why was it happening? The answer surfaced while ‘joshing’ with the architect just after Easter. She suddenly stopped: “You do know it wasn’t us, don’t you?” Then, “But it was our fault.” Ah, yes. EWA’s CGI make-over.
From Wates I learned the Hall beams had been a bit of a ‘hot potato’ for many months. It was never the intention to paint the old wood, however, its darkness was always perceived as an issue. The first plan was to board off the beams and lower the ceiling. If that had happened, the beams would still be in their original state (good), but no-one would be able to see them (bad). The next idea was to fix plasterboard to the rafters between the beams and paint that white. In the end, I think that was felt to be too time-consuming – and time really was of the essence by then. Thus light was to be created by white. It was the following day, sitting at my computer, that I finally plucked up the courage to look at the photos on my camera. I guess the end result wasn’t quite as bad as I’d feared and Hilary promises me that the paint will come off. Nonetheless, Procol Harum’s lyrics weren’t far from the truth: ‘And so it was that later/As the miller told his tale/That her face, at first just ghostly,/Turned a whiter shade of pale.‘
When we first talked, Giuseppe was also dead set against painting the beams. The next time we met, however, – after the event – I was surprised to hear he had changed his mind. He thought the white actually enhanced the detail. At that point, I couldn’t see for myself, of course. But from the evidence of his photos, which I’ll share with you in my next post, at least I knew they had tried to ‘get it right’.
When I crossed over to Wates’ Site Office in Westward House to return my PPE kit after my tour with Conal on Wednesday 19th May, I bumped into Amy, Wates’ Receptionist. It’s always good to see Amy – she’s a lovely lady – but that day she was particularly excited. “Wait a minute,” she said. “I’ve got a present for you!” She then bolted upstairs to the top floor of Westward, where I now know Guiseppe has an office. When she returned, she had a big smile on her face and was treasuring two shuttlecocks in her hands. It was one of the most unexpected ‘gifts’ I’d ever received but I was happy to accept them, realising that they must have come from somewhere on site. It took a while for the ‘story’ behind them to finally surface.
These items – which came to be known as archeo-toys between Guiseppe and myself – hold a special place in my heart. Survivors from a past time, these quirky little objects – of no intrinsic value in themselves – serve as a reminder to us all that nothing remains ‘lost’ forever. They brought to mind a book called ‘The Buried Things of Life’ by Simon Goldhill, where he explores historical narrative, which is, after all, all this blog really is. He muses that ‘When it comes to telling the story of the past, it is in the nature of things that things are buried, disburied and re-buried.’ As he observes, ‘Things require people to make them talk.’ Which is where I come in, I guess. I share his fascination with the way simple objects can make ‘the invisible visible.’ The last time I saw a shuttlecock like this in School was ‘in the old days’, before the Sports Hall, when girls used to lug heavy weighted badminton net posts upstairs into the Hall in order to make a second venue for PE lessons. Which is exactly where they were found, of course.
The shuttlecocks, of course, came from Giuseppe. His Clerk of Works photographs for GDST and Wates eventually provided that missing piece of the jigsaw. At the time, he had literally been up in a high place. At the top of a scaffold tower checking out the Hall roof. I smiled when my eyes lighted on the download. A game had begun.
On page 21 of ‘A History of the Church Schools Company 1883-1958’, a key element of the spiritual ethos which drove Canon Emery and his founding colleagues is made clear : ‘To be educated in a beautiful building … has an educational value not to be easily assessed or lightly ignored.’ The beauty of the Arts & Crafts style natural wood ceiling in the Hall at Newcastle High must have surely proved inspirational to many a girl since it was designed by Oliver & Leeson in 1888. I know I have lost count of the times visitors to School have taken a deep intake of breath on entering the Hall and looking up.
This history also tells us the Education Committee took the business of making new buildings for those schools who had flourished and outgrown their original homes very seriously indeed. This was the situation which befell Newcastle High School in the late 1880s and the beautiful purpose-built Oliver & Leeson designed Tankerville Terrace school was the end result. The building’s high quality was clearly acknowledged at the time as the history records (page 34): ‘The new building at Newcastle was no doubt a success, for the British Association applied to the Council for permission to meet in it in 1889.’
It is likely the Tankerville building’s Arts & Crafts influence is attributable to R J Leeson. Norwich-born Leeson was articled to an architect in London (where the movement prevailed) before moving north to go into partnership with Thomas Oliver in Newcastle in 1879. I’ve always loved all the natural wood in the Church High Hall (see research document on the Heritage website) but the darkness of the stain on the beams has always made the ceiling hard to photograph. However, from Giuseppe’s vantage point looking down on them from the scaffold tower, the dark beams look spectacular.
The upper-side of the beams have boxed-channels cut into them which cannot be seen from down below. Ideal for catching and trapping high-flying shuttle-cocks undoubtedly. Originally, the Hall was illuminated by natural light from four dormer windows and by gas lights suspended from the ceiling. No doubt the channels once housed gas piping in the way they did electrical wiring until 2014.
The hammerbeam roof, a decorative design typical of English Gothic Architecture revived by the Arts and Crafts Movement, is perhaps “the most spectacular endeavour of the English Medieval carpenter.”
As can be seen from Giuseppe’s photographs below, the Newcastle High Hall roof was made up of single pairs of hammer-beam trusses.
Viewing the beams in the other direction, from west to east, you not only get the full effect of the rafters but also the aisle plates too.
Giuseppe’s photograph of the east rafters at the very centre of the Hall drew my attention to something I had never noticed before.
At first, I assumed it was the site of one of the old dormer windows, but, if you look closely at the 1935 image, these are positioned in the far corners of the roof. I now know it is part of the original Victorian ventilation system, something I’ll explore more fully in a future post.
However, the most unexpected and fascinating discovery came to light in a photograph Giuseppe took of the apex of the south wall.
Hidden high up in the triangular area of wall between the roof’s crown and aisle plates, traces of old paint still remain. Giuseppe’s close-up shots make it clear that the Hall was once painted blue.
Church High has always been a bright, vibrant and colourful place, so I don’t know why I was surprised to see this really. It is only in very recent years that the walls of the Hall have been painted white.
However, one of my favourite photos in my personal archive (a group shot of my first Lower V [Year 10] form in front of the south end Honours Boards) shows the Hall walls were light peach in 1988.
Since the Hall, with its highly polished parquet floor, was likely to have also been this colour when I joined Church High in 1985, it’s hardly surprising I still think of the place suffused with a warm glow. The real ‘gift’ here, of course, was Giuseppe’s photographs of the beams in their original state. The fact he wanted me to have them for posterity is the reason we got talking in the first place. I remain forever grateful he thought of seeking permission from Paul Hunter, the Contract Administrator, so that I could share them online too. It’s a crying shame all that beautiful wood would very soon be white.