Going back to 5.00pm on Thursday 26th May, you may remember I sat on a low wall outside the Old Building while an ‘under-cover’ agent went in with my camera to photograph the Hall beams for me. Well, I was actually left sitting there for quite a long time. Longer than I’d expected to be. And, however much I love the red-brick Victorian architecture, the basement of the 1935 north extension offers little to occupy one’s mind for long. Even a mind like mine.
In his commentary written for the Old Ordnance Survey Map of Jesmond for 1913 , Alan Godfrey provides the following description of the school building and, in particular, its architectural style: ‘Jesmond’s first purpose-built school, the High School for Girls, was opened in 1890 in Tankerville Terrace, a development of a school set up in Jesmond Road by the Church Schools Co. in 1885. It was designed by the Newcastle architects Oliver & Leeson, the ornate cupola and Flemish gables giving it some of the bravado of the Moor Edge institutions.’ The ‘ornate cupola’ refers to the original bell-tower, of course, but, until I read this description, I had never really thought about the distinctive design of the gables. To me, it was just what ‘Church High’ looked like.
As the old saying goes, however, ‘Absence makes the heart grow fonder’. Thus, during the time we were forced out of the building, I found myself noticing many things about it I would not have given the time of day to had I still been working inside of it every day. I cannot imagine myself googling ‘Flemish gables’ under any other circumstances. Nor being intrigued there were Dutch variants too.
When I got home that night and checked the photos Paul had taken, the ‘extra’ shots he said he’d taken because I couldn’t have got them and because I’d said I liked architecture turned out to have been taken high up on the roof. No wonder I had spent so long sitting on that wall. As I’d already seen, thanks to some of Giuseppe’s photographs, it’s a different world up there and the views are simply amazing.
The roof scaffolding was largely around the north gable end at this point, so Paul’s photos are all from this area. My favourite shows the fabulous double roofline of the original High School building looking south towards the United Reformed Church. It includes the fascinating inverted triangular section of roof at the centre of the building which I had only previously seen via Google Earth online. I had always thought this to be the site of the bell-tower but have since learned it was an integral part of the Victorian ventilation system.
Paul took another interesting shot further to the right of this one which shows the full length of the re-tiled west elevation looking south towards the Science Block. Old pictures of this section of roofline clearly showed sections of different coloured tiles where the original dormer windows were once situated. That’s not at all apparent now as the tiles have gone back on in different places.
A shot taken much further to the left of the north gable end, possibly right at the very end, shows the Science Block from another angle. What I like about this picture is you can clearly see how the building expanded at the back – using the original playground area to do so. The consequence of this was a gradual reduction in outdoor space for the girls, of course – something the building’s first extenders had sought hard to avoid. We are now left with only a small inner courtyard. The picture also shows recent building work to the west of the Tankerville site. The Nuffield Unit and old tennis courts are now in the process of being transformed into a care home and nursery.
While he was up there, Paul clearly did virtually a 360 degree turn. The next two shots on my camera were of the roofline to the north-west of the north gable looking towards the copper-panelled new build. At that point in time, the 1925 Science Laboratory extension – initially built on stilts to retain playground space and most recently used as two Geography classrooms – was in the process of being re-tiled. Another shot shows the flat roof of the new infill extension.
If I asked you how many chimney stacks were up there on the roof of the Main Building, would you know? It certainly wasn’t something I’d ever considered until Giuseppe photographed and documented them all as part of the roof repair process. Well, there are actually 12 of them up there! That day, Paul photographed two for me from the north gable. The first still has a Victorian terracotta pot in situ.
For me, it was the pot-less chimney stack Paul photographed which proved to be the most fascinating. From the ground, the architectural details on some of the stacks is not obvious at all. However, up close, the stacks on the original Newcastle High School building, such as this west-facing chimney on the end of the north gable, all feature stonework carved with intricate scrolling at their bases.
I’ve no doubt I shall refer to this book again the future, but the detail below from Plate 118 in Pierre Chabat’s book ‘Victorian Brick and Terra-cotta Architecture’ (1989) featuring the gables of 16th & 17th Century buildings in Amsterdam and Haarlem shows just how much Oliver & Leeson were influenced by Flemish architectural style.
As I will probably never get up there myself, I’m really grateful to Paul for the unique view of this beautiful old building he provided me with while I sat there waiting down below on my little wall. The abiding image I was left with, however, once everything had been assessed and absorbed, was that there have clearly been seahorses sitting high up on the roof of Newcastle High School since 1888.