‘The Tankerville Treasure’: A Strange Envelope and the Propensity of Holes, May/June 2016

‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’ is a merry song but, in reality, the dark days between Christmas and New Year always feel odd to me.  Hanging in a kind of limbo.  The time between me being banned from the site and gaining access to Giuseppe’s photos felt much the same.  Wednesdays no longer had the same sense of purpose.  However, on Wednesday 1st June the game changed.  At Briefing in the NHSG Staffroom that morning, I found an unexpected envelope in my pigeon hole bearing an intriguing message: ‘Christine: from Peter/Amy (who had no idea what these are!)’  The handwriting looked to me like Hilary’s.  I slipped the contents into my left hand: seven rusty coins!

‘The Tankerville Treasure’: seven very tarnished silver coins.

It was clear from the names on the envelope they must have come from the site, but how and why they’d been sent on to me was a mystery.  I mentioned them to John Crosby that afternoon.  He knew nothing about it, but confirmed the ‘treasure’ wasn’t that old.  With a wry smile on his face, he hinted it was possible the purse might be about to come my way too.  After that morning’s site meeting with Wates, he had seen Amy hand over something to Hilary.  And sure enough, at Briefing the next morning, Hilary entered gingerly cradling something indeterminable and brown-looking in one hand.

Thanks to Amy, the coins were reunited with their purse.

I remained amused and puzzled for some while, but eventually the story behind the ‘Tankerville Treasure’ finally came to light.  For those ‘Old Girls’ old enough to remember the school play ‘Daisy Pulls It Off’, it didn’t involve any night-prowling around the building, breaking secret codes or even a mysterious stranger whistling ‘All through the Night.’  The trail led me back to Giuseppe, of course.

Grangewood Girls: the Church High stage provided the perfect set for the 1998 school production of ‘Daisy Pulls It Off.’

I first talked to Peter, who didn’t know what I was talking about.  Next I emailed Amy Lawson at the Wates Office in Westward House.  It was exactly where the coins had been found I was keen to discover, but, thanks to Amy forwarding my email on to Giuseppe, the whole story eventually became clear.  The actual work which uncovered them was done on May 23rd & 24th, but it was June 1st before I heard all the details concerning the ‘treasure’ from Giuseppe:

I must admit to being totally unaware of the existence of this ‘free-standing’ brick wall at the back of the Main Building, but here are Buildroute starting to dismantle it on May 23rd.

‘These were found when a freestanding section of brick wall was removed last week.  I believe this wall was built at some stage in the recent past to probably hold some sports signage on the 5 metal posts that it supported.

5 metal posts are now revealed against the original brick wall. I don’t recall any sports signage ever having been erected here in my time at Church High, just metal netting along the top.

‘The coins and purse were found by the bricklayers from Buildroute last week.  I saw them on the floor where the bricklayers had left them in a dish with coca cola, so they could descale.  I asked if I could take 2 for the school and then they offered all of them for the Client to keep.

The coins ready to be descaled in coca cola (I don’t know about you, but I am counting 8 here!). Giuseppe asks for 2 to go to the Client.

‘They think that someone must have been chased after stealing the purse and thrown the purse into the wall gap, either in the hope to retrieve it later or in the hope to hide the evidence.  It is quite a good story and a possible interpretation, I suppose.  I am glad that you have them now.’ 

The wall gap where the purse and coins were found. Also quite a few other items too! The number of tennis balls should be no surprise.
Beyond this wall (the old gate is still visible at the end) were the 5 Fleming Hospital grounds tennis courts we used to use.

I haven’t seen many of them – and there must have been hundreds – but Giuseppe’s Clerk of Works work schedules have always been fascinating to look at.  This detail from his schedule for May 14th shows the exact nature of the work going on in this area of the site.  The removal of: the existing netting and post supports on the south and west elevation perimeter walls; the free-standing brick wall and the 5 metal uprights; and the perished wooden gate on side-posts.

Section of the CofW schedule for 14.5.16. The purple circle marks the spot where the purse was found.

It’s strange the existence of the wooden gate in the perimeter wall at the back of the building seems to have passed me by too.  ‘Familiarity breeds contempt’, as the old saying goes.  As I mentioned in a previous post, this was the gateway created in the stone wall to allow access to the five tennis courts School used within the Fleming Hospital grounds thus avoiding girls having to clamber over the wall.

Close-up detail of the Fleming tennis courts gate c1950s.

So, over the years, holes in walls have clearly proved useful at Newcastle High/Church High.  No doubt to access the hockey pitch girls used to use in the Orphanage Grounds too.  Holes have the propensity of allowing things to travel through them – or into them in the case of our purse and coins.  I prefer to think the brown suede leather purse once belonged to a Church High girl, perhaps a young girl throwing it carelessly up into the air while playing outside.  If that sounds unlikely to you, believe you me, I’ve seen shoes, etc. getting wedged in all sorts of strange places this way over the years.  Since the ‘Tankerville Treasure’ hoard of four silver two shilling coins, one silver shilling and two 10p pieces contained both ‘old’ and ‘new’ money, the purse must have found its way into that hole in the wall between 1968 and the early 1970s around Decimalisation Day.

The ‘Hoard’: 4 two shilling coins, 1 shilling & 2 ten p pieces.

In today’s money, the sum of the purse contents is just a measly 65p but the historic inflation calculator suggests this translates as a loss of £9.66 at the turn of the 1970s.  So some girl must have felt that!  But as ‘one man’s loss is another man’s gain’, I guess we have been the recipients of the good fortune on this occasion.  It makes a nice little story, I think.  For however much I love the building, it has always been the people who have made this school.  As it should be.

The wire-fenced periphery wall & girls in green, early 1990s.


‘In the Beginning was ……’: Christmas Day Post

newcastle church high school-winter

Merry Christmas, everyone!  I hope this Christmas Day is both restful and joyous for you and your families.  I have just returned from Midnight Holy Communion at my church, St John’s, Hebburn, and the focus on the importance of beginnings and words and truth prompted me to compose this little post the moment I got home.  The Christmas reading, which shares the words of St John the Evangelist, has always been one of my favourite Bible passages.  The opening words of this Gospel never fail to resonate and in the King James Bible Version they read even more beautifully, I think:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.  The same was in the beginning with God.  All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.  In him was life; and the life was the light of men.  And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.  There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.  The same came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all men through him might believe.  He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light.  That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world.  10 He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not.  11 He came unto his own, and his own received him not.  12 But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name: 

We know of the dedication stone, still there to the left of the main entrance of Newcastle High School for Girls, but how many people really know about the beginnings of our school or who Archdeacon Emery actually was?  Because he was important.  To Newcastle High School, to The Church Schools Company and to the Church of England as a whole.  The opening line of his Wikipedia entry sums him up as follows: ‘The Ven William Emery,  MA (1825-1910) was an Anglican priest in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, who has been labelled the ‘father’ of Church Congress’.    Present at the first meeting of the Church Congress in 1861, he was appointed permanent Secretary in 1869 and by 1907 had been present at every one of the first 47 Congresses.  A more detailed summary of Canon Emery’s life can be found via Wikisource (Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 Supplement). It ends this way: ‘He was also instrumental in founding the Church Schools Company for the promotion of the religious secondary education of the middle classes (of which he was chairman 1883-1903)’. 

The Jubilee history records: ‘It was not until 1883 that the … Company was formed.  In that year a suggestion from the Central Committee of Diocesan Conferences led to a meeting on the 17th of April, 1883, under the chairmanship of Archdeacon Emery of Ely.’  It also tells us Canon Emery came to Newcastle on September 26th, 1900, for ‘the most notable prizegiving during this period, and indeed one of the most interesting in the history of the school.’   This occasion was special in a number of ways: ‘the Archbishop of Canterbury [Frederick Temple], who was in Newcastle for a Church Congress, addressed the school.  Mrs Temple gave away the prizes, the Chairman was Archdeacon Emery of Ely, the Chairman of the Company, who had laid the foundation stone of the school and girls from Durham, Sunderland and York High Schools were also present to represent the Company’s schools in the neighbourhood. ‘   

Canon William Emery, a founder of The Church Schools Company.
Archdeacon William Emery, a founder of The Church Schools Company.

The Church Schools Company was created specifically with the aim of founding High Schools for Girls. Its Manifesto, drawn up in 1883, clearly states the Company’s main objective, a purpose which distinguished them from the Girls Public Day School Trust, set up ten years earlier in 1872 (both companies were London based): ‘To secure the …. co-operation of all …. who acknowledge the duty of giving definite religious instruction as an essential part of Education.’  In her ‘History of The Church Schools Company 1883 – 1958’ , Enid Moberly Bell offered these thoughts about the beginnings of the Company and its founders: ‘Canon Emery of Ely, Canon Francis Holland of Canterbury, Canon Gregory of St Paul’s, Canon Cromwell, Canon Daniel and Lord Clinton remain little more than names to us.  The records of the Company reveal to some extent the manner of men they were, but they were not, in a worldly sense, great men.  They left no mark in the annals of the Church or of the nation but they were content to work in obscurity, not sparing themselves in the service of their generation and of those who followed.  Their epitaph is written in the Book of Ecclesiasticus: “And some there be that have no memorial who have perished as though they had never been …. and their children after them; but these were merciful men, and their righteousness is not forgotten.”

But unlike Ms Moberly, we know William Emery did actually leave a permanent ‘mark’ on the world, the day he travelled north to Newcastle whilst still an Archdeacon to lay the dedication stone in the side door (the Girls’ Door was its original position) of Newcastle High School.  The words on this stone are the beginning of our story.

Newcastle Church High School Newcastle high School
In the beginning, this stone was laid by the south side door.


The Wondrous Glow of the Ordinary: School to Some, Home to Others

newcastle high school heating-cellar-3

“In extraordinary times, the ordinary takes on a glow and wonder all of its own.”  Google tells us this quotation is from a book called ‘Human.4’  I don’t know the book, but I like the idea very much.  It perfectly sums up my motivation in photographing the Church High buildings pre-merger and also what ultimately drove me to start writing this blog.  It’s ironic that if the merger hadn’t happened, my relationship with the building would be very, very different and I would know so much less about it too.  And the same would apply to you.  For how long, I wonder, would all those voices from the past (imprinted on the building and carried in our collective memory of ‘The Old Church High’) have remained silent?  Because as Mike Lancaster wrote elsewhere in ‘Human.4’:  “I think that’s what we all want, in the end.  To know that we left footprints when we passed by, however briefly.  We want to be remembered.  So remember us.  Please.  Remember us.”   If those old concrete stairs could talk, whose voices would we hear?  Why the voices of past Newcastle High caretaking staff, of course.

Victorian School Caretaker's House (www.derelictplaces.co.uk)
Victorian School Caretaker’s House tucked away in a corner of the playground (www.derelictplaces.co.uk).

I was researching Victorian school caretakers (there’s not much to find) when I came across this sad-looking house via Google images.  It gave me the shivers.  What happened to our building was bad at the time, but the derelict places website which documents decaying places, made it clear to me neglect would have been so much worse.  Did you know there was once a caretaker’s cottage on the Church High site?  Although aware they were a standard feature of Victorian schools, neither did I until recently.  Mentions of it in the Jubilee Book clearly hadn’t stuck in my mind: ‘Among the improvements to the buildings was the laying of new drains at a cost of £200 …. and some years later, in the summer of 1914, the building at the north end of the school of the caretaker’s cottage …. necessitated by the increase in the number of girls in the school…. This made it essential that the rooms occupied by the caretaker (the room next to what was then the dining room) should be turned into form rooms.’  The penny finally dropped in the Tyne & Wear Archives search room.  Filed under ‘Miscellaneous Photographs’ in the Church High Archive at The Discovery Museum is item E.NC17/7/24/3: 11 unidentified photographs.  This bothered me.  I requested the items and the photo below was among them.  This could only have been of caretakers, it seemed to me, but where was the photo taken?  I knew of no doorway looking like that.

A 'missing piece' of Newcastle High School history from the Archives
A ‘Missing piece’ of Newcastle High School history in the Tyne & Wear Archives: Mr and Mrs Waterman with Jester, the dog, who clearly had a mate/friend by this point in time.

Not only do I now have a fair idea where the photograph was taken, thanks to one of the lovingly-related memories in the Jubilee Book, I am now also 100% sure who these warm, hospitable-looking people are.  This is Mrs and Mr Waterman who gave loyal service to School for 24 years.  I can be sure of this because of the dogs.  The 1935 history tells us Mr and Mrs Waterman came to work at Newcastle High in 1903 following on from the Lumsdens.  At this time, the caretakers looked after the needs of the school almost single-handedly: ‘the only help they had was a charwoman on a Saturday morning – everything else, cleaning, answering the front door bell, looking after the furnaces, cooking dinner for twelve girls, and much else, they did alone.’   

We know from the remembrance ‘The Glory and the Freshness of a Dream’ in the Jubilee Book that the first caretakers were Mr and Mrs Lumsden: ‘Sometimes Mrs Lumsden, the caretaker’s wife, came in, a bent little old woman, wearing a cap of lace and a ribbon; or Mr Lumsden shuffled through in his shirt sleeves, with heavy feet and uncertain temper.  Mystery clung about their quarters, and the door on the red tiled corridor, opposite the big window, was always shut.’  Amazingly, one of the first photographs Giuseppe took in the building following the initial strip-out shows the remains of what seems to be this original red flooring.

Remains of an old red-tiled floor in the north gable kitchen area.
Traces of an old red-tiled floor in the north gable kitchen area.

The Jubilee Book also tells us ‘the Lumsdens gave place to Mr and Mrs Waterman, with Jester the brown and white terrier, and they in their turn to Mr and Mrs Mattison, with Major, the golden Labrador.’  We learn ‘it was with special regret [school] parted with Mr and Mrs Waterman in 1926.  They were known to everyone and in a miraculous way they knew and remembered every Old Girl as well as the girls in the school, whose invasion of their kitchen they bore always with good grace.’  It seems Mrs Waterman was the very first provider of Church High Cookies after ‘buns from Wilson’s ended during the war.  It was then that Mrs Waterman began to dispense first biscuits, and later, to meet the demand for something more sustaining, bread and jam, at recreation.’  It won’t be a surprise to any Church High folk reading this blog that the Jubilee Book also states that ‘through the whole fifty years, the caretakers and the maids have played no small part in the happiness of the school.’  In my time there, I certainly have very fond memories of Ethel, who looked after the Head and the Staff in Miss Davies’ time so well and two characterful school caretakers, Gentian Qeku and Dave Stout.

Gentian Qeku, then a young man fresh from Kosovo, and Dave Stout pose with Jane Grundy on a Staff Pantomime afternoon.
Gentian Qeku, Caretaker’s Assistant (at that time  a young man fresh from Kosovo), and Caretaker Dave Stout pose with Jane Grundy on Staff Pantomime day.

In Dave Stout’s time at Church High, the caretaker and his family (wife, Linda, and daughter, Susan) occupied 2, Haldane Terrace – the house immediately adjoining the Music Dept. at 1, Haldane Terrace.

2, Haldane Terrace used to be owned by School and used as caretaker's accommodation.
2, Haldane Terrace used to be owned by School.  It was used as caretaker’s accommodation before being converted into flats.

I first learned about the existence of a caretaker’s cottage from the Jubilee Book when the 1933 expansion plans were being described: ‘Extension at the north end was made possible by taking down the caretaker’s cottage (in place of which a flat has been built in the space under the roof).’  It’s easy to forget there was originally a lot more land on the north side of the school building.  This postcard c1910 clearly shows a tree-lined gated area big enough to hold a small cottage, possibly quite similar to the domestic wing of Tankerville House .

The gated enclosure to the north of the Newcastle High School building c 1910 where the caretaker's cottage stood (above), possibly not unlike the domestic buildings to the side of Tankerville House (below).
The gated enclosure to the north of the Newcastle High School building c 1910 where the caretaker’s cottage used to stand (above).  The cottage was possibly not unlike the domestic buildings to the side of Tankerville House (below).

Tankerville House Newcastle Church High SchoolIt wasn’t until September when I was systematically working my way through the Plans and Elevations (E.NC17/6) in the Archive that I discovered the exact position of the cottage.  I came across it quite unexpectedly on an unfinished plan of the proposed laboratory for Church High School (Wood and Oakley architects, May 1927).  It appears to have been positioned more at an angle than I’d expected.  The plan also shows the position of a bicycle shed in 1927 adjoining the stone wall of the orphanage grounds (centre right) and the steps down to the Heating Cellar under the end of the north gable (left).

The unfinished plan shows the caretaker's cottage bottom right.
The unfinished Wood and Oakley Ground Floor plan of May 1927 shows the caretaker’s cottage bottom right (Tyne & Wear Archives).  You may remember this first extension to the original Newcastle High School building was built on posts (marked as squares here) to keep the playground fully intact.

The orphanage gardens wall marked the most northerly boundary of the Newcastle High School site right until the building of the Junior School in the 1970s.  The fire-escape from the Staffroom in the 1933 extension exited beyond this wall onto the way-leave between Tankerville Terrace and what was later to become the school field.  Giuseppe’s photos of the site documenting the demolition of the single-storey kitchen block to make way for the new infill extension, show the wall at the point where the cottage must have run parallel.

The cottage must have run parallel to the far side of the orphanage gardens wall close to where the bin-store is now situated in the 1933 north extension: to the right of the image above and to the left of the image below (taken from the 1927 Laboratory extension looking towards Tankerville Terrace) after the later addition of the single-storey kitchen building .
The cottage must have run parallel to the far side of the orphanage gardens wall close to where the bin-store is now situated in the 1933 north extension: to the right of the image above and to the left of the image below (taken from the 1927 Laboratory extension looking towards Tankerville Terrace) after the later kitchen extension had been demolished .

caretakers-cottage-foundationsThe last people to live in the caretaker’s cottage were Mr and Mrs Mattison.  Because of this, they must have been the first couple to inhabit the new caretaker’s flat created in the eaves roof-space – and consequently, along with Major the golden Labrador, the first people to enjoy the stunning views from the new dormer windows.  In the Archive, there is also a fascinating document, a letter to Miss Gurney from Clive Newcombe of Newcombe & Newcombe Architects dated 21st November 1932, which outlines – and provides estimated costs for – a number of possibilities for further extending the building.  Miss Gurney is credited as the Headmistress who did most to move the School forward and this letter makes this abundantly clear.  In 1932, no less than six different schemes for extension were under consideration.  At the time, Miss Gurney and her Governors opted for Scheme C & D: a two storey extension with a boiler house and the caretaker in the roof at an estimated cost of £4,350 (with the option of adding a third storey at a later date).  PC Newcombe’s plans for the flat in the roof space can be seen below.

newcastle church high school
PC Newcombe’s 1932 plan for the caretaker’s flat in the roof-space shows four dormer windows to light four rooms.  L to R: Living Room, a Scullery and Bathroom sharing one window and two bedrooms (Tyne & Wear Archives: E.NC17/6/1/17).

For the names of the last caretakers to live in the flat in the eaves, I am indebted to Barbara Weightman.  Barbara is a Church High Old Girl (although I didn’t know it at the time) now living in London who I met on two occasions while taking photographs on Tankerville last summer.  Also once again at the September NCHS Reunion in the renovated building, by which time we were virtually old friends.  Barbara told me she’d been up in the roof when it was the caretaker’s flat.  This would have been in 1958 when she was friends with Hazel Taylor, the caretaker’s wife.  I don’t know if they had a dog.

newcastle high school for girls
Who was to know that boxed-in behind Alison Roe’s desk was a golden-hue tiled 1930s living room fire-place and hearth?

It seems such a long time ago now, but it was probably the surprise of seeing that newly uncovered fire-place in the eaves during the renovation work that first fired my curiosity about the previous life of the building.  My first thought was domestic quarters and, as it turned out, I wasn’t actually that far off.  This building has always been warm and welcoming, a fact the Jubilee Book expresses very beautifully, ‘always there was peace and goodwill and milk and biscuits.‘  It seems fitting therefore that an opened-up fireplace was the first reminder of the building’s past, when people did things differently.

An open hearth always reminds me of the wonderful final sentence of Gabriel Oak’s proposal to Bathsheba Everdene in Thomas Hardy’s ‘Far From the Madding Crowd’, a novel I taught many times to girls at Church High: ‘And at home by the fire, whenever you look up, there I shall be – and whenever I look up, there will be you.’  So now whenever I pass by girls working at the south end of the Sixth Form Library at Newcastle High, I can’t resist saying to them, “Just imagine Mr Mattison on that side of the hearth, Mrs Mattison sitting on the other and between them on a rug enjoying the heat of the open fire, Major the dog.”  The wondrous glow of the ordinary: feeling ‘At Home’.

newcastle high school for girls


‘Upstairs, Downstairs’ Then & Now: 80th Post Musings On Stairs, Chutes & Lifts, 1st June 2016

Staircase Central Newcastle High School

Stairways hold a certain kind of aesthetic appeal for me.  Designed to connect one place – or floor – with another, presumably at the most convenient point structurally, they allow us to ascend and descend.  Often many times each day.  ‘No pain, no gain’ as the old saying goes.  Working at NHSG in the old Central High building, my daily grind unfortunately required me to shunt backwards and forwards between a Head of Year Office situated at the top of three flights of stairs in the main building (above) and ‘a funny little house at the back of the building’, as Ruchelle Everton described Eslington Tower to the Church High English staff in January 2015.  Back then, strange stories from ‘down at Central’ were relayed back to a variously curious, nervous and often dismayed staffroom:  ‘You actually have to sign something if you need one pen????’ As we that loved Church High well know, some places leave their mark on you.

The pre-merger year demanded much to-ing and fro-ing.
Makeshift pre-merger CH signage.

Central’s stairs – in addition to a regular two-week timetable of 13 teaching classrooms over four buildings in the first year – ‘did me in’ in the end.  The radiologist who scanned my Baker’s Cysts at South Tyneside Hospital a year ago now (note cysts in the plural) said ‘the human body was never designed to go up stairs’. How very true.  Being forced to traipse up and down stairs repeatedly – especially carrying heavy things – takes its toll on the body.  Especially an unhappy body.  My ex-Central colleagues commiserated: ‘There are stairs just for the sake of it in this place!’  Or tried to offer comfort: ‘At least there’ll be a lift in the new building.’   Yet according to the 1888 plansthe original Newcastle High School building – the first purpose-built school in Jesmond – was actually designed to include a lift.

newcastle church high school
A lift is marked in two places on Oliver & Leeson’s 1888  architect’s plan for the Ground Floor of the original Newcastle High School building (CH Archive: Tyne & Wear Archives) .

These were not lifts as we know them today, of course, as a decision was made not to install ‘the new’ electricity in the building initially.  Their position also makes it clear they were not intended for people.  The close-up below of the Newcastle High School domestic wing at the back of the building (the west end of the north gable on the ground floor) is fascinating.  Not just to see the existence of a lift – which must have been some sort of Victorian manual system, I’d have thought, much like the 1930s Dumb Waiter  installed in a similar situation between ‘upstairs and downstairs’ in the side extension – but also as an insight into NHS life ‘behind the scenes’ in 1889.

NHS domestic quarters - above and below stairs on the 1888 plans.
The NHS domestic quarters – below and above stairs – as they appear on Oliver & Leeson’s 1888 GF plan drawing.

The lift in 1888 was positioned in a corridor just outside the pantry; presumably to enable coal to be transported from the Heating Cellar to the many open fireplaces across the building.  Up on the first floor, it was situated in the Housemaid’s Closet next to the Art Classroom, most recently Room 9, the RS Room at Church High.  Before the addition of the 1930s Library extension, the north elevation was identical to the south one so familiar to us today – with the exception of the positioning of the door.  We can see from Oliver & Leeson’s drawing that there was once a large window at the top of the stairs, as there still is at the other end of the corridor today.  The side door at the back of the building was clearly the entrance for tradesmen and the school’s domestic staff – everyone ‘below stairs.’

Oliver & Lesson's 1888 architect's drawing of Newcastle High School's north elevation (Church High Archive: Tyne & Wear Museums)
Oliver & Lesson’s 1888 drawing of Newcastle High’s north elevation (Church High Archive: Tyne & Wear Museums).

The ground floor plan of the building shows that this side door opened onto to a porch area next to the Kitchen from which a set of stairs led down to the Heating Cellar below.  Directly beneath the porch in the cellar was where coal was stored, as we can see below.

Heating Cellar detail from the Oliver & Leeson 1888 plan.
Heating Cellar detail from the Oliver & Leeson 1888 plans.

Coal was delivered via a coal chute at the back.  If you look closely, you can just about make it out in a close-up of the 1900 image of the back of Newcastle High’s original building from the Centenary Book.

The coal shute can just be seen at the base of this 1900 photo of the back of the north gable of Newcastle High School (Centenary Book).
The coal chute cover can just be made out at the centre of the base of this 1900 photograph of the back end of Newcastle High School’s north gable (Centenary Book). It appears to resemble the example below.

victorian-coal-chute-2My interest in the cellar was triggered back in the Spring when one of the Wates guys mentioned demolishing concrete stairs at the back of the building.   I couldn’t imagine where they were, although I knew there was a basement, of course.  This was Gentian’s domain and it contained a sort of workshop used by the site management team.  I knew there was an entrance to it from the back courtyard, but for a long time I confused it with the Boiler House.  Even I used to keep forgetting that the existing north extension, with the Boiler House underneath it, was not originally there when NHS opened.  So I was absolutely delighted after downloading Giuseppe’s images of June 1st to discover they contained photographs of the basement.  Giuseppe has said he detailed it as a project at this point in time, because if he hadn’t, it would have been left right until the end.  You can see why below!  It’s only very recently that I realised what it must have originally been used for and also its exact orientation.

Even by June 1st 2016, nearly two years after Church High was closed, the Basement remained untouched.
Even by June 1st 2016, almost two years after Church High School closed, the Basement Workshop remains virtually untouched.

newcastle church high school basement 2Being able to see the original 1888 flooring timbers still in situ was amazing, but it was the stone steps which most interested me.  Were these the stairs the worker had referred to? And to where did they used to lead?   I now know from the architect’s plans of the building they lead down to the Heating Cellar from the back porch.

The stairs which allowed access to the Heating Cellar from the Porch.
The stone stairway which allowed access to the Heating Cellar from the NHS back porch.

With not having been down there, I can’t be sure how Giuseppe’s photos of the old Heating Cellar connect up, but it looks to me that the doorpost to the right of the stairs leads onto the area below.

The entrance to the Heating Cellar looking towards Tankerville Terrace.
The entrance door to the old NHS Heating Cellar looking towards Tankerville Terrace.

There is a fascinating old window down there which I assume is an attempt to let in some light between the small individual rooms.  Possibly the area marked ‘For access of the Boiler’ on the plans.

newcastle high heating-cellar-9Originally, there was only one boiler down there, although I think I remember being told there are six being installed by Wates now.  I think it’s likely that this image shows the original site of the boiler.

newcastle high school heating-cellar-6We know from the newspaper report on the building plans the intention was to warm the rooms by ‘open fireplaces with the addition of hot water pipes and coils  …. each room with a separate system of pipes provided with a valve, so that the heating power will be entirely under the control of the teacher.’   Because of this, the boiler would have most likely been a steam-heating system fired by coal.   Which brings us back to the coal store with the external coal chute again.

It's tempting to think that the hole in the wall to the far left of this picture could be the coal chute.
Could the hole in the wall to the left here be the coal chute?

Whether it features in any of Giuseppe’s long shots or not, there is no doubt that the following two images are definitely the coal chute.

The blackened sides leave me in no doubt that this is the original NHS coal chute.
The blackened sides leave me in no doubt this is indeed the original NHS coal chute.

heating-cellar-13In contrast, owing to the curved brickwork edge on one side, the site of the Victorian lift was much easier to pin-point in Giuseppe’s shots.

The site of the Victorian lift.
The south-west corner site of the Victorian lift.


I know this whole post has been about an old cellar most people didn’t even know existed, but it’s been personally very satisfying to have been able to use Oliver & Leeson’s plans to ‘bring-back-to-life’ the room that once powered the original Victorian building.  And I couldn’t have done this without the help of Giuseppe, who at the time remained shyly adamant he’d rather not be photographed.  However, once we had moved back into the building and he was a constant presence around school compiling a snagging list on his phone, I did finally manage to catch him unawares taking a quiet moment in the courtyard on the 6th September.  The wooden fence he is leaning against is actually sectioning off the basement entrance.

Giuseppe Ferrara without whom this blog would have been a very different beast.
Giuseppe Ferrara (hero), without whom this blog would have been a very different beast, taking a moment by the basement entrance.

I began this post with stairs I was all-too-familiar with, so let’s end with another set I will probably never get to use.  Only the people who took care of the building ever got to see Church High this way.

newcastle high school heating-cellar-8