‘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!
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.
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.
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:
‘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.
‘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.
‘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.’
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.
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.
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.
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.