For every constraint you meet in life, an affordance is always provided – you just have to find it. I say this to the girls I teach all the time. So, still denied site access again on June 9th, I turned my back on the building (quite literally) and looked out-over for my ‘story’. And the views on the street I encountered that day were surprisingly interesting. It doesn’t hurt, once in a while, to ‘get down with the kids.’
Whether you agree or not, graffiti is an art form of sorts. Studying ‘The Art of Creativity’ for my OU Diploma in English Language Studies, I had to read an intriguing essay by Nancy Macdonald entitled ‘The spray-can is mightier than the sword.’ She observes that ‘while often highly visible, the meaning and significance of street graffiti tends to be private. Like urban wallpaper, it sits quietly in the background of our everyday lives – recognised, but barely understood.’ We never had much trouble with graffiti at Church High, but then Jesmond isn’t really that type of place, is it? However, I’d noticed some graffiti had appeared on the hoardings around the old building recently. It had rather intrigued me, I must admit – both the tag and the message.
Was it just a coincidence that the first two letters of the sprayed on tag were CH? And the message too? Was there not something very apt about it, I thought, reduced once again to peering through the mesh site gates? Macdonald goes on to observe how spray-painted words ‘impose themselves upon the unsuspecting environment, proud and standing out upon [what she refers to as] their conquered context.’ There’s a lot of signage on the fencing, but the graffiti appeared in two places only: here and once on the Junior School fence.
It was one of those lovely summer afternoons and elsewhere along the perimeter fencing the ivy looked positively luscious as it edged its way out of the grounds and over the top of the original fencing.
Poking my lens through one square of the metal fencing, I was able to capture a lovely shot of the new building framed by greenery.
Looking back down the street, zoom lens fully activated, Tankerville Terrace was brought into focus as I most remembered it in summer: a calm, leafy, light-dappled canvas peopled by sauntering students.
Turning to my left looking for more subject matter, I realised I was virtually facing the old Royal pillar-box on the other side of the road.
Learning to take photographs as a young girl, my Dad always told me to try to get something red in every shot – it brings the image to life. So true. This particular pillar-box is as significant in the past history of Church High School as that lamp-post in the woods in C.S. Lewis’ magical story of ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’, of course. We all used it as the marker for Gurney House further up the street.
Mrs Pybus recalls in her section of The Centenary Book that No. 4, Tankerville Terrace was purchased by the Governors in 1946, initially for the use of the younger girls in the Junior School. The Nursery Class and the Kindergarten moved there first and the six-year-olds followed after the alterations were made. The two big rooms were used for Junior Art and Sewing. It was named Gurney House in honour of Newcastle High/Church High’s longest serving Headmistress, Miss Louisa Mary Gurney, who travelled North to officially open the building, post-renovation, in October 1947. By the time I joined Church High, Gurney House was being used for Senior School Art, Speech & Drama, Home Economics & Computer Science.
I really enjoyed my saunter down memory lane as I made my way down Tankerville Terrace, camera in hand, that sunny afternoon. However, I may not have enjoyed it quite as much if I’d known at the time what was happening inside of the building. As Giuseppe’s photos show, huge metal girders were being put into place in the old Assembly Hall in order to create the framework for the Sixth Form Common Room Deli Kitchen. Way too much for me to stomach – no pun intended. I cringe to think what Miss Gurney would have said.
But I refuse to end on a ‘downer’; the only way is up from now on. I thought you might like to know that researching Miss Gurney’s full biographical details in the City Library a few weeks ago, I was reminded that before she was appointed Headmistress in 1902 she was teaching Mathematics at The North London Collegiate School. If you don’t know the story of girls’ education in the 19th Century, this school, founded by Frances Mary Buss, was the real trail-blazer. The fact that Miss Gurney learned her craft there under the Headship of Dr Sophie Bryant serves to remind us of the pedigree of The Newcastle Upon Tyne Church High School when it was created. As does the fact Miss Gurney was only 29 when she became a Head.
On a whim, I decided to contact The North London Collegiate School by email to see if they could provide me with any information about the time Miss Gurney had spent teaching there. As with many things in our story, my email proved to be very timely indeed. How could I have known that the archivist there, Karen Morgan, was in the process of preparing archival information for their Founder’s Day Ceremony which is celebrated at the end of the Spring Term? Nor that the focus of this year’s speech and celebrations was to be the proteges of Headmistress Sophie Bryant who went on to be Heads in their own right? You will be delighted to hear that the three images of Miss Gurney included in this post have now been digitally enhanced and are now part of The North London Collegiate School’s prestigious Archives. At least one may even feature in this year’s Founder’s Day Exhibition. Who knows, perhaps even this lovely picture of Louisa Mary below, taken on her retirement.
Who knows what that graffiti meant, or who wrote it? I do know that Pyrex (‘almost’ the 2nd graffiti tag!) as a material is very durable though. And I feel it in my bones that the prominent voices which once resounded in the corridors of the old Church High building will not be forgotten. Not if I can help it, anyway. No Compromise CHZ.