Melding the Old Things With the New: Non omne quod nitet aurum est, 23rd April 2017

In the intervening eight days before I visited Tankerville again on Thursday June 30th, the building work advanced a lot.  This was only to be expected with the hand-over date now only two months away.  Because of this, the next few posts will rely on Giuseppe’s photos solely, but this one begins with one of the shots I took on June 22nd.  I took it because, surveying the outside of the old building in some detail (with nothing else to photograph), something caught my eye.  Did you notice it, I wonder, when you looked at the image?  I’ll give you a clue.  It’s to do with the windows.  New ones aligning with old.

If you’re putting a positive spin on it, they have certainly matched the windows up well on the front façade.  Indeed, a passer-by on the street even said this to me as I was standing taking this photograph.  Viewing it negatively, however, I must say it surprised me, considering the money spent and the fact we were told there was going to be a complete over-haul of the building, that they hadn’t replaced every window in the building never mind across the front façade.  The consequence of this I know to my own cost.  My new teaching room is in the 1935 extension where the windows weren’t replaced and, even at the point of writing ten months later, two of the windows in this room still cannot be opened.  They just need to be unlocked too.  As Mr Shakespeare knew very well, ‘All that glisters is not gold…’

The modern infill extension, now virtually complete, sits snugly between the 1935 (left) and 1927 (right) Church High extensions.

EWA’s subtle design to link the old and new buildings architecturally cannot be faulted, however.  As you can see from the shot below, the infill extension to the old building has been designed not only with a glass frontage but with copper cladding too.  This subtly melds the old and new together at the point they face each other.  In practical terms, at the moment this has necessitated the removal of part of the roof of the 1927 extension while the panels are affixed.

EWA’s creative use of shiny copper cladding subtly and successfully links both buildings.

As Giuseppe’s photographs make clear, this was a tricky and time-consuming process.  The panels all had to be cut to size and pieced together.  Unlike the new build, some of the cuts required here were very intricate, where windows had to be negotiated, for example.

The cladding even covers the windowsills.

Most importantly, the point where new shiny copper cladding meets old-fashioned slate roof tile must be weather-proof, of course.  As Giuseppe’s fascinating Clerk of Works drawing below shows, great attention to detail has been paid here involving a water drip detail.  I assume this will have been the same in both old and new buildings.

From my limited knowledge of roofing, one would assume that the major weather-proofing will be ensured by lead flashing, however.  A lot of sealing off will be needed it seems as these shots of the side cladding viewed from north to south and then south to north show.

The west-facing side of the new-look Old Building roofline looking from north to south (above) and south to north (below).

What wasn’t obvious to me until I looked at Giuseppe’s photographs and tried to get my bearings from my working knowledge of the existing roofline of the Church High building, was that the coper cladding was not just affixed to the side of the infill extension facing the new building.  It actually extends all the way around the back too.

The copper cladded back of the infill extension faces the north gable roof of the original Newcastle High building. The brickwork at the far end of the newly-created roof gulley is where the later-addition top floor of the 1935 extension was connected to the main building roof-space. To help you get your bearings, this was the very top landing of the north staircase.

During this same period of time, the roofline cladding was also being applied to the new building.  This process presented some different problems for the workforce.  Roof edges had to be negotiated.  The copper panels will be west-facing here too, this time creating those little finishing touches that will make the roof terrace extra special.

Plan for the copper cladding on the new building’s second (top) floor west-facing elevation.
The area of cladding being applied as per plan.
Close-up of the overlap join at the base here.
A similar join on the edge of the roof garden.

The copper cladding on the main body of the building is still not complete.  The slow progress is owing to the sourcing of the product.  There are much cheaper ways to clad buildings than this and we are using a large amount.  I was talking to Brian Castor from Powderhall Bronze Foundry who is very familiar with metal-work just last week; he was installing Zoe Robinson’s GDST commissioned seahorse bronze which is at present wrapped up tightly waiting to be officially unveiled this coming Friday (28th April) at 11.00 am, if you’re free.  It’s going to be a fantastic event and I can’t wait for everyone to see the sheer quality of the finished sculpture.  Brian told me that not only is this kind of cladding expensive, it is also very tricky to apply.  He said that Wates have made a very good job of it, which I think you can see from these general shots Giuseppe took that day.

EWA certainly knew what they were doing when they designed this building for Tankerville: the metalwork and glass complement the natural elements of our site perfectly. A big thank you, Mark, Pablo and Hayley.

This isn’t the first old building restoration I’ve been lucky enough to be involved with, albeit in a very small way.  Having served on Newcastle Theatre Royal’s Friends Committee for many years, it was a privilege to watch both an extension/restoration project and a refurbishment of that very special building from up close.  Perhaps that’s why I appreciate the care that has been taken with The Old Girl so much.   In 2006-7, the City Council bought Barclay’s Bank on Market Street so that the 100 Grey Street Theatre Royal footprint could be expanded in a £7.2 m redevelopment.  I remember well the talk of just how long it took to break through the strong-room wall!  In addition to much-needed extended wing space stage-right, a new modern Learning Space and bigger Box Office were both created.  As I look back on those structures now, I see similarities in the design to parts of our extended and renovated areas on Tankerville.

The new Theatre Royal Learning Space at its unveiling.
Upstairs, glass was used to join the new extension to the old.
The new Box Office was panelled in a natural substance too.

Phase Two involved the restoration of the auditorium in 2011; both phases of the development were Cundall projects though the architects for each differed.  One common denominator was the theatre’s Director of Development, Richard Berg Rust, whose job it was to raise all the money.  And a great job he did of it too.  I owe a great deal to Richard, who became a good friend to me over time.

Richard Berg Rust, Theatre Royal Director of Development, and myself at the Theatre’s fundraising Stage Dinner in 2009.

The 2011 Vote for Shakespeare Campaign was Richard’s idea to keep audiences involved with the Theatre while it was dark and he asked for my help with it.  He had faith that I could do the writing and because of him I found myself nervously sitting in The Newcastle Journal Editor’s Office as he pitched to Brian Aitken.  Heaven knows what David Whetstone, The Journal’s Arts and Culture Editor, thought when Richard told them that I would write the articles!  David asked me to write the first four up-front and we went on from there.  19 articles later, he’d even allowed me more words.  I owe a lot to David too.  Without that experience, I wouldn’t be blogging now.  From that came the Mercutio statue in 2012, cast at Powderhall Bronze.  And so, exactly 5 years to the day, I come full circle.

Myself, sculptor Lisa Delarney, actor Jonjo O’Neill, Richard Berg Rust and Ramy Zack, owner of The Biscuit Factory & project funder, at Mercutio’s unveiling on 23rd April 2012.

This post is being completed on 23rd April, the day we celebrate Shakespeare’s birthday and consequently the day we chose for the statue unveiling.  I always think of Mercutio on St George’s Day – it was such a fabulous project to be involved with and I am aware how very lucky I was to be in just the right place at the right time.  My frame of mind is particularly reflective this year, however.  I received the sad news on April 13th that Richard had died very suddenly.  it was a big shock and he will be much missed.  A Richard-shaped hole in the world will be a big space to fill for a lot of people, not least of all his partner Claire and young William.  From watching Richard, I learned how to be fuelled by a dream, to work towards a goal with passion and to embrace warmly folk who share the journey with us.  The last thing I talked to him about was the book on NHS I want to write.  ‘Love’s Labours Will Not Be Lost’, he wrote in the copy of Shakespeare’s Works I was given as a ‘thank you.’  I’ll hold on to that thought for the future and dedicate this post to Richard’s memory.

Richard Berg Rust, my friend, as I will always remember him: a unique, energetic combination of innovation and tradition.


Fixtures & Fittings Part 2: Inside The Old Building, June 10th-20th 2016

Like a comfortable old pair of slippers, some places just wrap themselves around you when you walk through the door.  This has always been true of the red-brick Newcastle High School building on Tankerville Terrace.  When we left our building in July 2014, the only thing on our minds was change.  Areas of the school were viewed for ‘one-last-time’, the prevailing thought being one of uncertainty: what would survive and what would not?  What I do know is that the person-I-was-then would have been astounded to learn that, nearly two years further on, the south doorway would still look as it does in the shot above.  ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!’, I guess.

The adjustments to the Art corridor are all in the roof space.

Of course there have been changes, but, very similar to the scene in ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ where the Ark of the Covenant is opened up with Indiana Jones tied to a stake with his eyes tight shut, after a period of great upheaval, many things ended up in the same place.  As you can see from Giuseppe’s photos of the Old Building interior at this time, the changes are just down to fixtures and fittings really.

As we already know, the Learning Resources Centre suffered most, but even by June 2016 the roof beams were still red.

At the north end of the bottom corridor, a new side door has been installed, but we now know this was a feature of the original design.

The new glass side entrance door from inside.

In some rooms, other than the strip back and plaster re-skim, the renovation work amounted to little more than new window handles.

The end Geography room is treated to some new window handles by Wates’ Gavin Watson (right), who you’ll meet again later in this tale.

And Boiler Rooms tend to have boilers in them.  We know from the local press article ‘New High School for Newcastle’ (most likely from The Newcastle Courant) that when the Newcastle High building first opened, the heating system was state-of-the-art.  The Description of the Building describes ‘the addition of hot water pipes and coils, the latter being so arranged in each class-room as to warm a large volume of incoming fresh air.  Each room has a separate system of pipes provided with a valve, so that the heating power will entirely be at the control of the teacher.’  From the same early news article we also learn that the building contract was let to Messrs Haswell & Waugh of Gateshead.  The new NHSG heating system in the process of being installed at this point, I am reliably told, is also state-of-the-art for the C21st.

The plans for the Heating Layout (above) and Domestic Water Layout (below) were taped onto the newly-white-washed 1935 Boiler House wall for ease of reference.
As the men kept telling me, the new heating system is powered by no fewer than 6 boilers!
I am no expert in these matters, but from the plans I think these two containers are something to do with hot water. (I am sure Bob Simpson will tell me if I am wrong here!)

The original hot water system was installed by Dinning and Cooke.  The old plans are accessible for viewing via Tyne & Wear Archives.  They are really fascinating.  I intend to explore them in a future post on the old Victorian Heating, but here’s a sneak view of the layout.

Dinning & Cooke’s 1889 Ground Floor Heating plan for Newcastle High School (Image: Tyne & Wear Archives).

All buildings need toilets, of course, requiring a different kind of pipework.  In June, these were being installed all over the building.

The Office of the original Newcastle High School,  which backed onto the Mistresses’ Private Cloak Room, is now being used as Staff/Visitor Toilets.  Each cubicle has a wood-effect back wall.

Oliver & Leeson’s 1889 Ground Floor plan for Newcastle High School shows the Mistresses’ Cloak Room to the left of the Main Entrance (above: T&W Archives). The NHSG Staff Toilets door is now in exactly the same place today. Each cubicle has a wood-effect back wall and a teal blue door (below).

A teal blue door is being fitted to every toilet cubicle in the  building .

Although at this point in time, the Girls’ Cloakroom in the Old Building, still in the same place as always, didn’t have any cubicles as yet.

The Girls’ Cloakroom is still in the same place as it was before (above). Why bother to change all the piping?  There have been toilets in this area of the building since 1889, when it was known as the North Cloakroom (below: T&W Archives).

There was a pulley-lift in the original Newcastle High School building, as I have explained before, although it wasn’t designed to carry people.  The modern platform-lift will do this now, but only if you keep your finger pressed down on the button for the full journey.

The NHS building now has a lift for people.

A comms cabinet would have been alien to Oliver & Leeson, but they were a familiar feature of the Church High building we left in 2014, of course.  There were three of them, you may recall.  One was in the LRC by the entrance stairs, another wall-mounted in the ICT Suite and the other in Mr Farrell’s IT Manager’s Office.  Only the first was on the ground floor, which is where the new comms cabinet is now – very close to where Mr Hearfield’s Catering Office used to be.

All blue Cat6 cables in the school lead to the comms cabinet on the north-west corridor of the Old Building Ground Floor.

The Church High ICT Suite (previously the Library) has now been converted into two teaching classrooms.  The image below shows the décor in Room 31.  When you walked into the ICT Suite in 2014, this would have been the view straight ahead of you and, in the old Library, this is where the Librarian’s desk used to stand.  Whatever else may have changed, the door, at least, is still in the same place.

Room 31 has been formed from the south half of the ICT Suite; it was the Librarian’s window corner in the Old Library.

From the haunch, Giuseppe took a really atmospheric shot of this very same corner of the building at the strip-out stage of the renovation.  For me, it will always remain a beautiful yet haunting image.

Interplay of Light & Dark: view of a room no longer in use, through a glassless window frame.  All the more magical because of this?

‘Joy and woe are woven fine,
A clothing for the soul divine,
Under every grief and pine,
Runs a joy with silken twine.
It is right it should be so,
We were made for joy and woe,
And when this we rightly know,
Through the world we safely go’.


Fixtures & Fittings Part 1: Inside The New Building, June 10th-20th 2016

When I said to Hilary that I wasn’t interested in photographing what I described as ‘fixtures and fittings’, I meant it.  We were talking in her Eskdale office on the very last day of the summer term as I was negotiating to get access to the site once again as the school holidays approached.  She looked a bit surprised, but, as far as I was concerned, once you’ve seen one grey or white Ikea-like modern flat-pack unit, you’ve seen them all.  It’s the bricks and mortar (or copper and glass) which will stand the test of time and be remembered in the School’s history – and that is the concern of this blog, of course.

A large number of grey and white flat-packs had now arrived.

Having said that, I was also fully aware that I had all the access I needed to the interiors of both buildings via Giuseppe. And, to be honest, the traipsing round the site in heavy PPI kit each week had become very time-consuming and really tiring on my legs. So, perversely, it had actually proved very liberating NOT to be doing that now. However, my trips up to Tankerville Terrace each week remained of paramount importance to me. It’s not an exaggeration to say that they were the only things keeping me going at that time. By then, I was literally counting down the days left in the Eskdale building, adding a day to one number and subtracting from another in my work diary each morning on the Metro journey into work.

Literally a life-line for me: the weekly site visit to Tankerville.

Of course, from my weekly conversations with the guys on site, I always had a fair idea of what was happening inside the building.  For example, thanks to ‘Dangerous Dave’ I knew that the Science Lab furniture was being delivered around about June 17th.  The Science Labs in fact turned out to be a bit of a ‘hot potato’ at that time.  Dave didn’t become known as ‘Dangerous’ with the guys for nothing!   It was Dave who triggered ‘Science-Lab-Gate’, the reason all NHSG staff were banned from the site in the first place.  No, it had nothing to do with the blog, if that was what you had been thinking.  I had the whole story from the guys – and an apology from a co-worker a lot later because of the consequences for me.  There was much shaking of the head as we all stood in a circle outside the site gates: “Dangerous by name, dangerous by nature” were Peter’s sage words.

Plan of Lab furniture availability: June 17th.

As most storms-in-a- teacup do, the situation arose out of a mixture of sheer frustration, a loose canon (or two) and a few carelessly-worded, off-the-cuff phrases (from Dangerous Dave).  I believe “Not big enough to swing a cat in” lit the touch-paper here.  It all sounds ridiculous now, but things were a bit tense at the time.  The clock was ticking down fast and not everyone felt the same way as I did about ‘the move up-the-road.’  My mood was lightening by the day.

Because I don’t have a lot to say about it, I’ll let the photos do the talking for you now, firstly in the Labs, then later on in the Kitchen.

I was interested to see some old Belfast sinks being installed.
Also that all the taps were all green and blue!

The plans for the Kitchen area of the New Build looked complicated.

Plan of the New Build Kitchen.

For some reason, I was very taken with this shot of the Chiller door.

The new Kitchen certainly looks like it is going to be state-of-the-art.

Since I have to end this post somewhere, I think a shot of the completed lift-shaft is appropriate.  From here, the only way is up now.

‘Just Hanging Around’ A Gateway Having Read All the Signs, 22nd June 2016

Hanging Around on Tankerville Terrace again.

‘She doesn’t make a sound/She’s just hanging around/ She’s just hanging around …’  So ends the first verse of one of my favourite Stranglers’ songs: ‘Hanging Around’ a track from Rattus Norvegicus, their debut studio album released on 15th April 1977.  Despite being only 14 at the time, I remember it pounding out at our school disco, oblivious back then to the fact this would become one of the highest-selling albums of the punk era in Britain.  Punk had attitude! Tons of it!  And some of it must clearly have rubbed off on me.  Because here I was on Thursday June 22nd, despite all the signs, STILL hanging around.

Ironic notice: “Are you speaking to me, sign?”

But if I hadn’t been just hanging around with my camera that day, I would never have noticed a little white laminated sign tied onto a wonky street post, virtually under my nose, next to the second site access gates.  It was very interesting.  And it was new too.  Planning permission was now being sought to make this entrance permanent.

A Planning Notice is now beside the temporary second gate.

The aim had always been to have a second carpark access for NHSG to allow the school minibuses to pick up and drop off pupils inside.  Everyone knew this wouldn’t be a foregone conclusion.  However, it was interesting to see that things were really moving forward now.  And, as if by magic, as I turned to my left, the gates were opening.

‘Open Sesame!’: Peter Wilson has appeared.

It’s been so long since Peter featured in the blog, you’d be forgiven if you’ve forgotten him.  No longer ‘My Gateman’, but still doing the job for Wates of course, Peter was just about to allow a trade lorry to leave the site that afternoon.  The smile on his face is genuine: he couldn’t believe the serendipity in the timings either.  What luck!  I was going to get a new photo opportunity for the blog after all.  Because, as the sign says, you mustn’t reverse without a banksman!

Despite the fact that Peter, like everyone else on site, was quite prepared to let me in, my word is my bond.  Also, I was really starting to enjoy the subversiveness of using my ingenuity to create stories.  Whilst the gates were open though, I asked Peter to take the camera to grab a shot of the traditional lime mortar repairs to the boundary stone wall.  You saw this work being done, thanks to Giuseppe, a while back, but here are Peter’s efforts from that lovely sunny day.

The old merging with the new: in the wall as in the buildings.

On afternoons such as this on Tankerville last summer, it seemed all I needed to do was point my camera at the abundant greenery all around me and I was gifted some really super shots for the archive.  Two of my favourites from Thursday June 22nd I’m inserting below.

‘The force that through the green fuse drives the flower/ Drives my green age;’ (Dylan Thomas: 1952, 1953).

As I noted last time, Mother Nature is a powerful force.  She can also be a little quirky too, of course.  Whilst natural greenery is always beautiful to see, sometimes it can get itself into very odd places.  I’m not sure the Northern Renaissance architectural features of our old building were being greatly improved by the little green flourishes!  Clearly there was work still to be done ‘up high’ on ‘The Old Girl’.

But what of Giuseppe?  And the stories his camera can tell us of the progress being made behind the doors of the buildings that week?

Open doorway: so near and yet so far away…

Unbeknown to me at the time, it seems that very day Giuseppe was (to quote ‘Hanging Around’ once again) ‘high above the ground.’  And not on the roof of the Main building this time, but atop the new one.

Hanging around up high: a splendid view of the new roofline.

To come full-circle with this post, as we can see from the final image, Giuseppe may have been up high ‘but his eyes [were] on the ground.’  And, just by chance,  while he was hanging around with some other guys up there, he took this shot of the builder’s yard on site (aka the Church High tennis courts) looking east towards the temporary gate where, as you already know, I had started off ‘just hanging around’ ….