Groundworks (Part 2): Drawing A Blank Without & Back To Drawing Board Within, June 16th 2016

One of the ex-Central staff asked me whether there was ever an inscription on the framed tablet above the front door?  I must admit, that had me stumped.  I thought not.  And I certainly haven’t come across any reference to one in my reading and archival research.  Considering the attention to detail evident elsewhere in the terracotta carvings of the main façade, this does seem strange.  This very thought must have crossed my mind on Thursday June 16th when, once again forced to skulk about with my camera on the pavement outside the building, I took a close-up shot of the stone.  It’s tantalising to look at.  Was there or wasn’t there once something there?  The jury is still out, I think.  If you know anything, please do let me know.

If this post was only going to be relying on the photographs I took that day, then we would be down to very slim-pickings indeed.  I took the shot above of the very-sad-looking, butchered, front privet hedge.  Then I noticed the evidence of green re-growth below.

I mused over this positive sign.  Mother Nature is a powerful force.  However, an awful lot would be required of her – along with a green-fingered helping hand or two – if the frontage of the Main building was ever to be returned to its former glory.  Gentian’s front garden, with its lovingly-tended pink roses, really was very beautiful.

Tankerville Tearrace Newcastle High School for GirlsShe seemed to have already decided to have-a-go by herself though.  Through the metal fence, I spied a flimsy line of wild orange poppies.

In stark contrast to the quiet frontage, I later learned (thanks to Giuseppe) the back of the building was a hive of activity that afternoon.  The paving of the inner courtyard was progressing well – surprisingly, considering the overall design, with touches of pink too.

Courtyard Hues: the tactile paving stones are all a dark pink.

As I’ve previously said, the first alterations to the rear playground of Church High School took place in 1927 with the addition of a new Science laboratory on pillars, the area immediately below it being walled off at a later date.  A wonderful aerial shot of the Jesmond Moor Edge Institutions (now made available to all via the website Britain from Above) has luckily captured this exact moment in time.  If you zoom in on the Church High building near the top of the frame below, you can make out what looks like a temporary fence cutting the playground diagonally into two.  Presumably, this was a way of ensuring the playground could still be used while the building work walling-off the under-area of the extension was in progress.

Moor Edge, Jesmond, viewed from the air in 1927 captures the building work underway in the Church High playground.

Another photograph on the same site shows the Royal Grammar School from the air too.  In the background to the left of this aerial shot, you can clearly see the Central High School building on Eskdale Terrace with its playground area to the right marked out as netball courts.  Unlike Church High, eventually all that space was built over.

The Church High buildings from the air in 2015 with the green turfed inner courtyard clearly visible (Google Earth).

As Jane Frances Dove, Head Mistress of Wycombe Abbey School,  points out in her section on the Cultivation of the Body in ‘Work and Play in Girls’ Schools’, ‘A good deal, however, may often be done with great advantage on a smaller piece of ground in practising for the game at the time in vogue ……  Often special varieties of a game are developed by the local peculiarities of the only available spot for playing it.’  However, it must be said the only games played in the quadrangle in the 21st Century at Church High were games of ‘chasey’ between Year 7’s!  As you can see from the photograph below, I did finally manage to track down an old 1901 edition of this book for my research library.  The book alone would be boring, so you’ve got a curious Ziggy too.

The best of Giuseppe’s photographs taken that day of the new pink and sandstone courtyard paving were also captured from up above.  At this stage in the process, as the image below shows, the original paving stones were still in situ on the west side of the quadrangle.

The paved inner quadrangle looking south.  New tactile pink paving, left; original stones still in situ to the right and below.

By June 27th, however, this area had eventually been repaved too.

There was a little clue in the corner of each of the preceding images, but the photograph below makes things a lot clearer.  Giuseppe’s camera vantage point was the flat roof of the Art Block corridor.

And by July 1st, it wasn’t just the old paving stones that had disappeared.  There had clearly been either a change of plan (or a new opinion) which sent the Wates team back to the drawing board again.  I thought the design was a lot more colourful than expected.  Like that game in old puzzle books, compare the two images below!

What a difference a week and a few days can make. I will leave it to you to decide which design you ultimately prefer.

And, sadly, as I’ve already shared, that wasn’t the only last-minute tweak to the courtyard prior to NHSG moving into the Tankerville building in August.  My favourite photograph Giuseppe took that day was this overview of the courtyard looking south towards the 1985 Science Block, with the Centenary Plaque still proudly in place.

Newcastle High School for Girls courtyard

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