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

Beauty in Thorns: Tankerville House and The Lilac Fairy, June 2016

‘Beauty in Thorns’ by Sir Edward Coley Burne Jones, 1870.

‘However, she was not dead, but had only fallen into a deep sleep; and the king and the queen, who had just come home, and all their court, fell asleep too; and the horses slept in the stables, and the dogs in the court, the pigeons on the house-top, and the very flies slept upon the walls. Even the fire on the hearth left off blazing, and went to sleep; the jack stopped, and the spit that was turning about with a goose upon it for the king’s dinner stood still; and the cook, who was at that moment pulling the kitchen-boy by the hair to give him a box on the ear for something he had done, let him go, and both fell asleep: and thus everything stood still ……

Newcatle High School; Tankerville House

‘A large hedge of thorns soon grew round the palace, and every year it became higher and thicker; till at last the old palace was surrounded and hidden, so that not even the roof or the chimneys could be seen. But there went a report through all the land of the beautiful sleeping Briar Rose (for so the king’s daughter was called): so that, from time to time, several kings’ sons came, and tried to break through the thicket into the palace.

‘After many, many years there came a king’s son into that land: and an old man told him the story of the thicket of thorns; and how a beautiful palace stood behind it, and how a wonderful princess, called Briar Rose, lay in it asleep, with all her court. He told, too, how he had heard from his grandfather that many, many princes had come, and had tried to break through the thicket, but that they had all stuck fast in it, and died. Then the young prince said, ’All this shall not frighten me; I will go and see this Briar Rose.’ The old man tried to hinder him, but he was bent upon going. 

Tankerville House; Newcastle High School

‘Now that very day the hundred years were ended; and as the prince came to the thicket he saw nothing but beautiful flowering shrubs, through which he went with ease …. And all was so still that he could hear every breath he drew; till at last he came to the old tower, and opened the door of the little room in which Briar Rose was; and there she lay, fast asleep on a couch by the window.’ (Princess Briar Rose, Brothers Grimm).

Tankerville House; Newcastle Chutch High School
Church High Princesses: ‘asleep’ on the wall by the window.

I have always loved fairytales and ‘Sleeping Beauty’ is one of my all time favourites.  As I’ve said before, there turned out to be many advantages to being denied access to the building work in June last year.  Had that not happened, I wouldn’t have been forced back onto my own initiative and these beautiful, evocative photographs of Tankerville House and No 1, Haldane would never have been taken on that sunny evening walk along Tankerville Terrace on June 9th.

It’s true my ‘inner child’ is never far away at the best of times, but  Tankerville House, dappled by low evening sunlight with its doors and windows half-hidden by overgrown roses and greenery, seemed to call to me that day: “Come over here!  Don’t forget about us.  Things this side of the road are exactly as they were.  We are merely sleeping.”  And it was true, of course.  As everything was turning white in the Main Building, all was still green here.  Indeed, peering through the windows, everything was just as it was left in July 2014.

Through the Sixth Form Common Room window, the 2014 Leaver’s Day ‘battle plans’ were still there to be seen on the wall.

Tankerville House was purchased by Church High to house the Junior School in 1927, the same year that Miss Gurney celebrated 25 years as Head Mistress.  The Jubilee Book tells us that ‘she marked the occasion by giving to the school bookcases to hold the reference library books.  This library was housed in the VI. form room.’

Miss Gurney’s bookcases in the Sixth Form Room, which you may recognise from the fireplace as Computer Room 2.

The Junior School had previously been based further up Tankerville Terrace in Henshelwood House.  In 1927, Miss Gurney now made this her home address after having given up the lease on The Grove.

Henshelwood House, the original home of the Junior School: later Miss Gurney’s home (Church High School Prospectus).

That afternoon in sunny June, Sleeping Beauty came immediately to mind as I stood in the gateway of Tankerville House because of the overgrowth of greenery – especially the big bush by the door.  I can’t say I was ever aware of it being pruned, but it must have been.

The bush was now encroaching on both doorway & window.

There was a decidedly romantic fairytale feel to the place as I approached the sun-warmed stone of the pillared portico doorway.

Even now, as I look at the photograph below, I can easily recall the pungent smell of heated gloss paint on that old, familiar green door.

The building we all remember as the Church High Sixth Form Block did not just consist of Tankerville House, of course.  Behind it was also No.1, Haldane Terrace, purchased in 1944 when the School returned to Newcastle from Alnwick Castle after World War Two.

1, Haldane Terrace; Newcastle Church High School
Sleepy 1, Haldane Terrace, June 9th 2016.

Even before I stepped foot into the gateway of 1, Haldane Terrace, that Sleeping Beauty feeling was there again, but this time even stronger.  There was no mistaking the fact that the wrought iron gate, tight in the grip of ivy, hadn’t been moved for a very long time.

And those rose-covered, mullioned windows with the blinds tightly-shut.  We truly were in the realm of ‘The Legend of Briar Rose’ now.

It was the side doorway that most caught my imagination though.

Newcastle Church High SchoolWhilst always poignant to see evidence of a doorway one used to use taken over by Nature through of lack of use, on this occasion it was a particularly beautiful sight.  The white briar roses grown across the big green door appeared more to be shielding something precious from intruders rather than speaking of neglect and decay.

“The threat of war, the hope of peace,
The Kingdoms peril and increase
Sleep on, and bide the latter day
When Fate shall take her chain away.”

Newcastle Church High School
Sleep On: no-one has rung this doorbell for a very long time.

Which brings me to The Lilac Fairy.  When I was a little girl, I was entranced by the large lilac tree at the bottom of my Nana and Grandad’s garden.  Its thick blossom always smelled intoxicating.  And, if you know your Sleeping Beauty Ballet well, then you will know that The Lilac Fairy is capable of making some very strong magic indeed.

In Tchaikovsky’s ballet, the battle between Good and Evil is represented in the clash between two characters:  The Lilac Fairy and Carabosse.  It is Carabosse who gifts the curse of death to Princess Aurora and The Lilac Fairy who softens it to sleep.  In Matthew Bourne’s 2012 Gothic interpretation, The Lilac Count rules the day.

The Lilac Count defeats Carabosse in Bourne’s production.

If I ever needed reminding that Good always overcomes Evil or that when you put a teaspoon of red jam in the middle of a bowl of milk-white rice pudding, the whole thing will go pink – which I don’t – I now have a little Tankerville ‘Briar Rose’ memento to make sure I don’t forget.  I found an old chimney tile discarded among the rose-bushes that day.  Forgotten things often have a way of coming back.