Anyone who has ever moved house knows you can’t have too many boxes. They will also know the difficulty trying to find things at the other end. For those boxes, little boxes, they all look just the same.
‘There’s a green one and a pink one And a blue one and a yellow one, And they’re all made out of ticky tacky And they all look just the same’.
Thus sang Malvina Reynolds in 1962 to a catchy little tune. She was making ironic reference to modern housing, but the little boxes I’m focusing on here are of a very different kind. I mean packing crates, of course. It’s funny how much of a difference two years can make to one’s attitude. Although we moved an entire school in 2015, if you flick through all the photographs I took at that time (many featured in the video slideshows on the Heritage website) there is hardly a packing case in sight. This was intentional, of course, because looking at them made me feel sick to the core. This wasn’t how I wanted to remember Church High. They actually appear in only two photos, one of which opens this post. It was no mean feat to have avoided them, for they were everywhere and very hard to miss. Yes, those crates we moved to Eskdale in were very orange.
A Friday was not my usual camera day, as you know, but Friday July 1st was special. This was when the skips would arrive. Knowing how long it had taken to pack up Church High, we were scratching our heads by the lateness of this date. But then we’d had to clear our building by the end of the first week of the summer holiday. This time round, the buildings we were leaving would be technically accessible until January 2017. I’d brought my camera to work to capture a skip image for the blog, but my trip round the back of the building that day was very well-timed. Joy of joys! A Quicksilver storage van had already arrived. Now we really were in business!
Indeed, on entering the side door to escape the drizzling rain, the first thing I saw on the bottom corridor was a pile of packing crates. It was oddly pleasing to discover that they weren’t orange this time.
Do you remember all those stairs which did my knees in? Well, they weren’t appreciated by the guys from Quicksilver Storage either!
By the end of the afternoon, there were crates on every corridor.
I arrived in three crates, so immediately appropriated three of the red ones for my own use. Red is so much more my style than grey.
As in 2014, there was a time-consuming process of sorting out and throwing away of paper standing between me and packed crates, but what a difference two years made. I didn’t mind a bit this time.
The Head of Year Office on the second floor (though up three flights of stairs) was very Spartan when we first arrived, but gradually I introduced more colour to it. I can’t work any other way. That room ultimately served as a safe bolt hole during some very testing times. The following shots give you a feel of Eskdale from my point of view.
Giuseppe’s photos taken on that same day show that ‘up-the-road’, deep within the warm red-brick walls of the ‘Old Girl’, my new classroom (formerly the Senior Staffroom) was now being decorated.
This was just as well, because the one surviving plant from my old classroom, which had undergone the whole journey with me, was now looking very much worse for wear. A visual metaphor for me.
Welcome to the ‘Big 100’! The hundredth High Times blog post. My, doesn’t time fly when you are having fun. I know for sure that when I published the very first post, in late autumn 2015, I didn’t expect I’d still be telling this story in words and pictures a year and a half further down the line. Then, I was just a couple of months adrift of real time events, now I am almost a year behind events. But I don’t regret that. Apart from the patches when work has been heavy, this is largely owing to the historical posts which I have inserted every now and then, triggered by wherever we have been in the process. These tales have turned out to be the most enjoyable of all to tell. After all, our school building has been the predominant feature on Tankerville Terrace for over 130 years now, as this wonderful sign I discovered hidden in the trees on Haldane Terrace clearly suggests. Battered but not broken, is what it says to me. And just a tad green.
As you may recall, we didn’t put analytics on the site until January 27th 2016, so it’s not possible to say exactly how many times the blog – then later the Heritage website too – have been viewed. What I can tell you though is there hasn’t been a day since the stats were first recorded that either blog or website received no online traffic. And we do filter out all the spam referrals, by the way. If you’re interested in statistics, this means that, at the time of posting, this ‘little independent school in Newcastle’ has been sought out online 5,944 times by 2,989 users viewing 13,740 pages in 481 separate cities in 64 different countries across all 5 continents of the world. The only two sub-continents which remain a ‘High Times Free’ zone are Central Africa and Central Asia. This is entirely understandable considering their remote geography, but I live in hope!
So, where did things stand on Thursday, June 30th 2016 when I made my weekly visit to the Wates’ site on Tankerville Terrace? Well, the vehicle traffic onsite made it clear that deep within the new building, National Stage were at work fitting out the new Hall. I loved the cheeky make-shift sign placed under the windscreen of their van in the hope of keeping traffic wardens at bay. Parking on Tankerville Terrace always was – and always will be – a problem.
Turning to face the site gates, once the Junior School carpark entrance, I smiled. That wall had been knocked down yet again!
Directly in front of me, the copper cladding was looking really interesting now. The concept was that, ultimately, the panels would blend in with the dark brown tree trunks within all the leafy green. However, everyone knew they would be really bright at first and had their fingers crossed that residents would not complain. As the sourcing of materials had led to a stop-start assembly process, you could now see the gradual darkening of the copper panels over time.
Although the flashy façade of the new build always catches the eye first, it’s the old building’s Victorian red-brick façade which rewards close attention most. It’s not until you are forced to really look at it up close, as I was from the street with access to the site denied, that the detail can be fully appreciated. You tend to think of it as a plain wall of red, but there’s actually a lot more to the design than that. If pushed, I’d expect most people to recall there are some intricate moulded or carved terracotta panels above key doors and windows. This is in keeping with the Northern Renaissance architectural style.
But how many folk have noticed the Art-Deco detailing in the bricks of the 1935 extension, I wonder? Between the staffroom windows?
Up close, the coving details within the architectural design of the 1935 north extension (then the new Dining Hall wing) really are fascinating. Cleverly matched and blended yet also subtly different. You may remember that this extension was built in two stages, a little over twenty years apart. Well this is what the first level of brick coving looks like when viewed from the building’s north-east corner. This marks floor level between the ground and first floors.
Above that, at the level of the first floor windows, is just a single line.
Two thirds of the way up this extension, the eye meets a much more elaborate line of triple coving. For 20 years, this was the roofline.
What is quite remarkable is how well the ‘join’ was disguised when the second floor was added in 1957 after the Second World War. Up until this point, we can tell from school magazine artwork that the girls were allowed up there to sit and read – which would never be allowed these days in our Health-and-Safety obsessed world.
The north extension roofline we know today only dates from 1957 when Church High finally managed to raise the money for its much-longed-for Library, countless school bazaars, fundraising events and entertainments later. When you know the history, although it is in the same architectural style as the original coving, it actually has a much more angular look – clearly very reminiscent of the late 1950s.
Nobody would notice this from the ground however, unless it was pointed out to them, as I took great pleasure in doing to many Wates builders, architects and even GDST Estates personnel over the year. Standing back and viewing it all together, this is the overall effect.
Yes, everything changes over time. And sometimes, as we know only too well, transitions aren’t always managed as smoothly as this. Human beings have a long way to go before they can match the gradual growth patterns of Mother Nature. It is very sad that the old Junior School intercom system will never ever be used again, but the building has always felt alive to me as I have wandered around her stripped back outer shell. And some of the builders had one or two odd stories to tell of experiences from that time, I can tell you. But the way the green ivy was now taking possession of a gate which had stood unopened for nearly two years was really rather beautiful.
Looking at that intercom system now, then still firmly affixed to the gate, I am reminded of Walter de la Mare’s poem ‘The Listeners’ : ‘Is there anybody there?’ said the Traveller,/ Knocking on the moonlit door’
‘But only a host of phantom listeners
That dwelt in the lone house then
Stood listening in the quiet of the moonlight
To that voice from the world of men:’
‘Tell them I came, and no one answered,
That I kept my word,’ he said.’
Yes, just like the creeping ivy, time was certainly creeping on apace now. I always returned from Tankerville during that time with a renewed spring in my step, but no day was that spring as strong as it was on June 30th 2016. For passing by the Synagogue building on Eskdale Terrace, bought by GDST as an Art Department for their Newcastle school, I noticed the first visible signs that NHSG was finally on-the-move. It was just the smallest of signs, but that pile of black bin bags said one thing to me: I was finally on my way ‘home’.
I really wasn’t lying when I said I wasn’t interested in the fixtures and fittings of the rebuild. Having said that, it’s hard to believe that nearly four weeks have elapsed since my last post. Sorry. You’d be forgiven for thinking I’d given up on telling this story. But, no, I’m in it for the long haul, for my sins. It’s just been that time of year at school: Year 9 Head of Year reports with internal summer exam marking following hard upon. Not much time for much else. True, being stuck at the fixtures and fittings stage of things, hasn’t helped either. But not long to go now before we hit very different ground.
Still, at least I’m on to the finishing off work in the Old Building this time. And the Church High roofline never fails to fascinate me. There’s a story to tell about the particularly interesting part of the roofline pictured above, but that must wait for an historical post. It took me a little while to orientate myself when I first saw the image below. From down below, it isn’t at all obvious that the gable ends are separate from the main section of the roofline. I now realise the roofline of the original Newcastle High School was in four sections.
The slate tiles of the 1927 extension (originally a Science Lab, later Geography rooms and now inter-connected Art rooms at NHSG) were off, on, off and then back on again over the course of the work. They had to be removed when the copper cladding was affixed to the new infill extension to allow flashing to be added to render the small roof gulley between the two extensions watertight. As you can see from the images below, it is a very tricky-shaped space.
Since we won’t be up on the Old Building roof again, I thought I’d share with you Giuseppe’s shots of the modern extended rooflines. The first image is of the flat-roof of the 1999 glass corridor designed to connect the north gable classrooms with the 1999 Barbour Wing.
The second is of the new infill extension flat-roof looking east where it joins with the top floor later addition of the 1935 north extension.
Do you remember the little cleaners’ cupboard just to the right of the LRC doorway? Well these stairs are what lay behind it. One of those areas of the school I always thought of as Gentian’s territory.
Another one of Gentian’s domains was a veritable hive of activity at this phase of the project. The Boiler Room was receiving its refit.
If I remember rightly, I think the guys told me six new boilers were being installed to heat the school. That’s an awful lot of hot water!
Some of that hot water would undoubtedly be used in the Home Economics room which was also undergoing its refit at this time.
And when those new stainless steel sinks are used for the first time, you can be sure all that dirty dish water will drain away completely. For not only was there fitting out going on in the Old Building at the end of June, but an intensive flushing out of drains was going on too.
Elsewhere inside the building, new flooring was being laid where Gentian’s Office once was and a new glass entrance door installed.
When we’re talking about the fitting of new fob-operated entrance doors, it’s very clear the move back home is not too far away now. I started this post with an image of one of those big black balls which decorate the Main Building’s roofline, so typical of an Oliver and Leeson design and indeed of Victorian decorative architecture. Old pictures of the building will show you that Church High used to have a lot more balls than it did in recent times. All down to Health & Safety again, I am sure. How many of you remember what happened to two of three of those balls the last time the exterior of the building was painted, I wonder? It took a while before we noticed it, but one cheeky painter left his calling-card in the form of a line of smiley faces. The remains are still there if you look very closely at my final image. It’s nice to think of the Old Girl smiling once again.