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.
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.
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’