Meanwhile Up the Road 2: State-of-play With ‘The Old Girl’ (By End of Term)

As I have said many times before, I know, we were really so very lucky GDST hired Giuseppe Ferrara as their Clerk of Works for the project.  A kind man, an extremely honorable man, but, above all, a man with a huge love and respect for history.  As well as for cats!  You already know the kindness he extended to me and the blog by securing my access to all of the photographs he took as part of his job.  Also that he took pains to ensure that all ‘little archeological finds’ found their way back to folk who cared about the building (c/o me).  After a while, it became clear that some shots must have been taken with me in mind, knowing, as he did by then, I was denied site access.  He also uploaded photographs he had taken when he first had access to the stripped out building.  Fascinating, but so very sad.  Now, as the shot that opens this post shows, Giuseppe was turning his attention to taking care of the building’s past.  The NHS legacy.

Giuseppe had the handrail cut from in front of the NHS stone.

This stone has always marked the side entrance (traditionally the Girls’ entrance of the school at Newcastle High and Church High), though it is no longer in its original position.  From the early 1900s image below, you can see it used to be face-on, not on a side wall.  As the pupil numbers continued to rise, so, obviously, did toilet needs.  Indeed the very first extension to the building, not too long after it opened, was to provide five new toilets.  Three to what is referred to on CA Clayton Greene’s architects plans (below), held at Tyne & Wear Archives, as the South Cloakroom and two to the North one.  Originally, there were two cubicles in each.  At a later date, a few more were clearly added and the stone repositioned accordingly.

Newcastle High School girls’ side entrance in the early 1900s.
Clayton Greene’s cloakroom alteration plans (T&W Archives).

It’s little touches, like this stone, that make the difference between an okay and a good job, of course.  When I thanked Giuseppe for his attention to detail, he replied that not everyone thought that way.  It was no surprise to me that Giuseppe landed a prestigious contract when his work at Tankerville was done.  He now works for Lambton Estates on a big heritage project.  I watch its progress with interest.

At this time, Giuseppe also seemed to have his eye on all the wiring criss-crossing the front of the building too.  These were partly old telephone wires, but also the cabling allowing internet access in Church High’s peripheral buildings.  All amazingly done ‘in house’.  Not everything pointed out by Giuseppe was rectified, however.  Unbelievably, the downpipe, for so many years hidden from view beneath the ivy cross, remains unpainted even at the time of writing.  And there are even weeds growing out of the frontage now too.  I’m promised they won’t be there in September.  Never in Gentian’s day!

Giuseppe points out loose wires & a downpipe needing paint.

I realise the main motivation for denying staff site access was to limit any possibility of work being slowed down.  But when you look at Giuseppe’s photo taken at the very centre of the site at this time, it crosses your mind that there may also have been a fear things might not be ready in time for handover, only six weeks away now.

Centre of the site, the Pupil Plaza, with only six weeks to go.

When I took Hilary’s photograph in her office on the last day of term, I’d asked whether I might be allowed on site again once we were into the school holidays.  There was a limit to how many shots one could take through a metal fence, I had joked.  She agreed and promised to contact Nick to let him know that Christine was to be allowed back on site “providing they were not very busy.” I had fully intended to renew my weekly site visits, but, in the end, I didn’t.  A surprise to me too.  But I was very tired by then and, once distanced from things at home, following Giuseppe’s update shots was enough.

Piles of packing crates are now stacking up.

So what was going on at Tankerville the week NHSG’s second year was drawing to its close at Eskdale?  Well, a lot to do with wood.  Waites pride themselves as being responsible constructors, so it should be no surprise to hear that all delivery pallets were recycled.  Newcastle Wood Recycling CIC, whose tagline and web address is ‘We love wood’ (I like them already!) must have been regular visitors on site during this time when a lot of the fitting out was taking place.

Another load of pallets goes off to be recycled.

However, the main focus on wood that week was via tree-planting.  You may recall that one tree had to be sacrificed during the building process and a new one was planted – though not in an ideal place.  Well, we were now onto the soft-landscaping stage of the project.  This involved planting a number of new trees behind the New Build.

On EWA’s tree strategy works plan (below), this is largely the white rectangular area to the left of centre.  The Construction Exclusion Zone (outlined in red on the plan) is the tree-lined path to the field.

Giuseppe holding EWA’s Tree Strategy works plan (above). The area outlined in blue is now being re-planted (below).

Giuseppe was required to compile a weekly photographic record of the work done on site to send to EWA and GDST Estates in London.  Because of this, I can show you the tree-planting step-by-step.

This tree is planted just a little further along.

It has not always been plain-sailing with the residents committee of Princess Mary Court with regard to the building work, so I doubt it is by chance that the back of the new building will eventually be screened by a line of trees.  By their leaves, they look like Ash to me.

I’m sure the glass finish will have proved more beautiful than Princess Mary residents expected, but eventually Mother Nature will have screened everything off behind a wall of trees.

There were many restrictions on a build of this nature, of course.  Another involved the perimeter wall of what used to be the grounds of the Phillipson Memorial Orphanage, latterly lining one side of the pathway which ran between the Junior and Senior School buildings.  The historical arm of Newcastle Council had demanded that, after being moved, it had to all be put back somewhere, brick by brick.  The final solution appears to have been to attach it to the building.

How to incorporate a stone wall into the design when a pathway no longer exists!

And that gap we made a long time ago in the wall separating us from our other Moor Edge neighbours, the Fleming Children’s Hospital?  Well, as we can see from the shot below, that was nearly filled now.

Only the very top coping stones left to do now.

A peep over the other side of it seems to show that everyone is happy.  I have shared once before in this blog what the poet Robert Frost wrote in ‘Mending Wall’: “Good fences make good neighbours.”

‘Before I built a wall I’d ask to know/What I was walling in or walling out,’ (Mending Wall).


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