I learned recently that one of the last fundraising projects my friend Richard Berg Rust worked on in his role as Development Director for Hughes Hall, Cambridge was the commissioning of a large set of ornamental gates for the college. You may recall that I like gates and find the symbolism incorporated into ironmongery fascinating. Since the oldest Cambridge colleges all had famous gateways, such as Newnham College’s grand Pfeiffer Arch, it was felt Hughes Hall, the newest college admitted to the University, needed their own. In the same way the chrysanthemum is associated with old Church High, the marsh marigold is the oldest symbol of Hughes Hall. Alan Dawson’s preferred design for the gates used the flower in such a way that a new marsh marigold can be added whenever a student from a hitherto unrepresented country matriculates at Hughes. Only after Richard’s death did I learn Hughes Hall was actually founded in 1885 as the Cambridge Training College for Women to train female graduates for the teaching profession. Not only is 1885 the same year Church High was formed, the buildings are so similar too. Amazing. Such a lot we could have talked about there.
I don’t remember anyone ever talking about what the new school gates would look like. Other than noticing a reference to Davison Fencing in Giuseppe’s photographs, I didn’t give it any thought at all. Clearly an entrance to the New building grounds would be needed, but that was the last thing on my mind when I decided to visit the site on my way home from the Archives on Monday 22nd August. It had been another lovely sunny day and once again everything on Tankerville Terrace seemed very quiet that late on in the afternoon.
Further along the street, the presence of a very large lorry with its engine running indicated there was work still going on in the New building grounds. But it was only when I spotted the crane that I realised what was actually going on – and how lucky my timing was.
God does seem to have been very kind to me during this process. Call it Fate or Lady Luck if you prefer, but, not for the first time, I found myself in exactly the right place at the right time. Consequently, in the same way I had turned the corner as the old carpark gates were being fork-lifted away, I skirted the lorry just in time to photograph a set of new entrance gates being winched into place.
I’ve always been very careful not to get in the way when I’ve visited the site with my camera and it became second nature to always stay the ‘safe side’ of my guide or, when I’ve been a bit cheeky to get a particular shot, never put myself at risk. That’s what the high vis jackets, the hard hat and boots are for, of course. And Wates take site safety very seriously indeed. But goggles and heavy gloves do not make using a camera at all easy, so they usually ended up ‘going the journey’ as my friend/helper kindly turned a blind eye. Because of this, I’m quite proud of a lot of the photos I’ve taken all around the site over the full year and a half of the renovation work. So there was no way I was going to stay across the other side of the road now.
From this position, with my lens pressed through a hole in the fence, I am the only person who was there to take you step-by-step through the process of installing a set of large steel gates the Wates’ way. The first step, once the gates were lowered into position, was to ensure they were both completely level. Enter Spirit Level Man.
By now, I had edged in as close as I dared considering I had just turned up at a crucial stage of the work. These gates, which would be one of the first things anyone about to enter the new school’s grounds would see, were the last major item to be installed on site. And I was there to record it happening. From the moment I arrived, I could see how important this job must be as Project Manager Nick White (far right) was in attendance, personally overseeing the work.
Through every stage of this process, Nick has never been less than warm, gracious, extremely helpful and most professional whenever I met him. Wates have a company philosophy which welcomes and embraces the ‘client’ throughout the job, so it is second nature to their workforce to be open, informative and always willing to help. I know they found it a bit ‘strange’ that our build had an unspoken expectation of very restricted access and they were ‘caught out’ by this occasionally. Hence the ‘site-shut-down’ to staff, for which I later received an apology from the member of NHSG staff involved. Only once did Nick ask me to come back another time, even though I had already been kitted out and allocated Connal as a guide. I didn’t mind. I could see the strain etched on his face at that point. And they did hit problems. Especially in the run-in to the hand-over. Privately, a number of guys told me they couldn’t see it being ready in time for us and, afterwards, I was told that Nick, “Did very well for a Young-un”. That he, “Held it together well.” A manly compliment. When Nick looked up, he was probably thinking, “Is Christine, officially allowed here now or not?” And I can’t blame him for that. At times he’ll have been told I was and on other occasions I wasn’t. But as the guys conferred, I decided this was my time to edge forward.
As it was, I did now have School’s permission to be on site and since there was no boundary fence left to speak of anyway, I took this opportunity to step over the rubble to take up a reverse viewpoint.
Against the backdrop of Tankerville Terrace, the ornate features of the gates were a lot easier to see. Each carpark gate featured a large seahorse emblem, of course, courtesy of GMC Fabrication Services.
Not wanting to push it too far, I didn’t stay there very long. The gates may have still been held up by support chains, but I could see this was a really stressful process and I didn’t want to distract anyone. There was one of the Wates’ supervisors I didn’t recognise. Peter had said the last time I saw him “There was a new boss on the job.” And that he was a strict one too. In the photo below taken from Tankerville Terrace again, he is the guy standing on the left. I made a point of introducing myself before I went home that day. Initially a little bemused by me, Ken Fikson was to become my last site-friend.
It must have been approaching 5.00 pm by that point and, pleased with what I had accomplished, I turned away to head off for home. In order to do that, I had to make my way around the lorry again.
Of course. What was being put into position was a set of gates for car access and a smaller pedestrian gate had yet to be unloaded. I wondered whether they would manage to get this done that night. On the way home, my mind began to muse on purpose-built gates and later that evening I realised it wasn’t actually as long ago as I thought that one had been commissioned for the Tankerville site. Does the image below ring any bells with anyone from Church High?
This little pedestrian gate is still in the grounds of Westward House. It was created to allow access to the School Pond and, I guess, also to prevent the unwary or the simply curious from falling into it too. The beautiful, metal dragon-fly motif mounted onto the front of the gate was designed by one of Church High’s Junior School pupils, Alex Levett, who I remember well from her time in Senior School. The pond and its newly-installed gate were officially opened by Miss Patricia Davies in her last term as Head Mistress of Church High, the Autumn term of 1995. Katherine Craig (LV) wrote the article for the School magazine: ‘In the Autumn term, all pond-skill participants, Form Captains and numerous teachers gathered for the official opening of the School Pond. Miss Davies and Alex Levett, who designed the dragon-fly on the gate, cut the ribbon and many photos were taken. The pond was looked at and complimented until the rain came down. Everyone hurried to Miss Davies’ room where drinks and pond-cake were enjoyed by all.’
I am still in contact with Miss Davies, my first Head Mistress and someone from whom I learned a great deal. She has been helping me with the early stages of the history of Church High’s last years. She was very saddened, as I was, at the news that GDST will soon be selling Tankerville House, an iconic property which has been in Church High’s land portfolio since 1927. Westward House is to be retained, however, so at least Alex’s little dragon-fly gate is still safe for a while. Because a dragon-fly is often seen as a symbol of Hope.
Have you ever come across a tiny book called ‘Water Bugs and Dragonflies’, I wonder? I was given a copy by my Vicar after my mother died and I am very fond of it indeed. Intended to help explain death to young children, it can also be used to minister to other losses, of course. The story begins: ‘Down below the surface of a quiet pond lived a little colony of water bugs. They were a happy colony, living far away from the sun.’ At the end of the tale, the writer provides the reader with the following prayer: ‘Thank you, God, for the miracle that makes shiny dragonflies out of water bugs. Please remember …….. who has left the pond we live in. Give him/her a good life too in a wonderful new world of sun and air. And then remember me, and let me someday be with him/her. Amen.’ This feels quite apt as we near Tankerville re-opening as a brand new school. Where would your pond be?