Jasper Rees’ Daily Telegraph Online review of BBC2’s new TV series ‘A House Through Time’ begins with the comment, ‘Telling human history through a pile of bricks and mortar is not a new idea. Julie Myerson’s book ‘Home’, which told of the previous occupants of her house in Clapham, was published in 2004′. If you missed Episodes 1 & 2 of this fascinating series, I’d highly recommend catching up with them on BBC iPlayer. I wasn’t aware of Ms Myerson’s book when the desire to start digging beyond the redbrick walls of Church High took hold of me, but I’m sure it’s a good read. The people who lived before us – walking the same floor, doing exactly the same things – are never very far away from my mind. I recall being enthralled by a BBC programme called ‘The Millennium Oak’ based on the fact that an English Oak can live for a thousand years. This 1999 BBC natural history documentary invited us to imagine the tale an oak tree might tell of the changes it has witnessed and the dramas that unfolded around it. The programme gave me the idea for a creative writing task with my Lower Fourth English class at Church High that year – Majorie Whinfield’s ‘Hadrian’s Wall: A Dramatic Monlogue’ featured in the Millennium magazine – so it’s no surprise it triggered a blog . In August 2016, we can only guess the reverberations in the old walls as the last elements of the refit fell into place. ‘Here we go again?’
Giuseppe was now taking far fewer Clerk of Works photographs, as you’d expect with the job nearing completion, but those he did take still provide an insight into the state of the Old Building at the start of Handover Week. It was mainly finishing touches left to do, but the following shots do show just how ‘close-to-the-wire’ things were at this stage of the game. To use a theatrical term, this ‘get-in’ would not be the smoothest. A couple of the images in this post do date from a slightly earlier period of the re-fit, but, as those areas haven’t been focused on before, I’m including them at this stage of the tale. Here’s a reminder of Church High Reception as it was after packing up in 2014, when our Admin Staff left the building for the last time.
In 2016, just over two years later, this is how Reception now looked.
The whole entrance area of the Old Building has been opened up.
The Office of the original Newcastle High School was a very much smaller affair. When I joined Church High, this tiny room to the left was known as the Waiting Room. As you can see from the detail of Oliver & Leeson’s plan of the 1899 building’s Ground Floor below, the room which has now been demolished was originally conceived as the Head Mistress’ Room. Then called the Lady Superintendent.
Although it is has been retained as the Main Entrance, the old front door is no longer at the heart of the school – where a Head’s room really needs to be. The centre of the Church High Junior and Senior School sites is now the newly-created circulation extension, which is where the NHSG’s Head Mistress’ Office has been positioned with one wall entirely of glass looking out onto the big beech tree in the grounds. At the fitting out stage, Giuseppe’s uploads included shots of both work in progress here and the architect’s design proposal.
At the time of photographing, as the images below clearly show, things weren’t ‘quite there’ yet, but it was all made ready in time.
There will be little privacy for NHSG’s present and future Head Mistresses, but, to counter-balance this, the room’s outlook is sublime.
The new Head Mistress’ Room is still entered via the same corridor as it was in 2014 though – just a little further along it and to the left this time and not the right. The easiest way to orientate you if you knew Church High School is to imagine you are queuing up at the Dining Hall door and then when you are let in, you turn immediately to your left. I have manned that lunch queue many a time, of course.
Where the staircase used to be on that corridor, there is now a lift doorway, of course. Times change, but I miss all the old dark wood.
There was clearly a lot of touching up still needing to be done to the grey paint on the walls of this main thoroughfare, even this late on.
Giuseppe’s photos also show us there was an awful lot of time and effort going into carpet protection here and throughout the school.
Above in the Hall, now the Sixth Form Common Room, things were further ahead. The carpet was uncovered and the new wood shiny.
But I wasn’t aware of any of this, of course, as I turned my back on the Old Building that sunny afternoon. My attention had turned to seeking out and photographing those Church High roses – one last time, one year on. Tankerville House was literally basking in the sun.
Connal Stamp saw me and crossed the road to say ‘Goodbye.’ We knew by then that some Wates’ staff would remain in Westward House for a while to oversee the settling in process, but young, trainee staff like Connal and Amy were moving on to other jobs. However much I wanted to move back into Tankerville, this was still a sadness. They had become like friends to me over the last year. And Conal did have one last act of friendship to deliver that day. He had come to tell me about one last ‘archeo-toy’ find that Amy was holding for me. It turned out Hilary had taken it for me by then. When I opened the envelope in her excite presence, I think she was more than a little non-plussed by that little blue plastic policeman!
I took the following photograph with a romantic notion of showing the same roses, one year later on in time, encroaching even further across the dark green door. Nature taking hold again. Princess Briar Rose. Aware there was a poem entitled ‘The Last Rose of Summer’.
But I hadn’t reckoned on what I noticed as I was preparing this post. The passage of time doesn’t always go hand in hand with progress. And, of course, you need care, attention and nourishment if something is to grow. Instead of a profusion of briars, maybe a little thinner but growing ever wilder, Tankerville’s garden is in decline.