‘No New Thing Under the Sun’: 126 Years Further On, A Newcastle High School for Girls on Tankerville, 6th September 2016

‘Joy and woe are woven fine,
A clothing for the soul divine,
Under every grief and pine,
Runs a joy with silken twine.

~ William Blake ~

September 6th 2016, the long-awaited day when School would return to Tankerville Terrace, turned out to be a Tuesday.  The second day of the week seemed highly appropriate to me for the opening of a Newcastle High School for Girls on Tankerville the second time around.  In the end, a day which for so long had become synonymous with feelings of hope and excitement turned out to be a day of conflicting and mixed emotions.  Probably no surprise.  Historically, philosophers have assumed that mixed emotions are derived from primary emotions.  However, as with colours, in reality our emotions do not fall into clear-cut categories with sharp boundaries.  In psychological terms, it’s the strongest emotion that gets action priority.  So joy was the primary emotion that day.  For me and for our girls.

Three of our Church High girls, happy to be home once again.

As many of you will know, traditionally girls have always entered the Tankerville building by the side entrance, but this no longer applies.  Because of this, the side entrance hadn’t received the ‘deep clean’ most of the public areas seemed to have undergone overnight and even today there were still remnants of Church High colours there.

Still a few remnants of blue for the sky and green for the trees.

At least the new netting round the all-weather pitch was dark green.

Although the new playing surface was still to be laid at that point, the new perimeter netting was a splendid shade of green (above). And when the tennis court surface was finally laid by CLS Sports (below), the full effect was even better!

Over the course of this blog, I have tried to avoid the format ‘this happened and then that happened’ as much as I could, but, now we have come to the end of the line as far as the site renovation goes, please forgive the more matter-of-fact approach within this post.  In preparation for its interim role as the NHSG Locker Room until the lockers could be installed externally at the back of the Old Building, the clear-out and clean-up in the Tankerville Sports Hall had been completed the previous day.  The far end now looked very different.

As locker rooms have always been a gathering point for girls during breaks, those circular tables from the Church High dining hall were eventually put to use.  Ditto the old forms.
It didn’t take long once the girls were onsite for bags to be stashed on top of the lockers – despite frequent warnings!

Construction of the outside locker shelters did not begin until the October and it was November before the girls could final use them.  The company who were awarded the tender were Action Storage.

The outside locker installation began in October. It was noisy!
A canopy redesign (and a re-quote) was ultimately required.
Behind the Old Science Block looked like this by November.
Leaves are the least of the disadvantages of outside lockers!

But to return to the start of term, the interior of the New Building did look amazing as preparations for the school day got underway.

Entrance & Dining Area of the New Building from the Kitchen.
The Salad, Sandwich and Dessert Bar is stocked up ready for lunchtime in the Servery Area (above) and for the first week the digital screen in the Dining Area showed the time-lapse video Wates created as the New Building was built (below).

Although this is gradually being whittled away now, under Hilary French every day began with a Briefing in the Staffroom at 8.25 am and the first day of Newcastle High School Mk2 was no exception.

NHSG staff congregated for the first Briefing on Tankerville before (above) and after (below) the arrival of Hilary French.

As with all first days of the new school year, it was off to the Form Rooms after that followed fairly promptly by Full School Assembly.

The new Hall as set up for its first Assembly.

By chance, this was one of my lighter teaching days, but, back in the Head of Year Office, it wasn’t possible to get comfy there yet.  Right from the start we had painters from Purdey’s around a lot of the time, touching up corridor walls which had been scuffed when the removal men brought in the furniture.  Surely white must be one of the least practical colours for a school, I said?   Every tradesman agreed and, despite the signage, even I got white paint on my clothes.

Chris from Purdey’s at work beside our office.

To be honest, since the side car park was used as a builder’s yard right up until November, my Chemistry-Prep-Room-Sink desk, despite being the window seat, wasn’t the ‘best seat in the house’ for a long while.  Noisy and weird things kept appearing at the window.

Welcome to my world: one day a lorry, the next a huge cement-mixer (above) but eventually I did make myself at home there (below) – despite the hard plastic chair and the room being sandwiched between two wall-mounted audio screens.

We were miles away from the Staffroom – literally at the opposite end of the school – but we had use of a little kitchen in the Old Building where the sliding door between the large and small dining rooms used to be.  That suited me fine and there was a staff toilet nearby too – running the full length of the old Waiting Area and Meeting Room.  On my way there that morning, I spied a familiar figure through the glass on my left.  Giuseppe was snagging already.

I spy with my little eye Giuseppe Ferrara glued to his smart-phone in the back Quadrangle.

I went out into the Quadrangle to speak to Giuseppe, despite this being extremely risky at that time owing to the fact that one of the doors leading onto it had no outside handle and one a broken code pad.  I’d already fallen foul of this situation and been trapped in the Quad, only getting back in because two girls in the LRC saw me.  I reported the fact to John Crosby, NHSG’s equivalent of Mr Keen.  He was aware of the problem, but it wasn’t sorted for a while.  Much to my amusement, the very same thing happen to him a little later on!  You did have to have a sense of humour at times back then.  However, this didn’t help me that day.  I’d noticed earlier that the Centenary Plaque was missing from the Science Block wall and I wanted to ask Giuseppe about it.  When I told him, he said it was still there until he looked up and saw that it wasn’t.  He keyed a number into his phone straight away and from what was said I could tell he was talking to Nick.  I could also tell that the answer wasn’t good.

Where is the Centenary Plaque? How long had it been gone?

I know I’ve told you about the loss of the Centenary Plaque before, something I still feel frustrated about having managed to protect so many Church High artefacts for so long.  And for it to have survived for so long too.  I hadn’t taken my eye off the ball, I’d simply trusted it would be safe having confirmed with Nick that it was connected to the building.  What was moving that day, though, was Giuseppe’s evident frustration and anger too.  He sincerely apologised to me and I thanked him for his help.  What was so hard to stomach was that it had just been chucked in a skip.  I knew it would have been because it was cross-shaped.  I had guessed its fate straight away.  On my return to the office, my spirits had sunk low into my boots but I still noticed activity outside the window and engine noise too.  They were finally removing the skip from the car park.  A skip?!!!!

Ever the optimist, what if this was THE skip, I wondered?

I went to the side door to watch it go past.  I might not have been able to save the plaque, but I could at least record its departure for the blog.  Explaining to the brickie at the bottom of the steps why I was photographing a skip lorry led to me telling him the full story.  And it’s not as if I could have got them to empty it either, I said.  “Perhaps not,” replied the brickie, who I learned was called Charlie, “but that skip will be going to a depot and it WILL be emptied there.” This is where it becomes farcical, I know, but I was on a mission now.

Yet another kind man! Charlie the Brickie.

So off across the road I went towards Westward in search of Nick.  The moment he saw me he apologised.  “I should have realised, Christine, I’m really sorry.”  I asked about the skip, but it turned out the plaque had been taken down about 3 weeks ago, around the time of the ‘Big Push’.  Hardly surprising then that Nick’s mind had been elsewhere.  I reiterated that once something was at the bottom of a skip, I could hardly expect workmen to use time to try to find it.  But again I was touched by the response.  “If it had just been a case of that, Christine, they would be doing it now, I promise you!”  Yes, it was certainly a day of very mixed feelings.  Mind you, it has been this way for most of the time.  Big sadnesses, little triumphs, yet plenty of laughs too and I have met so many wonderful people.

Nick White, Project Manager, in Wates’ Office in Westward House. A really nice man who always made time for me.

As I said earlier on, it was a light teaching day for me.  Very luckily.  Back on Tankerville Terrace again, I had time to stop and take stock.

‘The Old Girl’ photographed from Westward House gateway on September 6th 2016 (above) & on July 5th 2014 (below).

I first walked into Oliver & Leeson’s old building in April 1985, which is probably part of the reason I took the loss of the plaque so badly.

I guess I don’t really need a plaque to remind me of the fact that the year 1985 marked the start of a time of great blessing in my life.

Just yesterday whilst creating a hyperlink for this post I stumbled upon a news article which had obviously passed me by in March.  The Evening Chronicle report on Shepherd Offshore’s planning permission request to the local council to demolish the Central High building on Eskdale Terrace to make way for 60 retirement flats.  A lot of things had changed and an awful lot of things lost, but ‘The Old Girl’ was still standing (indeed future-proofed now to a great extent), I was still ‘with the ship’ and it helped a lot to know the history.  And we all know history always ends up repeating itself.  The ivy cross may no longer be there and the main entrance look like this.

The Centenary Plaque may now be gone forever and the Main Building now be called The Dame Catherine Cookson Building.

But that seems quite fitting considering the history once again.  The Tankerville building would have been very familiar to Catherine Cookson, who moved into the last house on the Westward side of Haldane Terrace with her husband Tom when they returned North.  And the Church Schools’ Company foundation stone is still in place.

Not quite a cross, I guess. Perhaps it wasn’t immediately obvious that C.S.Co. stood for Church Schools’ Company.

No, the Bible tells us there is nothing new under the sun and, later on, when the finishing touches were added to Reception, a girl transported 126 years forward in time would still know she was home.

Amazingly, there is still green and blue in every classroom, in both the Old and New Buildings (the latter still without a name even to this day).  I couldn’t believe it when I saw the colour of the bins.

A reminder of ‘The Old Days’ in every Tankerville classroom.

The Church High community is still very much alive and thriving, although we meet up in the digital world nowadays like a kind of academic Brigadoon which is there all the time, not just once a year.

Virtual Church High tours are now taken via the Heritage Site.

And as for Mother Nature, her growth is green, as we all know, and it’s impossible to keep the Old Girl down.  Rather like our ‘Old Girl.’

The Tankerville ivy is on the way back up!

‘Unto the place from whence the rivers come, thither they return again. 

The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.’

~ Ecclesiastes 1:7 & 9 ~

Final Study Day: A Lot of Wet Paint, An SOS Mission to The Sports Hall & One Last Gift From Giuseppe, 5th September 2016

The proverbial phrase ‘watching paint dry’ is a reference to the act of watching something that has virtually no movement – hence something very boring, of course.  But within the Tankerville Old Building on the last Study Day before the girls were due in for the start of term, I, for one, certainly found it a wryly amusing experience.  The same signs were everywhere you went on September 5th.

It had always been patently obvious to me that making the hand-over on time was going to be very ‘touch and go’ and every workman I had talked to onsite agreed that the Old Building had been ‘taken back’ far more than it needed to have been.  Thus, walking around the ‘Old Girl’ that day, it was very hard to believe that she was meant to be functioning as a school once again in less than 24 hours.  This was the state of the bottom corridor on the way to our office.

Unique NHSG carpeting beside the side door.
Clearly ‘all the gloves were off’ now to make one last big push!
The original side-panelling of the old south staircase gets one last coat of gloss paint.

Just beyond the side door, the state of affairs was even worse.  I’d never ever seen it looking this way in all my time at Church High.

Wates’ Colin Gordon stood surrounded by an utter shambles.

If one needed any further evidence that Newcastle High School for Girls was still very much a ‘work in progress’, this picture I took on that morning, without any tweaking at all, summed it all up perfectly.

And whether you used the steps or the disabled access ramping, the warnings from Wates’ were exactly the same: ‘Caution Wet Paint!’

Things were evidently in a precariously ‘interesting’ phase now and it was obvious to all from people’s faces that the mood was fraught.  Outside, the car-park was full – but not with cars – and, back inside, the under-stair storage space was now white – but noticeably bare.

All still ‘Topsy-Turvy’: this skip is still very full (& still there!) and the PE under-stair storage cupboard is still very empty.

On my way back along the bottom corridor, I saw Delia Hefford coming towards me at speed.  She fired off over her shoulder that I should make my way over to the Sports Hall – fast:  “There’s a load of our stuff going to be cleared out over there”, she indicated, “and underneath it I can definitely see Church High Honours Boards.” The words Honours Boards were all I needed to hear to turn on my heels and head across there straight away.  I knew the boards from the stage, which we had left in place, had been taken down at a later date and moved to the Sports Hall for ‘safe-keeping’, along with other plaques dotted around the building that Alan Younger told me he had marked with a red spot.  The fact that I have never seen the dedication plaques from the LRC and the Barbour Wing since should be enough to explain my swift about-turn that day.  A crying shame.  I do have a photograph of the Barbour Wing plaque for posterity, but remember trying to take one of the plaque in situ in the LRC and failing when I took my ‘goodbye’ shots of the empty building.  If only I had persevered with it, but I really didn’t think things like that with historic value could be just thrown away.  But I know different now.

This plaque, unveiled by Dame Margaret Barbour, used to be mounted on the wall to the left of the Art Block doorway.
This last photo in the LRC with IT Manager Steven Farrell, who was responsible for the interior design of the space, was taken in November 2014 with the dedication plaque deliberately behind us. Already on sick-leave with burnout by this point, Steven was allowed access to the Old Building to finish clearing his office. Too good an opportunity to miss for me.

When I got over there, Delia was right.  Things were now starting to move on in the Sports Hall.  Workmen were in the process of fixing large canvas NHSG sports photographs to the walls, printed by Paul Rea’s company it seemed. The first thing I saw when I entered was two men in fluorescent jackets high up on a scaffold tower against the far wall, but it was the clutter beneath them I was interested in.

It’s not just clutter beneath that scaffold, it’s all the ‘Things to be Kept’ from Church High.

Since nothing was being renovated inside the Sports Hall itself, that big echoing space had become the storage place for all manner of ‘Things to be Kept’ from Church High.  In the end, I think an awful lot of it was ultimately thrown away, but that wasn’t going to happen before I’d had a good rummage through it – just to make 100% sure.  I had visited this little dumping ground twice before and did know that the Honours Boards, there for safe-keeping, had somehow ended up at the bottom of it all.  My mission that day was to ensure they weren’t thrown away ‘by mistake’ and just to have another good root about.  It was dusty and very precarious climbing in, out and over it all, but rather exhilarating too.  But then one of my very favourite books from childhood was Clive King’s ‘Stig of the Dump’!  Let’s see how many things you can recognise from the shots below.

I don’t know about the old leather vaulting horse, but the circular dining-room tables have certainly failed to resurface.

Of course, one man’s rubbish is another man’s gold-dust.  I recall two of our sixth-formers talking while still in Eskdale pledging that the first thing they would do when they got back into the building was to go straight to the Sports Hall and find a netball with Church High written on it.  As I took the shot below, I wondered if they’d succeed.

What odds this netball will survive? No, I think ‘not high’ too.

This is not the first time Newcastle High School for Girls has moved lock-stock-and-barrel from a temporary home to this site, of course.  Another of the weird reoccurring patterns in this merger process.  And when the original Newcastle High School was created, we know from the October 9th 1884 Minutes of the Church Schools’ Company Education Committee that it was Canon Francis Holland who did the inventory of furniture having offered ‘to visit Newcastle and make a selection of such articles of furniture as in his opinion the Council should take over’ [from Miss Hewison’s School on Jesmond Road].  Because, eerily, there are similarities between the founding of Newcastle High/Church High School and the start of NHSG, the Church Schools’ Company being set up on a similar business format as GDST.  The Council Minutes of October 10th 1884 clearly state that ‘the Education Committee shall have full powers to complete the schemes for reorganisation of Miss Hewison’s School at Newcastle, especially in reference to the arrangements for utilising the services of the existing staff of teachers’.  Indeed, an amendment was even passed at the same time ‘to exclude Miss Hewison from the privilege of teaching either directly or indirectly within 20 miles of Newcastle except in connection with the Church Schools Company’.  I wonder how Miss Hewison felt about that?

Having run his own school – The Francis Holland School in Graham Street, London – since 1881, Francis Holland was undoubtedly the best person to undertake this job. [Image: Frontispiece of ‘Graham Street Memories’, 1931]
As well as furniture and crash mats and sports equipment of all sorts, I recall there was a big stack of wooden boxes containing microscopes there too.  But, stage Honours Boards aside, I was much more interested in things like a big piece of original panelling which had clearly been removed from somewhere around the Hall stage.

I spy, hidden amongst all the clutter, what was definitely a piece of original Hall panelling.

With the help of one of the guys working nearby, I even took the precaution of moving the panel to ‘safety’ next to where the Honours Boards had recently been stacked on a crash mat to avoid any confusion that they were to be ‘kept’ and not ‘chucked’.  It was really heavy and I wasn’t sure what could be done with it, but I would think about that later.  I needn’t have bothered, of course.  When the boards were eventually moved to Tankerville House [they are now in Westward House – or at least should be], as far as I could see, the old panel was nowhere to be seen.  I passed anger long ago.  I was always trying to keep on top of shifting sands.  I did the best I could.

I worked hard to ensure the Stage Honours Boards were safe.

I didn’t take a photograph of it, but I tore a big sheet of paper from the Church High examination flip chart board – remember that? – and laid it across the boards we had moved onto the crash mat.  With a green whiteboard pen, I wrote ‘To Keep: Do NOT throw away!’ When I next caught up with Giuseppe, he laughed and told me when they saw it, they’d said, “We know who wrote that!” This was a couple of days later and I had another ‘thank you’ to say by then.  It was a quirky parting gift, but when I returned to check on the boards the next day I found something very colourful positioned on top of my A1 sized sign.  I knew it was one last archeo-gift from Giuseppe the minute I saw it, as he had told me about this unusual item he had spotted in a storage area.  It was a horse racing game called Escalado.  If you think in metaphors like I do, that game summed up the whole gamut.  For in this chase, the stakes were high, the odds poor and we were the ones carrying the handicap from the very start.

Archeo-gift No.4: Giuseppe’s last ‘present’ was appropriate in more ways than one. Church High WAS a fun place to work!