Demolition of Central Newcastle High School, with thanks to Andy and Tony (Brothers in Arms)

I never intended to document the demolition of the Central High building, the world having moved on from there a good while ago. In the end, it really just boiled down to the fact there was a story there still to be told and a well-placed narrator still willing to tell it.  Me.  Just as I had passed Central every morning on my way to Church High, I still passed by it each day.  Any change to the façade, I saw it.  And I had to pass by on my way home each night after work, anyway.

After the Foundation stone had been removed for posterity.

My interest has always been in preserving the Church High history, but it was hard to pass by each day with a realisation dawning that, if I didn’t do something, a piece of Newcastle’s history was going to vanish without trace.  No-one at work was bothered at all.  In the end, it was me who talked to Tolent’s Tony Davidson to ensure the Foundation Stone and a couple of pieces of the Sixth Form Library woodwork were moved up to Tankerville Terrace.  And if I hadn’t done this, then the Victorian time capsule they found concealed in a small cavity beneath the stone would never have been discovered.  Other than this hole left in the brickwork, from Eskdale Terrace there was little evidence for a very long time that work had begun.  But Tony had told me the machines were being delivered to the back of the building so, from that point on, my walk to Jesmond Metro at the end of each day was via the back lane instead of Eskdale Terrace.

The first demolition machine arrived onsite on March 6th.

When I saw the first machine had arrived on site, my curiosity got the better of me, of course.  Once the thread of a narrative begins to develop, it’s hard, as a writer, to resist the urge to follow it through.  I like people and I am endlessly fascinated about the jobs that they do.  So, just as a chance conversation with Nick White at the gates of Westward House in 2015 had led me to Peter the Gateman, my initial conversation with Tony Davidson would lead me to meet Andy, which eventually brought me to Dave, via yet another Tony.  As Miranda exclaimed in Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’, ‘How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world/That has such people in it!’  And timing is everything, of course.  Had I not arrived at the back of the building to take photos of the first day’s demolition just at the end of tea-break, I would never have met Andy Held, who turned out to be the Machine Operator of the ’20 tonner’.  Like the Ancient Mariner, I had my tale to tell and, when I’d told him it, he kindly started up the machine so I could get shots of my Eskdale office being destroyed.

‘Since then, at an uncertain hour/That agony returns:/And till my ghastly tale is told/This heart within me burns.’ (ST Coleridge) Andy Held, Machine Operator on the job (above), kindly offered to do a bit of ‘office tormenting’ for me (below).

The following day, I saw Andy again as he was joined by a friend of his, Tony.  All I knew at this point was that the pair were ‘Brothers in Arms’ – or, as Tony would later put it, ‘brothers by another mother.’

My two new friends: English Andy Held and Scottish Tony Rae, ‘Brothers in Arms.’

On Day 3 of the demolition. the work had advanced to the School Hall (which put up a bit of resistance before it finally succumbed) and Tony told me of a huge water-filled void they had uncovered.  Right in the very centre of the Hall.  To show me, he took some photos on his mobile phone and offered to send them to me at work.  As had happened previously with the Waites team on Tankerville, Tony would continue to take photos for me for the length of the job.

The void under the building and some last vestiges of purple.

I would later learn that the main demolition team working onsite were all Tony’s guys.  His company, Rae Demolition Ltd, which is based in Falkirk, regularly acts as a sub-contractor for O’Briens.  The actual Demolition Manager was Dave Hamilton, whom I met one day.  He explained the ‘plan of attack’ for dismantling the building.  If you were facing the back, it was modern offices and School Hall to the left first, followed by a similar modern extension to the right.  They would then go ‘in through the middle’ (taking out the Sixth Form Library building which linked the main building to the ugly modern Science wing) before flattening the Science Block.  From this point, the Main Building would topple, end-on, from south to north.

Demolition Manager, Dave Hamilton, onsite.

On March 22nd, they told me the ‘Big’ Machine was due to arrive and on my way to the Metro that night, I literally had to squeeze past a huge excavator seemingly parked in the middle of the lane.  It seemed a bit strange, but allowed me to see its huge bucket up close.

A huge hydraulic excavator seemingly parked mid back lane.

Unless the situation changed, Andy indicated this was his bed for the night.  I thought he was joking, but he wasn’t.  A car belonging to a tenant living on Eslington Terrace turned out to be blocking the way.  As turned out to be the case with Tankerville work, my visits often seemed to coincide with some interesting and critical events.  Later on in the process when I was taking a photo of the widening space, a man stopped to talk.  We both commented on how much less oppressive it felt in the lane now the building was nearly down.  It turned out that he was renting one of the properties that had faced onto the back of the school. He was also the owner of that car.

Eslington Terrace properties now have a unobstructed view.

What we also passed comment on was the unbelievably powerful smell of old wood.  For as you walked along the back lane now, all that was left of the building was high piles of timber framework.

Who’d have thought that old wood could smell so strong?

My aim had always been to create a time-lapse montage of the disappearing building, but how I was going to manage this wasn’t at all clear.  The Central building was huge and the back lane low.  A vantage point was what was needed and, suddenly, the fire-escapes at the back of Eslington Terrace began to look most enticing.  I found one that did the job and had availed myself of its prospect a number of times before I met up with its owner on his way to his rubbish bin.  Permission granted, I felt much better.  And it offered a perfect view.

The Eslington Terrace balcony continued to provide an ideal viewpoint for the diminishing building. Even when shooting into the early evening sun in the later stages, the results were often more dramatic than I could ever have hoped for.

For those interested in details, the image below is a close-up of the gable-end of house with the balcony.  The fire-escape is to the extreme left and the low brick wall mid-image is my viewing point.

Many thanks to the resident for the viewpoint.

No more words.  The pictures Tony & I took now tell the whole story.

One thought on “Demolition of Central Newcastle High School, with thanks to Andy and Tony (Brothers in Arms)”

  1. I opened my ‘Old Girls’ magazine on 5th October and was very shocked to learn that the Central High Senior School building had been demolished. I was the Bursar from 1984 to 2005 and spent a lot of my working life looking after this building. How did it happen that this school, part of Newcastle’s history, the early education of women, and in a Conservation Area, come to be destroyed? I am just so glad that someone took the initiative to record and photograph this sad event.
    If at all possible, I’d like to meet up with you Christine?

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