All posts by Christine Chapman

Men at Work, Part 2: Inside the Main Building, 11th November 2015

November 11th may have been a particularly wet and miserable day for my weekly visit to the old Church High site, but it certainly turned out to be a very memorable one.  For, walking back down Tankerville Terrace on my return to work, as I passed the front door of the main building, to my amazement, it now stood wide open!

A glimpse inside the old building for the first time in ages.
Men hard at work allow a glimpse into the old building for the first time in a long while.

One of the men at work inside the building had opened the teal-blue make-shift gate in order to deposit some pieces of wood into a skip.  As he became aware of a rain-bedraggled woman across the road from him frantically fumbling for her camera to take a quick shot of the dark interior which had fleetingly been revealed, he stopped to talk.  When I told him ‘my story’ – parallels to Coleridge’s ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’ were becoming hard to avoid by now – he took pity on me and, taking the camera from my hand, offered to take some photos inside for me to see the work that was going on.

I had to wait until I got home that night and uploaded the images to my PC before I could properly appreciate the shots he had captured for me.  I know the building well, but it was dark inside and the re-fit had now reached the stage where some of the plaster had been removed and the walls stripped back to the brickwork.  On the screen of the digital camera, this had proved a bit disorientating.  He wasn’t away from me for too long, so the areas the guy had  photographed had been limited to the ground floor, but it was still enough to give insight into the scale of the transformation taking place inside.

As anyone who has renovated a house or fully re-decorated a room will know, empty of all furnishings and fittings, even the most familiar spaces can appear alien or strangely sad and bereft.  The inside of Church High was no different, provoking complex feelings.  Whilst it was good to see the old familiar rooms and corridors once again, it was hard not to feel pangs of sadness for they way they had once been: vibrant, colourful, full of activity, peopled by old friends.

The first shot was taken from just inside the main doorway and revealed the entrance lobby looking towards the LRC.  The window into Reception had now been removed and, to the left of the shot, grey breeze blocks clearly showed where the Meeting Room doorway and Reception Waiting Area with its Alumnae display case used to be.  At present, this has created a uninviting, very narrow corridor space, although the plans for the new school show that Reception is to be open plan on the right-hand-side of the entrance.

The Entrance Hall in its present state ....
The Entrance Hall in its present state ….
..and just before Tolent took possession of the building.

The second shot was of the LRC taken through a recently opened-up window off the main corridor.  This is the area of the old building where we will notice the most change and, for some, that will be hard to take, as it was a beautifully-designed room always vibrantly buzzing at the very heart of the school.  I believe the raised floor is to do with disabled access; clearly a lot of space will be now wasted.

The LRC now minus its mezzanine levels. The columns in the floor will eventually support the new raised floor.
The LRC now minus its mezzanine levels. The columns in the floor will eventually support the new raised floor.
The heart of the school: the vibrant LRC as it used to be.
The heart of the school: the vibrant LRC as it used to be.


My workman had clearly turned right in front of the LRC because the third shot was unmistakably of the Small and Large Dining Halls taken from the bottom corridor at the foot of the north stairs.  The lovely light ash woodwork and dividing doors, installed during the bottom corridor renovation in Lesley Smith’s time, had now all gone.  In the new school, the Small Dining Room is to be a Conference Room and the Large Dining Hall will house the admin support staff.

The Small and Large Dining Halls as they look now from the foot of the stairs.
The Small  & Large Dining Halls as they look at present ..
The Small Dining Room on the last day of Church High.
The Small  and Large Dining Rooms as we knew them, photographed on the very last day of Church High.


The fourth shot took a little bit of working out, but my workman had clearly passed through both dining rooms and then turned left.  In our time, we would now be facing the cafeteria serving area of the Dining Hall with the open plan kitchen visible behind it.  Instead, the camera now showed really big changes: the demolished single-storey kitchen block to make way for the new circulation extension.

Looking towards the demolished section of the single-storey kitchen block from the Dining Room.
Looking towards the demolished section of the single-storey kitchen block from the  Large Dining Room as it looks now.
The serving area of the Dining Hall as it used to look.
The serving area of the Dining Hall as it used to look in 2014.

The workman had then clearly returned back along the bottom corridor and taken a photograph with his back to the Dining Hall looking towards the south staircase (which unlike the north staircase is to be retained) and the side door of the building: the girls’ entrance.  The grey breeze blocks to the left of the picture indicate that the glass trophy display case has now been bricked up.

The bottom corridor as it looks now facing the side door.
The bottom corridor looking south towards the side door.

On his way back out of the main door to return the camera to me, the workman, my very first ‘helper’ who I now know was called Dave Cartwright, had taken one last shot: a close-up of the now frameless Reception window where Lesley Ferguson, Church High Receptionist, used to welcome visitors to the school with a warm smile.

Reception window looking through to the Headmistress' Office.
Main Reception looking through to the Headmistress’ Office.
A friendly welcome was always provided for visitors to Church High.
A friendly smile always greeted all visitors to Church High.

As I have said before, the people who gave that special spirit to the building cannot ever be separated from our memories of the place.

Men at Work: Part 1, 11th November 2015

The Tankerville site was a real hive of activity today; it was good to feel the place coming alive again after sitting empty & inactive for so long during the long wait for planning permission to come through.  There were men & machines hard at work every where you looked.  The first workman any visitor to the site must meet is the Gateman.

All visitors must first get past Gateman, Peter Wilson.
All visitors must first get past the Gateman, Peter Wilson.

My visits to Tankerville each Wednesday seemed to be coinciding with dull, drizzly weather at the moment, which isn’t ideal when trying to photograph a grey steel structure.  It also makes it nigh on impossible to convey the tangible buzz of excitement on-site now.  The new build had obviously come on apace since last week and it was now possible to get a clearer sense of the size it was going to be.  For anyone with a memory of the low-level Church High Junior School, this was starting to feel very strange.  It is going to be big!

The new build's steel structure grows apace.
The new build’s steel structure grows apace in the greyness.

The steel structure was now developing a sense of depth as well as height.  Not only were all three storeys of the first section now in place, it was starting to feel three-dimensional.  Safety rails had now been put in situ for the workers, but the most obvious new development this week was the presence of flooring.  Men had clearly been very hard at work recently and, as if on cue, three workmen moved to the edge of the first floor and stopped to talk then wave.  The presence of human bodies within the steelwork not only had the effect of bringing it to life for me for the very first time, it also helped convey the sheer scale of the developing structure.

Three workers kindly appear to bring the building to scale.
Three workers kindly appear to bring the building to scale.

In front of Princess Mary Court, it was possible to see to my left the building’s ground floor plan starting to evolve much more clearly.

The ground floor plan is becoming a lot clearer.
The new build ground floor plan is becoming a lot clearer.

Today, however, the most interesting thing for me was the renewed activity on the old Church High building.  As I photographed the steelwork, a yellow dumper truck was moving back and forth behind me all the time, its scoop full of a gravel-like material, and, to my left, over beside the newest part of the old building – the Home Economics & Art Block – a JCB digging machine was also at work.

The site looks like Diggerland today.
The site is looking like Diggerland today.
Dumper truck heading for the old building.
The next Dumper truck load heading for the old building.

The yellow digger was bound for the gaping gap where the single-storey kitchen had once stood.  Work on the foundations for the new glass-fronted circulation extension was now well underway.

Work on the foundations of the new extension to the old building is now underway.
Site Supervisor, Eddie, and friend working on the foundations of the new extension block.

My weekly visits are by now becoming normal for the work force and today everyone seems in a particularly good mood.  There was no shortage of workmen happy to stand and pose for the camera.  Whilst always curious about what new things are happening, a big part of my mind is always aware that I am possibly seeing parts of this much-loved building for the very last time.  In front of me now are windows which soon will be letting in light for the very last time.

Men at work are happy to pose for the camera today.
The men at work are happy to pose for the camera today.

As I made my way off-site, the heavens finally open.  Luckily I had come prepared with an umbrella today.  I note that work is still going on in Alison Roe’s Deputy Head’s room above me.  With no window, not only must it be draughty, but very wet indeed up there now!

Exposed to the elements: work still goes on inside .....
Exposed to the elements: the work still goes on inside …..
....... and outside of Alison Roe's Deputy Head's Office!
……. and outside of Alison Roe’s Office high up in the eaves.

As I pass Westward House, a group of men appear, all well wrapped up against the rain in bright, water-proof, high visibility jackets.  I realise one of them is Project Manager, Nick White, and stop to talk.  It wasn’t just the men on-site who were happy to smile for the camera today, despite the rain.  The work must clearly be going well.

Project Manager, Nick White, poses in front of the building.
The work on the building is clearly going well: Construction Director, Neil Matthias and Project Manager, Nick White are happy to pose in front of the building despite the rain.


‘A Rainbow is a Promise ….’: evergreen and gold, 7th November 2015

My mother often reminded me that a rainbow is a promise from God, so imagine my delight on turning  the corner of Tankerville Terrace today to be greeted by a bright bow over old Church High.

Rainbow over Church High after the storm.
A rainbow appears over Church High after the storm.

And, yes, the bow really did end where I thought it did.  Everyone knows a lucky pot of gold lies at the end of every rainbow, but is it all the luckier if the end of the rainbow falls in a truly green place?

The end of the rainbow.
My destination really is at rainbow’s end.

For, despite the autumnal feel in the air, the entrance to the former Junior School grounds flanked by evergreen tress was still leafy-green today.  The steelwork, which appeared to have advanced more in sturdiness than scale this week,  was perfectly framed by it.

New build structure is becoming sturdier by the day.
New build steel structure  becomes sturdier by the day.

On entering the gates, it became clear that it would not be too long before the steel supports extended across the full length of the site.

Preparing the way for new steelwork.
Preparing the site for extending the new steel structure.

There was no activity on the north wing of the old Church High main building today now the demolition of the single-storey kitchen area had been completed.  However, from the front there was plenty of evidence of interior reconstruction work going on apace again and a new rubbish chute had been put in place alongside the south wing.

A new rubbish chute & a missing dormer window.
A new rubbish chute & also a missing dormer window.

Windows were wide open all over the building today and the dormer window of the Deputy Head’s Office in the eaves was now empty; the removal of the window frame allowed noise of work echoing deep within the interior to filter out onto Tankerville Terrace.

Alison Roe's Deputy Head's Office now looks distinctly draughty.
The Deputy Head’s Office now looking distinctly draughty.

Standing across the road facing the front door now,  it made one very curious to know exactly what changes were going on inside.

What changes were happening in English Rooms 4 and 5 either side of the ivy cross?
What changes were happening behind the front door and inside English Rooms 4 and 5 either side of the ivy cross?

Before I left today, I took a moment to enjoy the beauty of nature all around me, on the connecting gate and particularly directly across the road in the garden of Tankerville House, in recent times the Church High Sixth Form block but once it housed the Junior School.

Creeping Ivy encroaching onto the connecting gate between the two schools.
Creeping Ivy starting to encroach onto the connecting gate between the two schools.
Evergreen takeover of Tankerville House column, capitol & pediment.
Nature’s green repossession of Tankerville House front door:  column, capitol & portico.

The old kitchen extension, which has never lost the look of a quaint country cottage, really was a perfect picture today with its carpet of gold autumn leaves.  The co-existence of green and yellow leaves on the overhanging tree branches brought to mind both a Cezanne painting which has always been close to my heart and the opening lines of Robert Frost’s beautiful, short lyric ‘Nothing Gold Can Stay’:

‘Nature’s first green is gold, / Her hardest hue to hold’.  

'Nature's first green ...': Tankerville House extension.
‘Nature’s first green …’ Tankerville : a pot of green gold.


The first stage of the new build steel structure is erected, 28th October 2015

Despite the dull mizzly weather, aware that the first lorry load of steel had already been delivered last week, it was with keen anticipation and some excitement that I made my usual Wednesday visit to Tankerville Terrace today.  And I was not disappointed.  Even from the road, through the yellowing, autumn leaves there were tantalising glimpses of silvery steel against the gloomy, grey sky.

The first bits of steelwork are just visible behind the tress.
The first pieces of steelwork are just visible behind the trees.

My regular as clockwork Wednesday visits, camera in hand, were no longer unusual events for the industrious yet also very friendly workforce on site.  Particularly welcoming and helpful was Wates’ Site Gateman, Peter Wilson, who, with the permission of Project Manager Nick White, was now allowing me inside the gates at a safe-distance from all activity to enable me to get better shots.  This was a real bonus now as the steel structure would have remained partly obscured by the trees from behind the gate – the first time the leafiness of the Church High site would have proved a problem!

My first unobstructed view of the steel structure with the Sports Hall visible behind.
My first unobstructed view of the developing steel structure with the Church High Sports Hall clearly visible behind it.

Although only a small section of the steel frame had been erected, enough was there for one to start to see the building’s shape already developing.  The sides of the building facing Tankerville Terrace and the Sports Hall will be three storeys high and the back section visible from St Mary’s Court (formerly the Princess Mary Maternity Unit) will be only two storeys.  This area is planned to be a roof garden.

It is just possible to see the variation in height of the steel structure developing.
It is just possible to see the variation in height of the  steel structure developing: 3 floors at front but only 2 at the rear.

There were big changes to be seen to my left today too.  In the intervening week, the single-storey kitchen area of the Church High old building must have been demolished and new foundations were in the process of being prepared.  A new three-storey, glass-fronted extension is planned for this space.  This circulation ‘shaft’ will provide access across to the new build in addition to housing the relocated main North staircase which Wates recently demolished.

The Church High single-storey kitchen area has now been demolished.
The single-storey section of the kitchen  area has been demolished to make way for a new three-story, glass-fronted extension.

It took a little while to acclimatise myself to what I was actually looking at as I peered with keen interest into the dark recesses of the much-loved main building for the first time in a very long time.  The window frames and doorways now gaping open to the elements, offering tantalising glimpses into rooms we all know like the back of our hands, will presumably either be blocked up soon or become internal openings of some sort or other.  However, for the moment, the imagination was free to wander once again into the Dining Hall and Kitchen areas left, centre and right on the Ground Floor; to the Social Staffroom and Staff Ladies’ Toilets (left), Room 9 (centre) and the Geography corridor (right) on the First Floor; and on the Second Floor, high up on the left, the Staff IT Room and Steven Farrell’s IT Manager’s Office (themselves formerly the Careers Room and the School Sickbay, complete with its bell connected to the Staffroom!)

Tantalising glimpses into usually enclosed areas of the Church High old building.
Tantalising glimpses inside the Church High old building.

The only constant in life is change, as we all know, but it is still hard to accept this sometimes.  The new always will be built on the foundations of past things and, as a consequence of this, life goes on.  But the past will always be there.  To paraphrase the novelist LP Hartley,  it is merely another country where people did things differently.