Good Bye & Thank You: Giuseppe’s Tankerville Legacy, September 2016

My very first visit to the theatre as a child was to see ‘Peter Pan’.  I don’t remember much about the show, but vividly recall being up on high looking down at a stage and being entranced by a very large dog (Nana) each time it appeared.  Most of all I remember being mesmerised by Tinker Bell.  The magic, the darting light, the tinkling laughter.  ‘When the first baby laughed for the first time’, wrote J M Barrie, ‘its laugh broke into a thousand pieces, and they all went skipping about, and that was the beginning of fairies.”  Oh yes, I believe in fairies.  I believe in Angels too.  Spiritual ones with the wings and also the ones without who walk in our midst on a day-to-day basis.  I’m sure you know Frank Capra’s film ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ in which Clarence, the angel, earns his wings.  It is via this warm- hearted character that George Bailey learns the fact that no man is an island: “Strange, isn’t it? Each man’s life touches so many other lives. When he isn’t around, he leaves an awful hole.”  And also the value of friendship: “Remember, George: no man is a failure who has friends.”  Sometimes we need to be reminded about both of these things because, in the busyness of the world around us today, it is very easy to forget.  Did you hear a bell ping at the end of the renovation process way back in September 2016?  Well that was Giuseppe earning his wings via me.

Time to say Good Bye to the fast depleting group of friends (aka angels) without whom this blog would not have been as easy nor as much fun to do: Paul Carmichael, Giuseppe Ferrara and Ken Fikson (above) and the ever-helpful Amy (below).

I miss Giuseppe.  We saw him about the building for quite a while into the new term, as the snagging process seemed to be endless.  It was always a boost to see his smiling face, but he eventually moved on to a new job – a very prestigious one at that – on Lord Lambton’s estate.  It was very fitting, I thought, that the care he had taken to preserve as much of our Old Building’s heritage as possible – in particular the architectural photographs he had taken for this blog – helped him put together the portfolio which secured him the job.  On the day we took these photos, Giuseppe’s wife had just given birth to a baby girl whom he hoped might one day attend this very school.  After he’d gone, I took some shots of the office he had worked from whilst onsite, high up in the eaves at the top of Westward House.  There is no doubt that from here he had a splendid view of School.

Friends in High Places: welcome to the GDST Client’s Office and its Giuseppe-eye view of the Tankerville Old Building.

I know a lot more about the story of Peter Pan now.  It isn’t all child’s play and sparkle-dust.  Peter is, after all, a ‘Lost Boy’ and when we first meet him we learn that has been totally disconnected from his own shadow.  I can identify with that.  And also his determination to become re-connected with it.  Peter’s quest could almost be a metaphor for the creation of my blog.  I felt cast-adrift and severed from my own legacy for a long while after the merger.  But I found a way back.  I have always thought – and taught – in metaphors, a method of analogy which has worked for many of my students over the years.  I hope it’s working for you here.  Pictures can help a lot too.  In visual terms, our trajectory has taken us from here to here:

Architectural plan of the Tankerville Terrace site in 2014.
Architectural plan of the Tankerville Terrace site in 2016.
Google Maps aerial view of Tankerville buildings in 2014.
Google Maps aerial view of Tankerville buildings in 2016.

Of course, how we finally got to the position of re-opening Newcastle High School on Tankerville soil wasn’t as simple as these images might suggest in ‘real-time’ at human grass-roots level.  Real life never is.  However, in February 2018 the working partnership of Ellis Williams Architects and Wates Construction on Tankerville Terrace was recognised as an exemplar of architecture and environmental design at Newcastle City Council’s 2018 Lord Mayor’s Design Awards.  These awards are held every two years to encourage, promote and publicise the best in architecture and environmental design in the North East with a view to improving the built-up environment for all.  Whilst the Tankerville site only achieved Commended Finalist status in the New Building category – the judges describing the rebuild as “an ambitious school project providing modern facilities in a sensitive manner within the conservation area” – the site renovation project as a whole won the Lord Mayor’s Special Award.  The Lord Mayor of Newcastle, Councillor Linda Wright, was “particularly impressed with the investment in the education of the city’s children demonstrated by the scheme.  The combination of works to the existing school and the addition of the exciting new building has created a new learning environment whilst maintaining an historic link with the school’s past.”  Prior to taking up the Lord Mayor’s office, a role Linda’s mother had held before her, Councillor Linda Wright was also present at the unveiling of the Zoe Robinson’s seahorse statue in May 2017.

Councillor Linda Wright, Headmistress Hilary French, sculptress Zoe Robinson and Baltic Curator, Emma Dean at the unveiling of the NHSG bronze seahorse statue in May 2017.

In human terms, however, disorientated and unsighted having been left ‘dumped into the long grass’ (to borrow a helpful analogy from Laurie Lee’s ‘Cider With Rosie’), metaphorical thinking was all there was to sustain us, metaphors being the tool human beings have used to explain the seemingly unexplainable since ancient times.  Some things, it turns out, are just too complex to conform to the unifying order of a string of inter-connected words.  And as the American novelist, Orson Scott Card, understood very well:  “Metaphors have a way of holding the most truth in the least space.”  Extended metaphors even more so.  I’d watched the opening of the Ark in ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ while Indiana Jones was tied to a post with his eyes tight shut.  Knew of Karen Blixen’s hard-won truths in ‘Out of Africa’: “You know you are truly alive when you’re living among lions.”; “The Earth was made round so that we would not see too far down the road.” 

Old meets New: the Newcastle High School Tankerville Site.

If I were to use the tale of Peter Pan again to convey the dark places along the way as the building and I travelled from the old to the new, the crocodile comes immediately to mind.  But as I set out on my quest for truth to conquer all, there wasn’t the luxury of knowing that my metaphorical crocodile had once swallowed a ticking clock.  At such times, one is grateful for the angels that cross your path.  Which brings me back to Giuseppe and the legacy he left behind.  He will now be forever connected in my mind with the Little Bell Tower.

Giuseppe’s Legacy: the little green bell tower.

I now know the structure isn’t a bell tower, of course, but the phrase ‘Little Green Boyle’s Ventilator’ doesn’t quite have the same ring to it.  As this blog moves on to focus solely on Church High Heritage now that the story of the Tankerville site transformation is done, you will hear a lot more about the School and its building as it was.  Suffice to say here that the sub-divided classroom (in height), which we knew in recent times as Room 8, was originally designed as a Science Laboratory – in the days when such things were rare indeed.

Oliver & Leeson’s 1889 drawing showing a lab in Newcastle High School’s south-west corner. [Tyne & Wear Archives].
The Newcastle High School building was state-of-the-art for its time.  The article in the Newcastle Courant tells us that ‘for the extraction of foul air, a shaft is taken from every classroom to a central chamber in the roof, where a powerful Blackman fan, driven by a gas engine, is provided for the purpose of summer ventilation especially.’  Robert Boyle & Son of Holborn Viaduct, London, were the leading ventilating engineers at the turn of the 1900s.  Trading under the motto ‘A peoples’ health’s a nation’s wealth’, the Boyle system of natural air ventilation had been applied to over 100,000 buildings.  Oliver & Leeson’s plan of the NHS roof shows a Boyle’s ventilator in situ.

Diagram from ‘The Boyle System of Ventilation’ Catalogue showing the system being applied to a school classroom.

Oliver & Leeson’s 1889 drawing of the Newcastle High School roof showing the Boyle’s Ventilator in place. [Tyne & Wear Archives].
Giuseppe was a Clerk of Works who really did believe in conservation.  His attention to detail knew no bounds and he grew to love the Old Building.  I knew he had a fondness for the Victorian ventilation shaft because he had told me about an original feature he’d found and photographed up there.  We’d been talking about workmen leaving their mark on a building and I’d cited the name scratched on a roof girder in the 1935 extension.  I don’t think that survived, but we still know that Joe Armstong worked on the roof in 1908.

Along with his close-up shots of the Old Hall’s hammerhead beams, these photographs Giuseppe took of the south gable Victorian ventilation shaft are his favourites from the job.

I didn’t talk to Giuseppe again about the ‘Little Bell Tower’ but, as the end of the project was nearing, something Conal said in passing made me smile.  As the teal gloss was being applied to the external doors, I recall asking him if all the wood was going to be teal.  He said he thought so, but then took back his words, nodding at ‘the bit on the roof’ they had previously painted teal but had been made to repaint.  Giuseppe’s orders, he said.  On site, the Clerk of Work’s word is final.  It wasn’t until I downloaded a batch of Giuseppe’s photographs a little later on that the full force of what Conal had meant emerged.  I did tell you that Giuseppe was a stickler for detail and Tankerville is a conservation area after all.  A picture is worth a thousand words they say, so I will stay quiet here and leave it to Giuseppe himself to show you his legacy gift in a little photo story.

A very small ‘victory’ it may have been, but, nevertheless, all those folk who said that everything would change and that nothing would ever be the same again on Tankerville were not completely right.  Did I know this would be the case?  Of course not.  But I had hope.  And I believe in Angels.  I also know that rainbows follow the rain.

The rainbow after the storm appears over the Tankerville Old Girl, 11th November 2016.

It’s not the same, of course.  The building doesn’t have the same feel or spirit and I try to avoid going into the old Hall and the LRC, but it’s still more identifiably Church High than was no doubt ever the intention.  Early in the first term back on Tankerville, I passed a lady being shown around the Old Building and as the pair moved on I heard her say “Your legacy isn’t anywhere near as obvious as I thought it was going to be …” Out of the corner of my eye I saw the guide glance my way and felt the tailing off followed by a silence.  I beg to differ, of course.  Because a legacy cannot be just glossed over, obliterated forever by a coat of white paint and the installation of huge expanses of glass.  It’s a lot more prevailing than that.  It just takes one person to still remember and Church High was not the kind of place people forget.  My mother once gave me a praying hands necklace with the Serenity Prayer on the reverse: ‘Dear God, give me the Grace to accept the things that cannot be changed, the Courage to change the things which should be changed, and the Wisdom to distinguish the one  from the other’.  Without ever learning it, I’ve never forgotten that prayer and, come merger time, what I could do was conserve the history.  Like all the girls who walked out into the world through the green front door, in true Church High fashion I used the Voice I was given.  If Giuseppe’s legacy is the ventilator, then mine is this blog.  And as with Joe Armstrong before us, our names are now a part of the building, there to be discovered by someone like me, somewhere in the future, who might take the time to muse, “I wonder who they were?  And what part did they play?”

My name signed on the Topping Out iron girder is now absorbed into the New Building (above) while Giuseppe’s joins Joe Armstrong’s high up on the Old Building’s roof top (below).

Giuseppe’s Sign-Off to me: the Post-It note left on my monitor.

With all the metaphorical dust now settled, it surprises even me just how much green there is still dotted around the Tankerville site.  And that’s not even counting the green of the grass and trees.  Little did one know, awash with waves of sadness as skips were filled, that four years on the Old Girl would still be green from her head to feet.

Yesterday’s Colour: so much ‘went the journey’ back then.
But green is still there now at the top of the Old Building….
….. and is still very much in evidence down in the basement.

It’s all down to the angle you choose to look at things, I guess.  Which is how the new glass can’t help but look green when looked at slant.

The elemental hue of Life, green is a very hard colour to eliminate should you be that way inclined.  As it takes up more space in the spectrum visible to the human eye, green will dominate any scene.

It’s a fact: you can never fail to see these handmarks (above) and Zoe’s bronze seahorse (below) will always dominate the front of School.

The July we left Eskdale, I gave Hilary a present of one of my ‘wise little’ books, Kate DiCamillo’s ‘Because of Winn Dixie.’  Its back jacket blurb ends with the line ‘just about everything that happens that summer is because of Winn Dixie’.  Hilary appreciated why I’d given it to her.  Understood the implied analogy.  Yes, a lot of things have happened ‘because of the merger’.  A lot.  It’s not a ride I would have opted to take in a million years and it’s important to remember it was difficult for us all.  The ultimate winner is history.  Owing to the merger, the Jesmond landscape has already changed once and there will be even bigger changes to it very soon.  Yes, we should all pay more attention to history. Winn Dixie’s final line is ‘And I listened careful, so I could learn it right.’  A lesson I hope now learned by all.

‘The Wheel has come full circle’: from September 2018, Tankerville Terrace will once again boast the only High School for girls in Jesmond. Central Newcastle High School is destined to be replaced by a Pegasus Life retirement village.

So where do we go from here?  Well, as a good friend of mine, Peter Sarah (General Manager of Theatre Royal, R.I.P.) often used to say: ‘Onwards and Upwards’.  Because that is the only way.  Always.  All things green eventually find the light and grow towards it. And if you would care to join me, we take our bearings from the second star to the right.  From there, I promise you, it is straight on until morning.

‘All things come to those who wait’: Omnia Vincit Veritas.


‘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!


Green Door No More: On Goes Another Paint Layer As Our Door Opens & the Other Closes For Good, 2nd September 2017

‘Don’t stand in the doorway
Don’t block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
There’s a battle outside
And it is ragin’
It’ll soon shake your windows
And rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin’

~Bob Dylan, 1964 ~

Arriving at work on the last Study Day, if it hadn’t been clear before, just one look at the front door was all that was needed for it to fully hit home.  Finally, after two years and two months – and two Study Days as NHSG – the outer doors had been given a quick coat of teal.  The times they were now ‘a-changin’, for the outer doors were green no more.  So, of course, I immediately proceeded to ‘stand in the doorway’ and ‘block up the hall’ to record this moment for the blog.  I don’t want this to sound like I had been in denial, because I hadn’t, but, having got to know the building so intimately while it was being refurbished, the Church High atmosphere persisted for me longer than for most.  Even now the colour change still feels largely cosmetic, because, even in my 29 years, the doors had been painted different colours over the years.  When I started teaching, they were light blue and in the 1990s they were royal blue before they went green.

Wind Band in front of a Royal Blue front door in the 1990s.
The richness of the blue can be seen even more clearly in this 1992 internal publicity shot for Newcastle Church High. The shot will have been taken by Alison Roe at that time.  The colour isn’t a mile off the new paintwork in the present day.

Certainly the building did now look a lot different inside, but for me this was really just a matter of new layers and veneer having been applied.  As one of the workmen said to me a long time ago, “If all the walls are still in the same place and the outside is the same, then it is still your building!”  For what is history in the end?  Just layer after layer of habitation and use.  When I arrived at Church High, the hallway was painted a deep orange and before Miss Davies’ time as Head those very same walls were actually painted purple.  And, just as peeling paint high in the Hall roof beams revealed its walls were originally painted blue, so the Victorian boot-scraper to the right of the front door tells us it was green even before it was light blue.  I took the pictures below in November 2016, long after the front door had received all the requisite coats of shiny new paint, but all you had to do was look down at your feet and the history was still there.  Things like this never cease to amaze – and amuse – me.  And still do.

Whether it is green, blue or black, it is still the same boot-scraper. Tankerville Terrace front steps in November 2016.

The pale green colour all the exterior furniture on the frontage was once painted was clearly a long time ago.  If anyone reading remembers it, do let me know via the blog’s Facebook page as I’d be interested in a date.  When the downpipe hidden by the ivy cross was finally exposed, there was evidence under the peeling layer of black that they had been green once too, as you can see below.  This highly visible part of the front of the building still looked this way in May 2017 and may still do even now.  It’s all very strange and is in sharp contrast to the shiny, spic-and-clinical, grey/white NHSG interiors.

‘The Buried Life of Things’: before the ivy cross brought green to the frontage, the downpipes were clearly once green too.

But back to those old doors, once seemingly so firmly shut (though that was never quite the case, of course) now not only flung wide to the outside world, but also wedged open by a red fire-extinguisher.  Health and safety, such a big thing these days and especially within GDST, was obviously not being adhered to that day within NHSG.  A huge irony in light of something that was said internally at that level regarding “your friends up the road” in the early days of the merger.

Another stage in the story of the School and yet another layer of paint for those old doors.

But perhaps this was just an attempt at aiding the paint to dry or at least in preventing it from getting on peoples’ hands and clothing, for there was certainly an awful lot of that to come a little later on.  Yes, those doors must have witnessed a lot of things over the years.

Summer of 2014: Me posing for a ‘farewell’ photograph in front of those doors which would soon be officially closed.
Summer 0f 2015: my NHSG Church High Legacy U6 English group and I return ‘Home’ to the steps of Church High for our very last lesson. Amazingly, the front door was open. (NB: I am still waiting for a copy of the one shot with me in it, girls!)
Summer 0f 2016: ‘Green door, what’s that secret you’re keeping?’ and, amazingly, even now it is still painted ‘green for the trees’.

I did my MA thesis at university on the relationship between Man and the environment in Thomas Hardy’s novels, a subject which still continues to fascinate me to this day.  In his autobiography published from diaries by his second wife, Florence, Hardy wrote that ‘an object or mark raised or made by man on a scene is worth ten times any such formed by unconscious Nature.  Hence clouds, mists and mountains are unimportant beside the wear on a threshold, or the print of a hand.’  This idea has stuck with me.  Time, history, the significance of people.  So whenever I see an old artefact like the brass handle on the old front door, I can’t help musing on all the hands that will have turned it. Because as American poet Walt Whitman also once said about landscape: ‘only your immediate experience of the detail can provide the soil in your soul where the beauty of the whole can grow’

Every one of the 12 Church High Head Mistresses will have touched this handle, still showing even now a touch of green.

At around this time, I was told by joiner Alan Collinson of Howell Cummings, who worked on the front doors with Trevor Stapylton, that the brass letterbox in the other door was probably not original.

Alan Collinson ensuring good working order.
Old but not that old?  The letterbox in the other side of the door will still have some history.

Was it there in the lower third of the door panelling in Miss Gurney’s time?  At least from this particular photograph, it’s impossible to tell.

Could there be a letterbox hidden behind Miss Cook & Miss Weddell in the Newcastle High School staff photo of 1916?

These are hefty old hardwood doors and security was ensured in the beginning via an equally hefty Victorian Rim Deadlock affixed to the back.  Since the doors have been secured by a modern mortice lock for a long time now, I wasn’t even aware that the original key still existed, but apparently it does.  Wates found it while working on the building and, as a lovely gesture, had it gold-plated and added to the beautifully-crafted box presented to NHSG on Handover Day.

It will be years since the original Victorian Rim Lock was last used to secure the front door.
The difference between a Victorian rim lock and a mortice lock is that the former sits on the back of a door and the latter is actually embedded within the door edges for security.
Although a lot more robust than this one (above), the old rim lock had a similar-looking key which Wates found, had gold-plated and presented back to the School on handover as part of a beautiful hand-crafted presentation box (below).  Wates also kindly made a copy of the handover booklet for me to deposit in the Church High Archive at The Discovery Museum.

Attention to little details such as this can make all the difference to a ‘happy handover’ between a contractor and a client.  Particularly when the handover was as touch-and-go as this one was at the end.  Did you know that the phrase ‘the devil is in the detail’ is actually a variant of an earlier proverb ‘Le bon Dieu est dans le détail’ (‘the good God is in the detail’) which is generally attributed to the French novelist Gustave Flaubert.  Painstaking in his writing, Flaubert pursued the principle of finding ‘le mot juste’ (‘the right word’) which he considered the means to achieve quality in literary art.  Perhaps it could be said that God is in the detail with regard to our front doors too.  If you look closely at the hinges, there are bits still undeniably green.

God is in the detail still on Tankerville Terrace.

Another quirky detail in the refurbishing of the Tankerville building is the whereabouts of the lockers.  On the plans, there just didn’t seem to be any provision made for them at all, which wasn’t really surprising to me since virtually every spare inch (and cupboard) in the Old Building seemed to have become a little box-shaped office.  So ‘no room at the inn’ meant that all the lockers had to go outside, which caused outcry amongst the girls when they heard the news.  As all efforts had been focused on simply getting us back in on time, for the time being the lockers were located inside our Sports Hall.  They were there for some time in the end, which felt most strange.  Mrs Chipchase would not be at all pleased to see that no protective plastic covering was put down to protect the playing surface either.

The Sports Hall has become one huge make-shift locker room.

For the first time during NHSG Study Days, staff were given some time to themselves in order to unpack and to get settled in.  For me, this meant trying to make my desk area in the Head of Year Office feel as much like ‘home’ as I could.  Not so easy when you are aware that you are basically now sitting in the Chemistry Prep Room sink!  But for a long time now, Tankerville had acted in my subconscious as my very own version of the Forest of Arden where unhappy folk sought to recreate ‘The Golden World’ in Shakespeare’s ‘As You Like It’, one of my favourite plays.  If you know the play, you will understand the analogy.  Shakespeare was making an intertextual reference himself here, to Greek mythology, where the ‘golden age‘ was the first stage of man, an idyllic, green paradise where the world enjoyed peace, happiness, prosperity and perfect weather: They say he is already in the Forest of Arden, and a many merry men with him; and there they live like the old Robin Hood of England. They say many young gentlemen flock to him every day and fleet the time carelessly, as they did in the golden world’ (Act 1, Scene 1).  Of course, when they eventually get there, Arden is nothing like their imagination.  That’s life.  There may be no clock but ‘travellers must be content’ (Act 2, Scene 4).

My base from now: “Ay, now am I in Arden. . . When I was at home I was in a better place”: ‘As You Like It’, Act 2, Scene 4.
I’m still using my clock from Room 5 in Church High even now: ‘You should ask me what time of day it is, instead. There’s no clock here in the forest: ‘As You Like It’ Act 3, Scene 2.

This is what my work station looked like by the time term started.

My noticeboard included pictures of seahorses – bought to approach the formation of NHSG in a positive way – mixed with mementos of happy times & reminders of much-missed Church High colleagues. With a little space left for admin …
This is about as welcoming as I could make a white MDF table-top.  Those with keen eyes will notice a picture from the Church High Pastoral Room, my starfish motto picture from the staffroom and a dark green cardigan, of course. Also please note the plastic green pot-plant on the window sill ….

In the big scheme of things, work-station décor doesn’t count for much, I know, but little things can at least help to keep you going.  I have never liked plastic plants or flowers and the example sunning itself on my windowsill was particularly thread-bare, it must be said.  But it was what it stood for that mattered.  One little ‘victory’ in a sea of unsolicited change.  For when the U6 Legacy Group and I marked our last lesson by returning to the Tankerville doorstep, we managed to sneak inside the building again – just for a few minutes.  The smiles on the girls’ faces were a delight to behold.  We didn’t get very far.  Just into the entrance hallway, really.  To mark this triumph over circumstance, we felt the need for a token of some sort.  Which is how a plastic plant came to be ‘rescued’ from the Meeting Room.

Green Door with green plastic plant, 2015.

It was good to be ‘Home’ again after all this time.  But it was a bitter sweet feeling too.  However positive the mind-set, there were a lot of ghosts there for me now.  I was asked by an old Church High colleague, who left a while ago, how it felt to be back in the building.  I replied “I just see you all there still”.  And this did help me for a while, even if it probably sounds a bit too reminiscent of ‘The Sixth Sense’.  But what doesn’t break you makes you stronger and the trick, I’ve found, is to take little ‘victories’ where you can.  For instance, on this particular day the front door may have been finally painted-over, but at least it was open again.  As I made my way home that night, I stopped in front of Eskdale for a few minutes.  Just long enough to take a couple of photographs.  Although there were now two sets of teal doors, the difference was that this set was now closed for good.

When one door opens, another one closes…
…because everything eventually comes full-circle – in the end.

‘The line it is drawn
The curse it is cast
The slow one now
Will later be fast
As the present now
Will later be past
The order is
Rapidly fadin’
And the first one now
Will later be last
For the times they are a-changin’

on Tankerville Terrace Reflecting on the old as we welcome in the new. A celebration of those who helped shape the building.