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.

The first lorry load of steel for the new build is delivered, 21st October 2015

The weather was unseasonably mild for late October.  This week as I approached it, the Church High old building seemed tranquil and at ease basking in the watery glow of the sun’s low autumnal beams, despite a large container ready to receive the next load of rubble & debris still lurking in the dark shadow cast by the URC next door.


So good was the weather and briskly clear the air, one could almost have mistaken it for Springtime.  Indeed the number of windows opened wide to the air this week was suggestive of spring-cleaning in process rather than the fact that the destructive trail of the internal strip-out had now clearly advanced down to first floor level.  Today, in addition to those of the ICT Suite, all the Staff Workroom windows were now open to the world.  It must be draughty inside!

The windows indicate the internal strip-out work has now progressed to the first floor staffroom.
The open windows indicate  that the internal strip-out work has now progressed  down to the first floor staffroom.

Silhouetted against the blue sky, a tall red crane now standing in position within the Junior School grounds was a clear indicator that preparations were now underway for the next stage of the new build – construction above ground level for the very first time.

A crane is now in position ready to start lifting the steelwork into place.
A  tall crane is now in position ready to start lifting the steel girders into place.

Indeed, a close-up shot was able to pick up a large mass of light grey metal girders lying along the surface of the building’s foundations.  Apparently the first lorry load of steelwork had just arrived that day.

The first lorry load of steel just arrived on site.
The first lorry load of steel  has recently arrived on site.


Old build metalwork is cut off, new build piles prepared for capping off, 14th October 2015

Today on my weekly visit, I arrived at the bottom of Tankerville Terrace with my camera just in time to catch the old black metal car park gates being removed and finally carted away.  Only old gates, I know, and not very pretty ones at that, but still sort of sad to watch.

Saying 'Goodbye' to the old Church High gates.
Saying ‘Goodbye’ to the old Church High car park gates.

It was evident straight away that there was a lot of hub-bub and activity on site today.  To my left, I noticed that the scaffold rubbish chute, having now clearly served its purpose at this stage of the work, was in the process of being dismantled by a team of men.

Strip-out now complete: the rubbish chute is dismantled.
Strip-out now complete: the rubbish chute is dismantled.

What this now allowed was a clear view of its entry point into the building.  The shaped coping stones had been carefully removed from the sill and were piled up to the right of the window’s base.

Chute entry point: through the windows of Room 7.
Chute entry point: the south facing windows of Room 7.

A close-up view clearly showed scaffold poles forming a sort of stairway up to the window and, up against the familiar pale-blue paint of the upper walls of the room, what looked like a noticeboard removed from the wall now standing propped up against it.  Room 7 clearly looked very different now to when I last photographed it just before we left for church on the final day of Church High in 2014.

Main building window architecture in close-up revealing the changed interior of Room 7.
Church High main building window architecture in close-up revealing some changes to the interior of Maths Room 7.

The approach to the gates of the Junior School grounds confirmed that there was indeed a lot of activity on site today.  Red metal moving behind the trees to my left, sharp bursts of harsh, grating noise punctuated by occasional flashes of sparks were unexpected.

Red metal and sparks behind the trees.
Red metal & sparks appear behind the trees.

However, once positioned at the site entrance, the focus of activity became clear.  The metal fire-escapes off the Staff IT Room on the third floor and Social Staff Room on the second, which exited onto the kitchen roof before reaching the tree-lined pathway between the two schools, were now in the throes of being blow-torched.

Main building fire-escapes in the process of being dismantled.
The Church High main building’s metal fire-escapes in the process of being dismantled.

Hot metal is only metal, I know, but memories of the Staff Room door being swung open, its brass door-knob roped onto the handrail on balmy summer days, came flooding back; also even more distant memories of times further back when staff used to sit on these stairs to enjoy the sun at break and lunchtimes.  It always was a sun trap.

The fire-escapes onto the kitchen roof sun trap.
Metal fire-escapes leading onto the kitchen roof ‘sun trap’.
Top (closed) door, Staff IT Room; open door, Main Staff Room.
Top (closed) door leads off the Staff IT Room; lower open door reveals the Main Staff Room & Madame Chantal Oliver, Head of French,  one sunny summer lunchtime.

Directly in front of me, there was plenty of activity on the new build foundations too.  The piles were in the process of being prepared for the final capping off with concrete to support the steel framework.

The foundation piles being prepared for capping off.
New build foundation piles being prepared for capping off.


To my right, it was pointed out to me that the huge blocks of white concrete stacked where the Junior School car park used to be were the first delivery of floor beams waiting for the next stage of work.

The first delivery of concrete floor beams for the new build.
The first delivery of concrete floor beams for the new build.


Reconfiguring the old building and digging supports for the new, 7th October 2015

Wednesday 7th October proved to be a very bleak, wet and rainy day, but, initial curiosity having by now been replaced by a growing sense of purpose, photographers intent on creating historical record are not to be put off.  The old Church High building looked far from happy today; however, as all writers know, background weather can make the world of difference to the mood and tone of any scene.  Nonetheless, it was hard to shake the word ‘dismal’ from the mind.


The scaffolding rubbish chute was now complete and appeared to be ready for action.  It was noticeable today that there were now two layers of metal gating in situ, the black Church High staff car park gates standing out in stark relief against lighter, brighter new ones; the bent centre metalwork had not been obvious before this and made it look like at some point there had been a ‘run’ on the gates.

Old Church High car park gates still in situ in front of the completed rubbish chute.
The old  black metal Church High car park gates are still in situ.  Behind them is the completed rubbish chute.

The row of white windows flung wide open, presumably to dispel the dust, and loud banging noises emanating from within indicated that the reconfiguration work of knocking down internal walls had by now progressed along the third floor top corridor to the ICT Suite.

Open windows denote work has now moved on to the ICT Suite.
Open windows denote work has moved on to ICT Suite.

A big, thick, bright-blue cable (the colour the Church High front doors were painted when I joined the school in the 1980s), now a permanent feature of the school frontage, was fed through a small window in one of the original building’s red-brick gables and made it clear how all the power needed for this work was being supplied.

The curious knock-on effect of this was to draw attention to a tiny little room hidden away in the eaves whose existence would have been largely unknown to many pupils and staff otherwise very familiar with the Church High building.  Originally, these upper rooms were used by domestic staff, but latterly this one, accessible only via a little hatch in the wall at the very top of the main staircase, was where the main IT servers were situated to keep them cool.

Power supply draws attention to the 'secret' room in the eaves.
The power supply drawing attention to the ‘secret room’ hidden in the eaves.

Other than this, from the outside not much change could be discerned in the old building today, but it is funny how being forced to focus on a limited area of something either allows one to notice new features in it or can bring forgotten things back to mind.

An observant sound engineer I spoke to in April, up here testing the internal walls of the old building, had noticed that the rectangular end section of the main façade was made of newer bricks and I was able to confirm that it was indeed a 1930s extension.  But it would take a very observant person – or someone who knew the School’s history very well indeed – to notice that the third floor of this extension, although very well-matched, is actually made of different bricks again.  Our main ICT Suite was originally the old School Library – a much-valued and long-awaited library which was finally brought into being in 1935 after a  protracted period of fundraising on the part of governors, staff and girls alike.  The earlier two-storey extension is clearly visible in this early 1930s photograph of the Church High School frontage viewed from Haldane Terrace.

Church High frontage c 1930 showing the new two-storey extension with the bell tower still in situ.
The Church High frontage c 1930  clearly showing the new two-storey extension & the bell tower still in situ.

A clear view of the Junior School grounds was blocked by a lorry today, but, beyond it, it was just possible to see that the piles needed to support the weight of the new build steelwork were being dug.

Work underway driving in the piles for the new build.
Work underway driving in the piles for the new build.


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