Some may already be aware of this very sad news, but I just wanted to let others not connected with NHSG know about Linda Watson’s sudden illness which led to her untimely passing away on Friday February 9th. Whether you knew Linda as a colleague or a pupil, I know a great many of you will remember her very fondly owing to her warm, engaging personality, big-heartedness and her infectious, bubbly sense of humour. Linda loved life and will be much missed.
Linda joined Church High’s Administrative Team in 2003 where she worked in the Senior School Office alongside Melanie Cowell and Lesley Ferguson. Although always a busy hive of activity, the main office was a very happy working environment and they worked well together as a tight team supporting the wide-ranging needs of the Headmistress, Governors, staff, parents, pupils and members of the public. You may have encountered Linda’s friendly face and voice on the telephone or when she filled in at the Reception Window, but, for Church High staff, she was always the helpful, smiling presence sitting at the work station in the far corner beside the window. I, for one, will always remember her this way, sitting at her computer with lovely pictures of beloved cats as her personal desktop wallpaper.
When the merger was announced, Linda chose to go forward into Newcastle High School for Girls and was delighted to be placed in the Junior School at Chapman House. This was where she wanted to be and the valuable personal qualities she carried with her meant she made many friends amongst her new colleagues there. I’m sure that Linda’s industrious, have-a-go work ethic was also valued by her new Head. In the letter she sent out to parents, Hilary French, NHSG’s overall Headmistress, certainly captured the very essence of Linda, her words providing a wonderful tribute: ‘I know this will come as a shock to you, as it has to us. It was only last week that Linda was excitedly preparing for her 60th birthday celebrations. …… Every day in the Junior School Linda wrapped the girls in her kindness, making sure they were always cared for – no matter what. Whether it was a bump on the knee or a forgotten swimming kit, she used her special magic to make everything okay. Linda made us all feel special and cared for and her colleagues will remember her for her great sense of fun and her ability to make us smile and feel good about ourselves. Linda was one of the truly kind people of this world and she will be missed enormously by us all’.
For those who would like to attend, a funeral service to celebrate Linda’s life will take place on Friday 2nd March at 2.00 pm at West Road Crematorium, Newcastle-upon-Tyne. An invitation has been extended by the family for friends to meet afterwards at the Blue Flames Conference and Leisure Centre at Whitley Park, Whitley Road, Benton, Newcastle. NE12 9SF. In keeping with Linda’s character and zest for life, the family are also requesting no black, please, and that donations be made to Asthma UK in lieu of flowers.
Linda will be sorely missed by all who knew her at Church High and NHSG. Although a sparkling individual in herself, Linda was very much a team-player and this is how she will be most remembered: a people person with an open heart, ready wit and a truly joyous smile.
As you already know, the day after Handover I had decided to ‘try my luck at Tankerville’ around 11.00 am on the morning of Saturday, August 27th. So we begin here where my last post left off ‘ ….. those bright red Braines removal vans really did not have very far to travel’.
Moving Out. Moving In. Moving Out. Moving In. Moving On. These five short sentences, made up of only 42 letters, don’t even take up a full line of text here, but they sum up the world around me since July 2014. I wish I could say just my ‘working world’, but, sadly, that wouldn’t be true. I also wish I could say that all of the friends who set out on this bumpy, unexpected journey with me lasted for the full five sentences too. But they didn’t. Although the rice-pudding did eventually all turn pink (forgive the in-joke), events conspired along the way to issue hands of fate to various folk which prevented them from making the ‘full-circle.’ And, to be honest, I’m not sure even I fully managed it. Best to add on ‘trying’ in brackets, I think.
‘Please don’t get me started
Looking backwards to move on …..’
‘…. Strong yet open-hearted, Accept leaving when leaving’s come’.
At the time, of course, in the August sunshine after such a long wait, all I could think of was getting back inside the building again. Don’t forget, even I hadn’t been allowed inside for a long while and this moment of returning Home had been a long time in coming. So, on this final leg of the cycle, orange crates were ‘good’ and Quicksilver were ‘heroes.’ Although this hadn’t been the case first time around. However, true to my word, I remained one 100% uninterested in fixtures and fittings and the word/image content of this post will reflect this fact. I was more interested in what still looked the same. Every spot of greenish hue was noted. (The doors were just a bonus).
Well …… the old green doors were open and everyone seemed to be all smiles, so I just made my way inside and continued my photo-story. As I wandered around the building, it soon became clear just how well-timed my arrival was (Thank You, God). Enough of the furniture was there to give a sense of place, but without the clutter of crates and boxes to distract the eye. Because of this, the video slideshow at the very end of this post really is one for posterity. It seems nobody else thought of doing it. Where were all the people? Finally, as I wandered along the top corridor, I bumped into a man. I thought it best to explain who I was. “I know who you are,” he said. I wonder how many times he’d seen this mad woman and her camera.
I have always been very much against literary ‘feature-spotting’ simply for the sake of it (as my English examination students will all testify), but since we have finally come full-circle again, let’s play one last game of ‘Church High Eye Spy’ – just for the hell of it. Since we all now know that the 1985 School Centenary Plaque was taken down and binned very late in the game, Item 1 is just a blank space.
So let’s just move swiftly on ….. Item 2 is also in the back Quadrangle but you will have to look at the shot below very, very closely indeed. Yep, despite the multi-million refit of the building, the little weather station which last drew data in the late 1990s is still spinning away.
From way up high, to way down low. You probably didn’t notice them as you entered and left the Hall, but there were ‘Smith’s Spring’ brass plates at the base of each swing door. The original fittings are all still there and have even been polished now. For those who are interested in such things, these Smith’s Patent Door Springs would have been one of the state-of-the-art features of the 1889 original Newcastle High School building. Fascinating. Archibold Smith seemingly had numerous inventions patented to his name in the Victorian era including Patent Water-tight Fastenings for Casement Windows. Like the floor springs, all made in London.
Item 4 (in the plural) is also still in the Hall. To me, there doesn’t seem to have been a clear rationale about the original features retained and those that were removed. If we can just gloss over for a moment the fact that huge swathes of original woodwork were painted bright white – bar the Honours Boards now safe in storage – and the big Victorian iron coiled radiators trashed, features such as the air vent in the ceiling and the little display brackets still remain.
No, a renovation that fails to value the quality of old wood, I’m afraid doesn’t value beautiful old Victorian parquet flooring either. True, wood blocks require sanding and polishing as regular upkeep, but not THAT regularly. And they just exude quality and tradition. That’s the expert view too. Jasper Weldon on timber floors: “Much like a piece of antique furniture, once wooden floors reach a certain age they all have an inherent beauty and value that merits investing the time and effort it takes to revive them. A floor that has passed the age of 100 years is certainly worth saving, whatever the wood.” And they were everywhere. If it is too painful, I’d advise you skip the next photo.
But life is all roundabouts and swings, remember. It may help a bit to know the original stage IS still there under the new raised platform.
Just outside the Hall in old Room 2, the Victorian fire-surround has also been left in place. But why cover it up again? The tiles are teal.
But we at least know they are still there and, most importantly, have been preserved for the future. As have the huge, old roof timbers which used to support the bell-tower and are now tightly enclosed within a shiny white laminate coating to create a kind of study bar.
Someone, somewhere in the future is in for a big surprise though. That glorious little piece of original eaves space which remains intact behind a white plasterboard wall with a discreet little door is soon to be hidden from view behind a non-descript white bookcase. I say it one last time. How good would a glass wall have looked here?
I mean, it’s not as if it hasn’t been done elsewhere in the building.
And that is the point where my uninterrupted re-acquaintance with the Old Girl came to an end. A very abrupt end actually the moment I opened the door at the south end of the eaves space. I hadn’t really been aware of it, but I now realised there was a backdrop of noise. Bangs. Grunts. Men. Yes, those fixtures and fittings were arriving.
Having put up with me photographing their dilemma (one of them was the smiley guy, I think), the men all suddenly disappeared and I ducked under the offending table to make my way down the stairs. The original south stairs have been retained, but with the addition of some raised white rubber strips to the edge of each step (GDST are very big on health & safety) which now makes them odd to walk down. And they are now painted grey and white too. As I continued down, the degree to which the ‘new world’ was about to descend on the building became clear. A veritable traffic jam of tables below.
This was definitely my cue to go. I had already bumped into Hilary on the stairs and had given her my best sheepish smile. The men had gone to report to ‘the top’ – and probably for a screwdriver too. In the blink of an eye, I was through the green doors and into the light.
But the world had changed outside in the time I had been exploring. The guys from Braines with their red lorry were just the vanguard. Lining up by the side door was the next phalanx of silence invaders.
As this little army got to work with their trollies, Tankerville Terrace was now lined with big white lorries. NHSG would very soon be in residence and the Old Girl would be empty no more. A sort of mental handover now took place. It was time for me to be on my way.
‘Walking down this road When my pulse beats slow, Hope to have you close at hand. When this cycle ends, Will it start again? Will we recognize old friends?
‘I’m on my way, Soon be moving on my way, Leave a little light on, Leave a little light on’.
Knowing that Handover was due to happen on Friday 26th August, where do you think I ended up late morning on Saturday 27th then? Well I used my ‘noggin’, took a chance and it paid off. If you’ve been following this story all the way, you now may well be of the opinion that, if not exactly mad, I have certainly been ‘very dedicated’ to the task I set myself way back in 2015. Perhaps ridiculously so, I know. In all honesty, on April 20th nearly two and a half years ago, when I realised demolition of Church High Junior School had already begun and decided to take my camera to work the next day to get some pictures for posterity, I had no idea where it would lead. All I knew was I had loved my time at Church High. Really, really loved it. And as I had served as magazine Editor, I had always taken photos of the key events each year. It just became a habit, I guess. Two phrases come strongly to mind here and I swear by both of them: ‘A picture is worth a thousand words’ and ‘If a job is worth doing, it is worth doing well.’ I also firmly and truly believe that Truth Conquers All.
In addition to depositing a lot of artefacts detailing the last year of Church High with Tyne & Wear Archives, I’ve also become a bit of an archivist myself since the summer of 2014. Sometimes you don’t appreciate things – and I mean the real value of things – until you have lost them. EBay has provided me with quite a few objects which will become the subject of historical posts when the building full-circle has been fully recorded. Despite the pain and sadness along the way, it has been quite a story, you know. Moves and transitions on this scale haven’t happened to that many schools. When I joined Church High, and for a good many years after that, engraved silver spoons were traditionally the Governors’ Gift to departing staff. The presentations were always made in the Dining Hall at a Governors’ Tea Party all staff were ‘invited’ to attend after the End of Term Service at St. George’s. I say invited, but it was always a three-line-whip job. I remember a number of long-serving staff saying just before they left, ‘And I do NOT want to be given spoons!’ I wonder if any regret this now? I would have loved some, but that tradition had died out long before the end. Very expensive, I’d guess. Imagine my joy, therefore, to spot this online. And it’s a heavy, early one too.
I have always loved history. I studied it at university as well as English and was a member of the Richard III Society for many years. Perhaps that’s where I gained my passion for digging for the truth, uncovering white-washes and vindicating lost causes? Who knows. But it’s amazing what can be recovered with time, effort and patience. I learned this as a girl watching Rosemary Cramp’s archaeological dig at St Paul’s Church and Monastery, Jarrow, where my Aunt, Anne Black, was Verger. Now that is really slow work. I recall being fascinated by the time-consuming activity of students gently removing soil from between the ribs of an Anglo-Saxon monk’s skeleton. And the tool being used? Why a teaspoon, of course.
They say that ‘Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity’. So I have an early rise on a Saturday in the hope of getting some shots of the move into Tankerville to thank for the bonus opportunity of recording the emptying of Eskdale that day. When I turned the corner after leaving Jesmond Metro station, that line of shiny, bright red removal vans was really very hard to miss.
Just as had been said about the furniture from Church High, Hilary had said very little from Eskdale would get into the new school too. From what I saw the men loading onto the van, it was largely tables.
For a firm of Office Removal Specialists, the name Braines was most apt and raised a wry smile. Since everyone was on the move all the time, I got no names on this occasion but the driver had a nice smile.
One thing is for sure, I’ve made a lot of friends and met some really genuine people in the process of taking photos over the course of this project. We’ve had some laughs and I have learned a lot. About architecture, fire-proofing, engineering, joinery – you name it. But it’s the connecting and the people I’ll remember for the longest. And that includes the connections made via this blog too. For who could have guessed how widely it would end up being read? Or that it would have Twitter followers and a Facebook page of its own too? By January 27th 2018, the site analytics had been running for two years and again there has been no day blog/website were unviewed. Thank you everyone and for those who are interested in such things let me share with you the results of High Times’ two-year report. The first Google screenshot shows the two-year activity Overview.
Being a bit low at the moment, I hadn’t checked the analytics for some time prior to the anniversary, so the increase in site traffic was very heartening. It’s good to know that people do still care. For those who need the data interpreting, the results were as follows: 7,889 sessions (ie, visits to either the blog or Heritage site); 3,907 different users (though to the computer this means devices used); 18,201 pages have been viewed, with the average of 2.31 pages per session. The average duration of each session is 2 mins 40 seconds. This is good because it indicates that more people stay on the site to look at something else after their initial page view than just log off. Since the initial aim was to establish an active Church High online community, the percentage of returning visitors made even better reading: 50.4% returning visitors and 49.69% new visitors. The fairly even split is also good, of course, because it means that new people are finding their way to the site all the time. A real boost. The horizontal squiggly blue line in the top third of the image shows the number of pages viewed each day. As I have already said, the traffic is constant, averaging about 3-7 hits a day, which isn’t bad at all for a ‘niche’ interest site (or as an online bookseller based in York described it, ‘a real little labour of love, you have got yourself there’). If you’re curious about the huge spike on the continuum near July 2017, this is when the video ‘Church High Made Us Happy’ was uploaded to the Heritage site. It still makes people very happy!
I don’t believe I reproduced the sub-continent report last time, but it is essentially little-changed. The site has been accessed on every continent and now only two subcontinents remain with no activity: Central Asia and West Africa. A bit off the beaten track, I suppose.
As the above image shows, it’s not exactly global domination, but we are getting there! The site has now been accessed in 70 different countries around the world. Most of the site traffic comes from the United Kingdom, of course, but I am constantly surprised how the list keeps extending. The image below shows the top 13 countries for views. Some will be higher owing to 43 views on ‘not set’ devices.
Of course, when you view the analytics report for cities (below), you can see that it just takes one hit in one city for a whole country to ‘light up’ on the map. Nevertheless, I think the total of 608 different cities is still very impressive for a small Newcastle-based school.
Again, it’s not surprising that the United Kingdom expanding out-over into Northern Europe boasts the highest density of access points, shown by the huge blue circle on this area of the map above. Beyond that, it is intriguing to muse on who exactly is reading the copy further afield, although in some cases it will be returning visitors on holiday. The image below shows the top 13 cities for views, this time with 420 visits registered as ‘not set’. Newcastle is top, of course, but London placed next on the list may surprise some.
It just goes to show how big a game-changer the World Wide Web has been in transmitting information and connecting people together. But back in the present (or at least a year and a half ago in blog time), those bright red Braines removal vans did not have very far to travel. Indeed, in the time it took me to walk to the top of Eskdale Terrace crossing Clayton Road and Burdon Terrace on the way, the guys had already arrived at Tankerville and were starting to unload the vans’ contents. In terms of physical distance, this must have been one of the shorter moves this firm would have had to facilitate.
However, as everyone concerned well knew by then, the distance between the schools in other areas had not proved as quick or as easy to bridge. Even now, the lurch of the wrench is still being felt.
My personal record of the Tankerville buildings’ renovation process is now complete, but there was still a small section of time remaining before Handover, when the site was awash with last minute activity. So, for one last time, Giuseppe’s camera eye can tell that little tale. Besides, this was now the penultimate full week of the Summer Holiday and, as I would already be going into School the following week to unpack crates and get settled in, I had no desire to be there at all. In the interim, a great deal was accomplished on site during those last four days. Inside both of the buildings and also in the grounds.
In the courtyard at the back of the Old Building, since the paving had been completed long ago, only a washdown with a hose was needed.
However, a lot of work still needed to be done to the large paved area between the Old and New Buildings, the so-called Pupil Plaza. Giuseppe shows us there were no paving stones in place there at all, even at this late stage, and the bike stand was only just being fitted.
From Wednesday 24th, Northumbrian Roadworks Ltd. had been very much in evidence on site, various machines working at full-throttle laying down tarmac for the Carpark – which is in the same place it used to be – and for the base of the all-weather sports pitch.
As you already know, the application of the New Building’s bronze cladding turned out to be an extremely long and drawn out affair, but I was still surprised to see there were still small sections being put in place during the very last week of the job – on the underside of the entrance over-hang. I think the sourcing of this high-cost, high-quality metalwork played a part here. Finished, it looked great.
Inside, the wooden ceiling of the Dining Hall was very nearly complete and was looking wonderful. This whole re-fit process has involved an awful lot of give-and-take. In this instance, a lot of wood having been removed from the Old Building in the strip-out stage, as we know too well, I wasn’t expecting so much of it in the new build.
Once all the flooring was clean, it was time for the furniture to be put in place. If you’ve got keen eyes, you may have spotted that the sofas and material-covered, circular teal and grey stools for the informal seating area to the left of the entrance door were already stacked up in one corner. For a big, big lorry was already at the door.
I am always in awe of the fitness of removal men. The things they have to carry are often very, very heavy and, however well-designed buildings may be, one doubts an architect takes into consideration the demands of moving fixtures and furniture in and out when they design their building. No doubt stairs will be an occupational hazard wherever these guys work, but at NHSG there was a lot of glass too!
The new school was designed to include what the architects called ‘break-out areas’ throughout. This is the reason why what most people would consider the key feature of a school, library study spaces, are smaller than they were. The seating purchased for these areas features built-in mobile device plug-in ports in the arms. In the Old Building, there’s an area like this outside the Head’s Room.
Each of these break-out areas also has its own information monitor. Church High folk will remember there was eventually a veto on self-posting of notices on the walls of the building. A rule which was always broken with abandon when Year 11 and Year 13 left, it has to be said. In the new NHSG, there are not even noticeboards in public areas. It’s a Wi-Fi age and notices for clubs, etc will show on screens.
The New Building was clearly starting to come-together and the combination of its design and modern furniture was impressive.
At this time, the building was still littered with bits of white paper. This is how Wates communicated the work that still needed doing.
The readiness of both buildings ultimately depended on a small army of cleaning staff who worked steadfastly behind the scenes. Anyone who has ever moved house, never mind having building work done, will know just how much dust and detritus is generated. Where does it all come from? With a renovation on this scale, it shouldn’t surprise folk to hear that the cleaners were with us for quite a while.
Back outside once again, everything was being made spick and span. Machinery was loaded up onto lorries for the very last time, the pavement was swilled clean, the perimeter fencing buffed to a shine, the exterior planted areas all tidied up and the new signage erected.
Outside the Old Building, the frontage was being given back what estate agents refer to as ‘kerb appeal’. The bin store beneath my old desk may still be a bin store, but it now sported new wooden gates.
And the big hole in the original privet hedge was a big hole no more.
However unlikely it may have seemed at times, Wates did get their Handover to GDST on that afternoon of August 26th, 2016. Which meant that, finally, the remaining Church High staff and I would be completing a hard-won full circle as we moved back into Tankerville.
Whilst on the subject of full circles, it seems fitting to end this post in exactly the same way. Can you recall the opening image at all? Well, behind those two men in hard hats, the front door is still very green!