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’

‘Wake-Up Old Girl’: It’s Time To Repopulate Our Patch, 30th August 2016

They say that there are two kinds of people, owls and larks.  Like many who write, I am most definitely one of this world’s owls and, because of this, I doubt anyone would have put money on me ever passing the Royal Grammar on my way to school before 7.00 am.  But such was the case on the gloriously sunny morning of Tuesday, 30th August 2016 – the day that NHSG staff were finally ‘officially’ allowed into Tankerville to start the repopulation of the building.  I took a photograph of the RGS clock, bathed in sunrise glow, ‘for posterity’.  Because, I promise you, this is unlikely to happen again, however beautiful the streets of Jesmond may have been in the morning light.  God was definitely smiling on this very special day and, after two years of waiting, I nearly had to pinch myself to make sure this was not a dream.  Especially as the doors were, even now, still green.

Even now, the front doors were still painted dark green.  Something I found hard to believe.

Having got there at exactly the time School was to be re-opened, those dark green doors did seem very firmly shut.  A bit strange.  I was carrying three pictures from Church High’s Pastoral Room that had accompanied me to Eskdale to remind me of ‘Home.’  My parcel was proudly positioned on the doorstep so that I could take a photo.  Evidence that some of Church High’s artefacts had come full-circle too.  But where was everyone?  Old habits die hard, clearly.  For the moment at least, the Main Door was not the main door of NHSG.  Just the first of many switches and changes to our working patterns as we shared the site with builders for the next four months or so.  But I mustn’t get ahead of myself.  We didn’t know any of this yet.

The Early Bird Gets the Worm: other people arrive at last!

Moving away from the Main Door, I was gradually aware of activity to my right outside of the newly-created entrance.  David Heaton, NHSG Caretaker, had clearly just opened up the building and was now talking to two Wates guys and our own Nick Hearfield, who is still in charge of catering at the new school.  As they turned around, their expressions said it all: ‘We might have guessed you’d be here!’  Or as Hilary once said about me: ‘There’s no show without Punch!’  Everyone knows how much I love the Tankerville Old Building and this blog has revealed both its character and architecture in many different ways.  But buildings are created for people and this post celebrates just that – those Early Birds who, despite still being on holiday, wanted to get past the gates, have a good look around and start to unpack & make themselves at home as soon as they possibly could.  So, this is the way our ‘old patch’ was repopulated once again.

The third person to arrive was Kay Thew!

Always an early-bird on a work morning too, the next person to arrive after Nick and I was Mrs Kay Thew.  Her surprise at seeing me already there at that ungodly hour was evident, but it was nice to be able to walk through the door with an old work colleague and see the transformation through the eyes of someone last there in 2014.  And, of course, it meant I got a photo of me on the threshold too.

About to go into School ‘officially’ at last. The day merited a dark green cardigan, of course.

Perhaps David Heaton hadn’t opened up after all, because as Kay and I went inside we saw Hilary French was already at her desk.

Just as I had taken a photograph of Hilary French at her Head’s desk when we left Eskdale, it seemed only fitting to be the first to photograph her in her new office at Tankerville.

Because Kay hadn’t been inside before, we made a beeline upstairs to the Main Corridor where both of our teaching rooms used to be.  Although my room was no longer there, we went into old Room 4 for Kay and, in fairness, I did once use to teach in there a long time ago.  With the sunlight now streaming in through the windows, this really was the perfect way to come back home again: ‘Let there be light!’

The Old Building was simply alive with light.
New Dawn: a ‘shadow selfie’ for Kay, myself & ‘The Old Girl.’

The room that I was most interested to see was my new teaching classroom, Room 18, as the door had been locked on the Saturday.  All classrooms are painted white with one dark grey feature wall, you may recall, but since the grey wall in Room 18 also included the teaching wall and shelving, the predominant colour here was white.  Very white – and it’s a big room too.  I don’t like white walls.  Really dislike them!  But as this room used to be the Church High social staffroom and the top half of the working staffroom where my own desk used to be, I can’t tell you how happy I was to be based there.  I could see the trees outside and it was going to be a sunny room too.

Room 18 looking west towards the old social staffroom.
Room 18 looking east. The first window used to be in the old photocopying room and the other two at the top end of the working staffroom.  From my desk I can look out at the trees.
Only the pedestal unit was in position that day, but the Room 18 teacher’s desk was in exactly the same spot as my work carrel at Church High. Me in my little corner again!

Our next port of call was the Head of Year Office, aka the Chemistry Prep Room.  Our crates had been put in place by Quicksilver on the Saturday and now it was a question of finding where we were to sit.  Our telephones from Eskdale were already in situ, which is how I came to be working where the Chemistry Prep room sink once was.

The old Chemistry Prep room is now home to four people. At least I got the window desk.

The unpacking process wasn’t easy at all.  Those crates were really heavy, the room was very narrow and those Quicksilver guys had clearly not thought about the weaklings who would be moving them when they piled them up four crates high!  Or dragging the filing cabinets into position too.  But we were getting there by the time we received our very first visitor, who was Church High’s David Hyde.  I don’t think it was by chance that, other than support staff for whom this was a working day, the staff in early were all from Church High.

David Hyde, Head of Faculty: Humanities, is our first visitor.

Movement and voices in the corridors indicated that the building was starting to come to life at long last.  Time to prowl with camera.  On the bottom corridor of the Main Building, now known as The Catherine Cookson Building, Gillian Thorpe (Reprographics) was already at work in her new room – complete with sliding window.

Gillian Thorpe, NHSG Reprographics Officer, in her custom-built space.  It was created in the area of the Dining Room where the trays were collected and Nick’s office used to be.

The changes to the Dining Room area do make it tricky to find your bearings initially if you were familiar with the old building layout.  The top end has been divided up into small administration offices as can be seen from the shot below where the site team were gathered.

The Facilities team taking their tea-break.

Time for a break, Kay and I headed for the staffroom in the new building in the hope of finding some hot water – a situation anyone who has ever moved house will recognise.  As a consequence, we reached the side door at just the right time to record yet more staff arriving.  This time SLT members John Crosby and Amanda Hardie.

John Crosby, Director of Finance & Operations, with family.
Amanda Hardie, Deputy Head Academic, with her family too.

For me, it was a really special day.  Not only was I returning home, but there was also the added pleasure of seeing my Wates friends around the site clearly hugely enjoying watching me do this too.  Like Ken Fickson below, they knew what this moment meant to me.

Wates’ Ken Fickson at the gate watches me taking my photos.

And the news would certainly soon be out that ‘The Old Girl’ of Jesmond was open for business once again, ready to do the job for which she first designed, this time for the girls of the 21st Century.  Beyond the seahorse gates, NHSG’s Director of Marketing was already on the street with a local press reporter and photographer.

Janice Graves, Newcastle High s Director of Marketing (in the grey top), was also at work bright & early that day, of course.

When you enter the new building, you find yourself immediately in the Kitchen/Dining Room area and this is where I bumped into Nick Hearfield again, this time surrounded by members of his catering team.  As the majority of the catering girls worked at Church High, they all looked delighted to be back home on Tankerville again too.

Nick and the catering girls, clearly delighted to be home at long last and all in early to inspect their new kitchen area.

Just around the corner was another old friend of Church High who it was lovely to see again.  Paul Rea and colleague were on site to work out what signage was required and where it all needed to go.  I know Paul as a parent – father to creative Laura Rea who joined us from La Sagesse – and as a colleague, having worked with him for five years or so to create Voices, the School magazine.  Paul’s company, Red Square Design, did a lot of work for Church High and now for NHSG.

Red Square Design’s Paul Rea (left) back at Tankerville again; this time to work on the signage of the new school.  The modern design (below) helps to unify the New and Old Buildings.

We did eventually get to the new staffroom, although there was no possibility of getting a cup of tea as yet.  In fact, it would be a good few days before the staffroom became fully functional.  I know we all believe in putting the girls first, but staff do need looking after too.  We did have some say in the colour scheme for that room – at least as far as the fabric was concerned.  The request was for something soothing and restful.  From my point of view, blue for the sky is fine.

With the pale blue seating and the green leaves at the windows, the staffroom really is one of the most restful rooms in the School. It’s just a pity those of us based in the Old Building (which I’m not complaining about) get there so infrequently.
The first congregation of staff in the staffroom. Kay Thew and I are joined by Gillian Lord, Andy Morton and Gillian Thorpe.

However great it was to know the full-circle was now complete and that Newcastle High School for Girls was finally in its home, looking around us it was clear to all that there was still an awful lot of work to be done – both inside the buildings and outside in the grounds.  The guys from The Tiling Company (Northern), Ltd, whose job it was to lay the grey stones of the Pupil Plaza, would be with us for days.

All around you there were paint trays and rollers and those flagstone layers on the Pupil Plaza still had a lot left to do.

Yet at the same time, some little finishing details were already in place.  A lot of people may still not know they are there, but, if you look closely at the railings, you’ll notice that every few spikes and on all gateposts there sits a tiny, black, cast-metal seahorse.  These came all the way from America.  I know this because Lee Williams and Dirk McLean of Davison Fencing who fitted each one told me so.

Dirk McLean and Lee Williams of Davison Fencing who fitted all the little seahorses.

The ‘Old Girl’ and one of a number of NHSG ‘new girls’ on site.

So, the repopulation of our home patch had begun.  And, however beautiful it may be in itself, even I recognise that, at the end of the day, a building is designed to be filled with people.  Over the years, many different personalities have made their contributions to the rich texture of this particular old building, both via its construction and the education which has gone on within its red-brick walls.  For a school, by its very nature, is a vehicle for growth and change.  And that is good.  Yes, even if the changes may not be of our choice.  If we set aside the two memorial notices, it has taken me 120 posts to get the story of the Old Girl on Tankerville Terrace to this point – waking up to a new dawn which should enable many, many more generations of girls to receive a good education within its walls.  It has certainly taken a lot of time and effort, but I wouldn’t have done anything differently if I was faced with the same choices again.  I’ve met some marvellous people and some of the moments virtually alone in the building, stripped back to its Victorian inner-skin, when it felt almost possible to reach out to the very hands which laid each stone and made each mark, were just too special to put into words.  I am so grateful for these experiences.  If anyone has read every single word, I can tell you that you have read 100,755 words in total (not including captions).  Hard work, but a labour of love.  Add to this an accumulation of strains, stresses and losses, then the final image of this post is testament to ‘What a difference two years make.’  I may be in the same place once again, but I look quite different now.

Same place in the building, two years apart.  The person, however, is the same but not the same: ‘Joy and woe are woven fine. A clothing for the soul to bind.” – William Blake.


Remembering Mrs Linda Watson, Church High Admin Staff 2003-2014.

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.

Linda as the Church High ‘family’ will remember her at work: speaking on the phone at her corner desk in the School Office.

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.

Linda (second from the left) in her element at the Final Staff Reception in the LRC on July 3rd, 2014, happy and surrounded by friends from the close-knit Church High Administrative Team: from left to right: Lesley Ferguson, Linda, Sue Leighton, Janet Kirkup, Steven Farrell, Brenda Cavanagh and Lynda Lant (plus a teaching staff interloper, Lesley Crawford).


Days gone by at Church High on Tankerville Terrace.