At the same time as the demolition of the Junior School buildings, Tolent Construction and various other contractors were also working to prepare the Church High main building for renovation. This included sound-proofing tests and testing for asbestos.
Very little work is planned for the exterior of the building, maintaining the beautiful Victorian façade being crucial to the redevelopment of the site, but part of the enabling works sadly involved preparation for the dismantling of the iconic ivy cross.
Early descriptions of Newcastle High School refer to its “red brick and deep red brick mouldings” being lined with creepers presenting “a pleasing and picturesque appearance”, so the ivy has clearly been an integral and characteristic feature of the Tankerville building over the years, as this 1910 photograph shows.
In 2010 to mark Church High’s 125th Birthday, the School’s Site Manager, Gentian Qeku, who lovingly maintained the gardens in front of the building, trained the ivy into the shape of a large cross representing the design of the Church High badge.
It is hard to think of the school frontage without it now, so strongly has the green cross become synonymous with Church High. Although its removal is understandable because of the new school to be based on the site, many of us will still be very sad to see it go.
Tolent Construction were awarded the enabling works contract for the multi-million pound redevelopment of the three acre Church High site on Tankerville Terrace. They arrived on site to start the work on March 9th 2015.
Initial work included the addition of new drainage, tree preservation and preparation for the demolition of the former Junior School buildings to make way for the new, stand-alone three-storey building to be constructed within the Junior School grounds.
The actual demolition of the Junior School finally got underway on Monday 20th April 2015 beginning with the left-hand wing of the Junior building which housed the small Hall. This was completed on Tuesday 21st April; rather amazingly, this stage of the demolition process was actually captured by the Google Maps cameras which were obviously in the process of updating their images of the area.
By Wednesday 22nd when I went to take my own photographs of the work in progress, the demolition of the right-hand wing of the building, which housed the main Junior Hall, was already underway.
Mark from Tolent kindly allowed me access to the site so that I could record the process up-close and it was very moving to see artwork depicting the Church High School Badge still in place on the wall.
The final stage of the demolition, the main classroom areas and the newest Science Wing had been completed by the end of the week.
Although there was an administrative presence on site until Thursday 10th when the answerphone was switched over to Eskdale Terrace, on Friday July 4th at approximately 1.30 pm the very last girls in green uniform left the Church High building for St George’s Church, Jesmond, to celebrate the End of Year Service.
This last emotional service began with the traditional procession lead by the Head Girl carrying the cross. Behind her on this special occasion, however, were younger girls carrying the four House Bears, an old school hat and the school bell; all were laid on the altar.
Everyone present will have their own personal memories of that day, looking back on the past and anticipating the new school post-merger, but the end of The Newcastle upon Tyne Church High School was recorded for posterity in a Wikipedia entry as follows:
‘Newcastle upon Tyne Church High School (known locally as “Church High”) was an independent day school for girls in Jesmond, less than a mile north of the city of Newcastle upon Tyne, England. Until 2014 it was the oldest continuously operating girls’ school established in the city.
“Church High”, as the school is commonly known, was founded in 1885 by the Church Schools Company (now known as the United Church Schools’ Trust). It left the company in the 1920 and has been independent since, but retained ties with the Diocese of Newcastle and St Nicholas’ Cathedral.
Church High was one of the North East’s top performing independent schools in GCSEs and A Levels. In the 2010 GCSE league table, it was ranked joint third with Central Newcastle High School out of 100 schools in the North East. 98% of its candidates scored 5 or more A*-C grades that year.
On 29 January 2013 it was announced that Church High would merge with the nearby Central Newcastle High School to form Newcastle High School for Girls in 2014. The schools merged in 2014.’
Church High’s Tankerville Terrace site was chosen for the Senior School of Newcastle High School for Girls (ironically, the name under which the Victorian building had first opened in 1889) and Central High’s Chapman House as the home of the new Junior School. However, in order to accommodate an enlarged and extended Senior School of 700 girls on the Tankerville site, Church High’s Junior & Infant School built in 1975 was earmarked for demolition.
Whilst planning permission for the new building was sought and the building and renovation works carried out, those Church High girls and staff going forward to the newly formed school had to make the move into Central High’s Eskdale Terrace building in September 2014 for the first two years of the Newcastle High School for Girls.
Saturday 21st June 2014 marked the culmination of a series of celebratory events to say goodbye to Church High. The familiar dark green front door, festooned with blue and green balloons (blue for the sky and green for the forest) was thrown open from 10.30 am – 2.30 pm to welcome back friends and Alumnae, many travelling long distances to enjoy one last look around a much-loved building and share happy memories with teaching staff past and present.
Blessed with beautiful sunny weather, the leafy grounds of the Junior School played host to a vibrant Family Fun Day complete with circus workshops, face painting and welcome refreshments.
The focus of attention for the majority of visitors to school, however, was the fascinating Heritage Display mounted in the Senior School Hall by Alumnae Co-ordinator, Mrs Sarah Timney.
Against the atmospheric backdrop of oak beams, wood panelling and Honours Boards steeped in tradition, a comprehensive time-line of the school’s history took pride of place down the centre of the Hall. Facts and dates were brought to life by carefully curated items from the school’s archives boosted by a ‘Memory Wall’ and old uniform items loaned to us especially for the occasion.
The final port-of-call for many was Room 6, a treasure-trove of excess archive materials and anything-and-everything-bottle-green boasting the school badge, all destined to become the prized centre pieces of countless personal archives celebrating very special memories of ‘The Old Church High’.