Progress on Three Fronts: Now The Only Way is Up! 17th February 2016

The temporary home of Newcastle High School for Girls.
The temporary home of Newcastle High School for Girls.

February 17th was not a typical Wednesday visit to Tankerville on a number of counts.  Firstly it was half-term week but, as at Christmas, I was determined not to break the regular routine I had established.  Secondly, I was also very curious to make an extra visit on my way there.  The tone of this week had already been set the week before when the first ‘Journal’ advert for the sale of four ex-Central High buildings on the Eskdale site was discovered in the NHSG staff-room at break-time – to greatly differing reactions, as you might imagine.

The Journal notification of ex-Central buildings for sale.
The Journal notification of the Central High buildings for sale.

The Brandling buildings (the modern Dance Studio, Sports Hall and Music & Drama Block) will be kept on as part of Newcastle High School for Girls after the move back to Tankerville.  However, the four ex-Central High buildings on or near Eskdale Terrace are now all surplus to requirements (the Main Building, Art Studio in the old synagogue, Modern Languages School in Hiley House and English School on the corner of Eslington Road opposite Jesmond Metro Station).  We were informed in the ‘Week Ahead’ that the buildings would be open for viewings on Tuesday and Wednesday, so a team of wild horses wouldn’t have stopped me hopping on the Metro to Jesmond that day, despite the fact it was mizzly and drizzly – again!

It was odd seeing all the doors open and all of the lights on during a holiday, even though this school rarely seems to stop; equally strange, but, also most interesting, was engaging in conversation with a team of four very helpful estate-agents from Sanderson Weatherall in Reception.  They were stationed there to take interested parties on tours of the various buildings, but were also very happy to provide a copy of the sales brochure for the archives.

Front cover of the sales brochure.
Front cover of the Eskdale sales brochure.
The Sanderson Weatherall estate-agents at work.
Sanderson Weatherall estate-agents at work.

The Eskdale site finally being put on the market was an important landmark; the return to Tankerville now felt an awful lot nearer.  I set off up the road again with a real spring in my step now – despite the spitting rain.  Turning the corner into Tankerville, I saw straight-away that the work on the old building roof was progressing well.  The rain didn’t seem to be causing the roofers any problems at all.

The scheduled ten weeks of roofing work is now underway.
The scheduled ten weeks of roofing work is now underway.

Luckily, my raised spirits served to inure me against the huge disappointment caused by ‘untypical Wednesday’ event number three today: Peter Wilson, the Wates Gateman, was no-where to be seen!  I was therefore forced to resort to my ‘early-days’ technique of pushing the camera lens through the metal mesh of the gates.  This thankfully worked well enough for me to be able to record that the concrete-board strips were now in place all around the new-build.

All the concrete-board strips are now in place.
The new-build’s concrete-board strips are all now in place.

I almost left it at that, feeling I had already accomplished quite a lot, but decided to wander on up to take a look at the second site access.  There was still no escape from the wire-mesh, but I was so glad I did.

The side of the new-build through the gate of the upper site access.
The new-build and the newly-created roadway in front of the building viewed through the upper site access metal gates.

Not only was it possible from this gate to see the huge progress made in a week on the new road surface in front of the building – which a small steam-roller was now in the process of flattening out – the north side of the structure was clearly abuzz with activity too.

The north side of the new-build is abuzz with activity today.
The north side of the new-build is abuzz with activity today.

A bright red maniscopic fork lift truck was being manoeuvred about to deliver a series of large packages of a square-shaped, white building material up onto the roof.  This was a fascinating process to observe.  The reach and accuracy of such a small machine was amazing.

Building materials being delivered to the roof.
Building materials being delivered to the roof.

A camera zoom lens is also a wonderful little thing.  In close up it was possible to see that the concrete-board strips on the north side of the new-build had now been covered over with a similar-looking square-shaped material.  And this was all still through the gate!

The concrete-board has now all been covered over.
In close-up, it is possible to see that the concrete-board is now all being covered over.

With the help of Google, Wikipedia and the magnifying function on my computer when I finally got home, I learned that Tyvek (the brand-name of the thick grey covering now being applied to the new-build) is ‘housewrap’.  This is a protective, weather-resistant barrier designed to prevent rain from getting into the wall assembly whilst at the same time allowing water-vapour to pass to the exterior – basically a kind of insulation, I guess.  It will sit behind the ‘siding’ of the building, which in our case will be the copper cladding. After today, I was left in no doubt that the only way is up from now on!

This post is being written on Easter Sunday when the Pope’s Easter message of hope ended with a scripture passage which has always helped me a lot at times of upheaval.  Once again, it is from the Old Testament prophet, Isaiah (43.19): ‘See, I am making all things new!’

Cherry Blossom in my back garden: a clear signal that 'Aslan is on the move!'
Cherry Blossom in my back yard today: ‘Aslan is on the move!’


‘I will Go Before Thee and Make the Crooked Places Straight’, 10th February 2016

'Heritage Saturday': The Church High School Hall on Sat 21st June 2014.
‘Heritage Saturday’: Church High Hall, Sat. 21st June, 2014.

I normally begin these posts by making reference to the Wednesday each series of photographs was taken.  However, as the post dates make clear, pressure of work at the end of the busy Spring Term has meant I’ve fallen quite some way behind events at the moment!  Writing this way does have some benefits though, not least that I am more aware of ‘where the story is heading’ – a luxury we simply don’t have experiencing events in ‘real-time’, of course.

It will also explain why yesterday’s post had a religious feel and why this one will be no different.  Today is ‘Holy Saturday’.  Because of this, I opened today’s post with an image of ‘Heritage Saturday’ at Church High.  I took lots of photos on that day too.  Some were used for the Heritage Magazine: most were just filed away in my archive.  This blog is now allowing me to share memories of the ‘old days’ at the same time as introducing you to the building being ‘made new’.

Sarah Timney created the wonderful Heritage Display in the School Hall which many of us were able to enjoy that day. The stage was set up as everyone who went to Church High will most remember it: the heavy oak table in the centre; the tall Headmistress’ Chair alongside it; the intricately-worked wooden lectern positioned at ‘stage right.’

The intricately-carved Church High lectern.
The intricately-carved Church High lectern.

I’ve always meant to ask whether Sarah chose the place the School Bible was left open at specifically, or whether it was a random page.  I remember thinking at the time Isaiah, Chapter 45 seemed very apt.

The School Bible was left open at I
The old School Bible was left open at Isaiah, Chapter 45.

As I write this, it is now the Easter Vigil, that time between sunset on Holy Saturday and sunrise on Easter Sunday when we remember a world still engulfed in darkness before the stone was rolled away, a time it would have been very hard to remember God’s promise in Isaiah: ‘I will go before thee, and make the crooked places straight.’

On site on Wednesday, 10th February, the pictures I took tell me that there wasn’t a lot of building construction going on that day.  However, there was a strong sense of things being straightened out and new access ways created – to both the old building and the new.

Eddie, the Site Supervisor, leading the way.
Eddie, Site Supervisor, ‘going before’ today.

Directly in front of me, the new build was not exactly a hive of activity, as it now appeared to have most of its concrete boards in place.

The new build stands tall in the sunlight.
The new build stands tall and proud in the sunlight today.

I did however get a friendly wave from the gentleman going up and down on a red contraption adjusting things in the staircase area.

Friendly wave from a worker making things straight.
A wave for me from a worker intent on making things straight.


To my left, there seemed to be more activity going on around the new extension to the old building, though my attention was most drawn to a skip in front of me which was full of old red bricks.  I was later to learn from Nick White, the Project Manager, that all bricks removed from the old building during the demolition and re-modelling process were put to use again filling in all the old ‘holes’  (doorways and windows, etc) which were now no longer needed.

All the old bricks removed from the building were put to use elsewhere.
All bricks removed from the building are put to use elsewhere.

The main activity on site today was hard to ignore, however.  Immediately to my right, a large yellow JCB was in the process of laying down lots of gravel-like material.  Peter Wilson informed me that a new road was being created in front of the new building.  This will serve the second site access which has just been created at the Sports Hall end of the site.  At present, this is a temporary access, but an application will ultimately be made to make it permanent.  The aim here is to reduce school bus congestion on Tankerville.

A new road is being created in front of the new-build.
A new road is now being created in front of the new-build.

As I left the site, I noticed to my right that more work was underway on what had appeared to me to be the old building’s foundations.

In front of the Dining Hall, the hole seems to have got deeper.
In front of the Dining Hall, the hole seems to have got deeper.

However, closer inspection and an illuminating conversation with Peter put my mind at rest and revealed what was really going on there.  A new concrete access stairway is now being created for the Boiler Room.  The ‘Old Girl’s’ foundations are rock solid after all!

The foundations are firm: a new stairway is created.
The foundations are firm: it’s just a stairway being created.

I should never have doubted it, of course, had I remembered the ‘promise’ clearly displayed for anyone who cared to look for it in the Hall on Saturday, June 21st 2014.  It is now ridiculously late/early.  My ‘Easter Vigil’ is nearly over and it will soon be time for us to be reminded of a huge, heavy blockage being ‘magically’ rolled away.  You may not be religious, but, if by any chance you are even a little curious as to what exactly the Church High bible displayed that day, Easter Sunday seems as good a day as any to reveal it to you now:

'I will go before thee, and make straight all the crooked places:'
‘I will go before thee, and make the crooked places straight:’ (Isaiah Chapter 45, Verse 2).



‘For Now we See Through a Glass Darkly’, 3rd February 2016


From the street at least, the Tankerville renovation work seemed to have advanced very little from last week.  The pathway in front of the old building remained blocked by colourful red & white road works, the orange digging machine was still in situ and the windows, as usual, variously open, closed, missing or covered by sack-cloth.

However to the left of the building, where the staff car-park used to be, hollow, clanking sounds indicated that scaffolding was being erected yet again.  What for this time?  The roof was my guess.  And I was right.  Ten weeks of roofing work was just about to commence.

Scaffolding being erected alongside the Science Block.
New scaffolding is now being erected in the old staff car-park.
The staff car-park on a summer's day, as I like to remember it.
The staff car-park on a summer’s day, as I like to remember it: Steven Farrell, IT Manager, waiting to give me a lift home.

The roofline of this section of the building is very special because it retains its original bell tower feature.  The earliest image of the High School building in ‘The Monthly Chronicle’ suggests that the main bell tower, now demolished, was of a similar design to this ‘mini’ one.

The distinctive mini bell tower shimmers in the sunlight today.
The distinctive ‘mini’ bell tower shimmers in today’s sunlight.
Etching of 'The New Church School, Jesmond' published in The Monthly Chronicle, June 1890.
1890 etching of the High School with both bell towers intact.

However, once I reached the new-build gates and was lead round to the Sports Hall side, it was clear that windows, not roofs, were to be the main talking point of the day.  For the first time there was glass!

The north-facing side of the new-build now has glass!
Glass now being installed in the new-build by the Sports Hall.


The source of the word window is actually a metaphor. It comes to us from the Scandinavian invaders and settlers in the early Middle Ages.  Although there is no record of the exact word they gave us, it was related to Old Norse vindauga (window), a compound word made up of vindr (wind) and auga (eye) reflecting the fact that at one time windows contained no glass. The metaphorwind eye’ is a kenning,  a poetic form beloved by both Norse and Old English poets.  And close up, these particular new ‘wind eyes’ seemed very dark to me.  All became clearer later on when I learned it was tinted glass.

'Through a glass darkly': the new tinted windows up close.
‘Through a glass darkly’: the new tinted windows up close.

At times in life, often by no choice of our own, we are forced to view things ‘through a glass darkly’, a metaphorical phrase which entered the language via the Bible (Corinthians 13: 12-13) inferring imperfect perception or understanding things ‘only in part’.  It demands a huge leap of faith to trust in something we cannot yet see or to believe that new growth could possibly emerge after the end of things.  We can only know what we see and feel in the here and now.

This post is being written on Good Friday, a reminder of the very darkest of days when the skies turned black at mid-day.  For those who loved dearly at the site of the cross, that must have seemed like the end of the world.  They were only human, frightened and confused.  God’s bigger picture was well beyond their ken.  As Philip Larkin put it in his poem ‘Afternoons’, they could only have been aware that ‘Something [was] pushing them/ To the side of their own lives.’

Or was it not ‘Something’ but Someone?  This morning I watched a fascinating documentary by Kate Bottely on BBC1 called ‘In the Footsteps of Judas‘.  At its end, it too focused on windows and things initially obscured by dark glass.  Laurence Whistler’s ‘Forgiveness Window’ in Moreton Church, Dorset, part of which depicts Judas’ 30 pieces of silver falling to ground where they become flowers , was intensely moving.  As was the fact that this image engraved on the window’s dark glass can only be seen from outside of the church.

 Forgiveness Window: Judas' falling money converts to flowers.

The Forgiveness Window: Judas’ falling money converts to flowers.

Yes, it is true the green playgrounds are playgrounds no more, but as those of you familiar with ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’ will know, from before the Dawn of Time, there is a magic deeper still.’

'The green playground ... with a high wire fence all around'
‘The [green] playground … with a high wire fence all around’: (Back in the Playground Blues’, Adrian Mitchell, 1982).

Partnership, Progress and Tradition ‘The Wates Way’, 27th January 2016


What a difference 131 years make.  On Wednesday the 21st January 1885,  “The Newcastle High School” was formally opened which made Thursday of last week, despite it passing by unmarked, the school’s 131st birthday.  Even I forgot.  I had remembered it was on the horizon, but, with the actual date not falling on a Wednesday, the daily grind inevitably ensured my mind was focused elsewhere.

And so today, 131 years and 6 days later, just like Tess Durbyfield in Thomas Hardy’s ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’ (one of my favourite novels), the Tankerville site with its steadily-evolving new building stood before me ‘somewhat changed — the same, but not the same.’

The red stripes give the new build a distinctive look at the moment.
Red stripes make the new build distinctive at the moment.

The red stripes on the growing number of concrete board panels on the new build made me smile.  Although they will soon be covered over, just for the moment, in my imagination at least, they seemed to be locked in an age-old regional dialogue with the old building where I knew a ‘black-and-white’ builder had mischievously left his ‘mark’.

'Black-and-white' mischief on top floor of the main building.
‘Mischief’ on the top floor of the main building.

The very first Tyne-Wear Derby match took place in 1883 just two years prior to the founding of our school.  So, even if I wasn’t aware as I’m writing that it’s ‘Derby Day’ today, it seems fitting to mention such a long-established feature of our regional identity in this post.  Church High drew its pupils from both Northumberland and Wearside – ‘both sides of the water’ – and NHSG is exactly the same.

Water and gas mains being covered over.
The water & gas mains are now completed.

To my left, it was clear the installation of the water and gas mains was now complete as the deep trench was being filled in with earth.  Ahead of me, the height and scale of the new building were made very apparent thanks to the two small figures standing on the roof.

Two Wates workers on the roof bring the new build to scale.
Wates workers on the roof provide scale for the new build.

Nearly as long-established as the school, The Wates Group also has a proud 119 year history as an independent family owned company.  Edward Wates and his three brothers set it up in 1897, so I think the Tankerville site is in both safe and very appropriate hands.  Wates as a company clearly understand family values and ‘The Wates Way’ seems to focus on people and partnership.  In my dealings with them, I have certainly always found them to be most helpful and very understanding about how much the building they are working on means to us all.  And this sense of partnership was very evident on site today.  Everyone seemed to be working in pairs!

Up on the roof and within the new build ...
Both up on the roof and within the new build itself today …
.... everyone seemed to be working in pairs. Teamwork equals progress.
…. everyone from Wates seemed to be working in pairs.

It seems to me that the Wates company vision of ‘Reshaping Tomorrow’ is not too far removed from the vision of any school and particularly a forward-looking school such as ours.  Wates’ website proclaims that their company vision ‘builds upon our core values of performance, intelligence, teamwork, integrity and, in particular, respect for people and communities.  By delivering it, we will be creating tomorrow’s people, tomorrow’s communities, tomorrow’s environmental footprint, tomorrow’s buildings and tomorrow’s behaviours.’  With a vision as thoughtful as this, I know our building is being held in safe hands.