The image I’ve chosen to open this post is of the top floor landing of the north staircase in July 2014. If the wall on the left seems bare, that’s because you are unlikely to have seen it without this picture:
On the empty hook below, a framed notice used to hang recording in calligraphy an important piece of School history: ‘The Raphael Madonna [which hung on the south wall of the Hall] , the Roger Van der Weydon Adoration, the prie-dieu and the hymnboard were presented by the Old Girls in affectionate remembrance of Deaconess Eva Mary Siddall who was head mistress from 1894-1902 and retained a lively interest in the school which she loved until her death on 15th February 1959.’
Deaconess Mary Siddall was the second Headmistress of Newcastle High School and it is typical of Church High that she was prominently remembered right up until the building closed in 2014, despite the fact that by then the picture had become just ‘part of the furniture’. This area of the top corridor has only looked this way since 1954 when a third floor, allowing the creation of a long-awaited Library, was added to the flat roof of the 1933 two-storey north extension. If you look very closely, the join can just be detected in the brickwork, but only if you know what you are looking for. They did a good job.
The Jubilee Book (page 40) describes the changes at the end of the main corridor to allow access to the new north extension at this level. The landing space created for this purpose was virtually identical to the one added 20 years later on the top corridor I began by describing: ‘In place of the big window on the stairs, there is now a staircase leading up to a new staff room (the old staff room is now a form room), two new form rooms, a useful little room containing a sofa, the medicine chest, and a radiator, for the succour of invalids and the injured, some cupboards, and eventually a flat roof which is marked out for Tenniquoits, and which is designed to carry another room when, and if, this proves necessary. In the meanwhile it is a pleasant place for air and sun.’ The 1933-4 Jubilee School Magazine features a wonderful pupil’s black & white lino print showing girls enjoying the sun on the roof.
As the magazine for 1954 made clear, it was with great excitement that the Library was finally opened on the newly-created third floor of the north extension. There had been a Library Fund set up for many years previously and in 1949 a temporary library had been set up in one of the form rooms. The Centenary Book tells us that by 1952 Mr Clive Newcombe’s designs for the flat roof space had been accepted. In addition to the Library, the design included a cloakroom [later to become Sickbay/IT Manager’s Office] and an Upper Sixth Form room [later the Careers Room/Staff IT Room]. It was opened on July 16th 1954 by Mrs Mildred Horsley, an Old Girl of the School herself and a very proactive Governor. A wooden commemorative plaque remained in place until the ICT Suite arrived.
The Centenary Book records that ‘Before she performed the ceremony, Mrs Horsley told us that Deaconess Siddall had begun to dream of a library. Miss Gurney had given several bookcases. The Governors had made an annual grant towards library books. When Mr Newcombe designed the dining room and rooms above before the war, a flat roof was left as “an act of faith”. The war and the immense rise in building costs made it impossible to do more then, but the dream had been realised. Many gifts were given, such as a librarian’s desk, which Mr Nusenbaum had specially made, an oak table provided by Mrs Waterman in memory of the 15 years during which she and her husband had cared for the school, and an 18th century clock given by the Old Girls in memory of Miss Dickinson. To raise the money to finish paying for the Library, Old Girls, parents and the School worked for a year for a bazaar held on 23rd October.’ Quite clearly, the Library was then the pride of the School.
The Library was a wonderfully atmospheric place. I remember well the parquet floor, heavy oak tables and the red leather of the seats contrasting with the wood of the bookcases lining the room’s walls.
When I joined Church High in 1985, the book ruled, of course, and the Librarian was an ex-Maths teacher, the gentlemanly John Waite.
Computers had arrived at Church High by then – the School’s first Computer Club began in 1984 – but those first machines ‘lived up the road’, by the red letter box, on the top floor of Gurney House.
When John Waite retired, the Library became the realm of the genial Janice Fox for the next 10 years. Mrs Fox’s welcoming smile, humour and wonderful displays all added to the vibrancy of the space.
At the turn of The Millennium, there was a real sense of loss when the Old Library was dismantled and all the books transferred to a temporary residence in what was then known as Room 16 on the ground floor of Tankerville House across the road. To fulfil Lesley Smith’s modernising vision for Church High, The New Century Challenge, the top north-east corner of the building was now destined to become a state-of-the art ICT Suite thanks to the new IT Manager, Steven Farrell. It’s hard now to remember it being any other way.