The Church High Sports Hall – or Sports Pavillion as it was intended to be called – was opened on April 18th 2002 by Dame Margaret Barbour, President of the New Century Challenge Appeal. The Challenge was to raise £600,000 for the development of a new ICT Suite, Sports Pavillion and Learning Resources Centre fit for the 21st Century within the school campus. The Appeal was launched on 12th October 2000 and the final stage was only reached in 2003 when the Old Gym was transformed into the mezzanine-level LRC.
Church High’s Sports Co-ordinator at that time was Dorothy Chipchase, former international athlete, GB team manager & coach, national athletics coach and national UK Athletics Education and Training Manager. She successfully drove the Sports and Fitness Challenge which culminated in the School achieving a ‘Sports Mark’.
The heart of the success of the Sports Challenge fundraising was the ‘Buy-a-Brick’ Appeal which was celebrated in the Donors’ Plaque which used to be prominently displayed in the Sports Hall Entrance.
There’s no doubt The Sports Pavillion was successful in substantially upgrading facilities for sports and team games for the entire school. It also allowed a wider range of clubs & individual fitness activities.
However, the hope was that it would also greatly extend the Church High campus by providing a new venue for larger school drama, music productions and other social events. But more of that later. The plan was to build the Sports Hall, Dorothy’s pride and joy, on part of the existing tennis courts and link the entrance to the Junior School.
For many years, in addition to the rented school field we shared with Central, the tennis courts were integral to the life of Church High.
Right up until Church High merged in 2014, the tennis courts were where the School gathered for Fire Drills, though, thankfully, never for a real fire. To mark the School’s 110th Birthday, they were also memorably the venue for a celebratory blue & green balloon launch.
However, according to Miss Gurney’s 1918 plan of the Newcastle High site, the tennis courts were originally in a very different place.
I am indebted to Giuseppe Ferrara for a series of early maps of the Church High site used during the redevelopment which show the gradual change in land usage on Tankerville as the school expanded. They also offer a fascinating insight into the growing importance of tennis as a sport at both Newcastle High and Church High School.
There are two illuminating references to sport and tennis in the 1935 Church High Jubilee Book. In her reminiscence of Newcastle High School as both a girl and teacher, ‘I Remember’, Miss Dickinson writes “When I came the only game that the School played was tennis, but we soon started hockey, first on the Orphanage ground, then on one of the moor intakes.” From this it is clear the Orphanage grounds were used by the school long before they became the Junior School. Alex Cowan (A.C.), one of the book’s joint editors, also mentions tennis in her own memoir, ‘The Glory and the Freshness of a Dream’. Writing about herself in the third person as a young girl, A.C.: “She enjoyed the games too; hockey on the Orphanage ground, and later on the fun of going away to play matches ….. The summer term brought tennis, not a widely popular game, but she loved the scramble over the play-ground wall up and down a ladder, which for long was the only way of reaching the two courts on the Fleming Hospital ground.” Although this endearing account refers to ‘scrambling over’ the wall into the Fleming Memorial Hospital grounds, the following pictures reproduced in Newcastle High School prospectuses, clearly taken a little later on, indicate that by then, a double-gate had been created in the wall.
Despite being repeatedly referred to as ‘two tennis courts’ in the history, if you look closely each of the two wired-off sections seems to contain two tennis courts in each case. Perhaps there was also one more which would make sense of another tantalising reference in the 1935 Jubilee Book in relation to the purchase of land for a playing field in Reid Park Road: “In the meantime, the five tennis courts ‘over the wall’, upon which the school had for many years looked with longing eyes, were lent to us. They had belonged to the Brandling Tennis Club and when the club moved to the new county ground, the governors rented them for the school. The possession of these courts actually adjoining the playground has resulted in a tremendous improvement in the standard of the tennis in the school as a whole, and they are much envied by other schools.” The Church High Jubilee history also makes reference at this point to the ‘Tennis Shield’ explaining that ‘the wooden shield was given to be played for only by the four high schools [Newcastle High, Central High, Durham High and Sunderland High].’
Sport has always been important at Church High and the use of these tennis courts was clearly invaluable before facilities improved. Prior to this, things were clearly not so easy as the Jubilee history makes clear: ‘Though the school’s success in games was outstanding they were carried on under some difficulties. For hockey there was the Grove field and St George’s; netball had the asphalt court in the playground, later replaced by red ash; this also provided space for two tennis courts in summer, but these were of little use for the whole school and courts always had to be hired, one year at the Medical College ground, another year in Gosforth, but always at some distance from the school.’
The creation of the Sports Hall meant fewer tennis courts at Church High than in the past, but it brought other benefits. As Lesley Smith had hoped, it became a key social venue. The Sports Awards Evening was held there every year and, as well as hosting the external examinations, it was occasionally used for Leavers events too.
In 2011, the tennis courts were resurfaced with astro turf and were opened by Newcastle footballers. The event was covered by Sky TV.
The astro turf made an ideal surface for House ‘Silly’ Sports Day.
But surely most memorable of all, the Sports Hall provided the perfect venue for the School’s 129th Birthday Party, the last birthday of the building to be celebrated as Church High. The whole school attended from young to old and we celebrated with pizzas, fizzy pop, 4 House birthday cakes and a really fantastic ceilidh band. On the first staff training day of NHSG, a representative of GDST told the new joint staff that “GDST is not in the business of taking on failing schools.” If anyone was ever in any doubt about this, I’m sure this post and the vibrant images below show just how true this was.