Meanwhile Up the Road 2: State-of-play With ‘The Old Girl’ (By End of Term)

As I have said many times before, I know, we were really so very lucky GDST hired Giuseppe Ferrara as their Clerk of Works for the project.  A kind man, an extremely honorable man, but, above all, a man with a huge love and respect for history.  As well as for cats!  You already know the kindness he extended to me and the blog by securing my access to all of the photographs he took as part of his job.  Also that he took pains to ensure that all ‘little archeological finds’ found their way back to folk who cared about the building (c/o me).  After a while, it became clear that some shots must have been taken with me in mind, knowing, as he did by then, I was denied site access.  He also uploaded photographs he had taken when he first had access to the stripped out building.  Fascinating, but so very sad.  Now, as the shot that opens this post shows, Giuseppe was turning his attention to taking care of the building’s past.  The NHS legacy.

Giuseppe had the handrail cut from in front of the NHS stone.

This stone has always marked the side entrance (traditionally the Girls’ entrance of the school at Newcastle High and Church High), though it is no longer in its original position.  From the early 1900s image below, you can see it used to be face-on, not on a side wall.  As the pupil numbers continued to rise, so, obviously, did toilet needs.  Indeed the very first extension to the building, not too long after it opened, was to provide five new toilets.  Three to what is referred to on CA Clayton Greene’s architects plans (below), held at Tyne & Wear Archives, as the South Cloakroom and two to the North one.  Originally, there were two cubicles in each.  At a later date, a few more were clearly added and the stone repositioned accordingly.

Newcastle High School girls’ side entrance in the early 1900s.
Clayton Greene’s cloakroom alteration plans (T&W Archives).

It’s little touches, like this stone, that make the difference between an okay and a good job, of course.  When I thanked Giuseppe for his attention to detail, he replied that not everyone thought that way.  It was no surprise to me that Giuseppe landed a prestigious contract when his work at Tankerville was done.  He now works for Lambton Estates on a big heritage project.  I watch its progress with interest.

At this time, Giuseppe also seemed to have his eye on all the wiring criss-crossing the front of the building too.  These were partly old telephone wires, but also the cabling allowing internet access in Church High’s peripheral buildings.  All amazingly done ‘in house’.  Not everything pointed out by Giuseppe was rectified, however.  Unbelievably, the downpipe, for so many years hidden from view beneath the ivy cross, remains unpainted even at the time of writing.  And there are even weeds growing out of the frontage now too.  I’m promised they won’t be there in September.  Never in Gentian’s day!

Giuseppe points out loose wires & a downpipe needing paint.

I realise the main motivation for denying staff site access was to limit any possibility of work being slowed down.  But when you look at Giuseppe’s photo taken at the very centre of the site at this time, it crosses your mind that there may also have been a fear things might not be ready in time for handover, only six weeks away now.

Centre of the site, the Pupil Plaza, with only six weeks to go.

When I took Hilary’s photograph in her office on the last day of term, I’d asked whether I might be allowed on site again once we were into the school holidays.  There was a limit to how many shots one could take through a metal fence, I had joked.  She agreed and promised to contact Nick to let him know that Christine was to be allowed back on site “providing they were not very busy.” I had fully intended to renew my weekly site visits, but, in the end, I didn’t.  A surprise to me too.  But I was very tired by then and, once distanced from things at home, following Giuseppe’s update shots was enough.

Piles of packing crates are now stacking up.

So what was going on at Tankerville the week NHSG’s second year was drawing to its close at Eskdale?  Well, a lot to do with wood.  Waites pride themselves as being responsible constructors, so it should be no surprise to hear that all delivery pallets were recycled.  Newcastle Wood Recycling CIC, whose tagline and web address is ‘We love wood’ (I like them already!) must have been regular visitors on site during this time when a lot of the fitting out was taking place.

Another load of pallets goes off to be recycled.

However, the main focus on wood that week was via tree-planting.  You may recall that one tree had to be sacrificed during the building process and a new one was planted – though not in an ideal place.  Well, we were now onto the soft-landscaping stage of the project.  This involved planting a number of new trees behind the New Build.

On EWA’s tree strategy works plan (below), this is largely the white rectangular area to the left of centre.  The Construction Exclusion Zone (outlined in red on the plan) is the tree-lined path to the field.

Giuseppe holding EWA’s Tree Strategy works plan (above). The area outlined in blue is now being re-planted (below).

Giuseppe was required to compile a weekly photographic record of the work done on site to send to EWA and GDST Estates in London.  Because of this, I can show you the tree-planting step-by-step.

This tree is planted just a little further along.

It has not always been plain-sailing with the residents committee of Princess Mary Court with regard to the building work, so I doubt it is by chance that the back of the new building will eventually be screened by a line of trees.  By their leaves, they look like Ash to me.

I’m sure the glass finish will have proved more beautiful than Princess Mary residents expected, but eventually Mother Nature will have screened everything off behind a wall of trees.

There were many restrictions on a build of this nature, of course.  Another involved the perimeter wall of what used to be the grounds of the Phillipson Memorial Orphanage, latterly lining one side of the pathway which ran between the Junior and Senior School buildings.  The historical arm of Newcastle Council had demanded that, after being moved, it had to all be put back somewhere, brick by brick.  The final solution appears to have been to attach it to the building.

How to incorporate a stone wall into the design when a pathway no longer exists!

And that gap we made a long time ago in the wall separating us from our other Moor Edge neighbours, the Fleming Children’s Hospital?  Well, as we can see from the shot below, that was nearly filled now.

Only the very top coping stones left to do now.

A peep over the other side of it seems to show that everyone is happy.  I have shared once before in this blog what the poet Robert Frost wrote in ‘Mending Wall’: “Good fences make good neighbours.”

‘Before I built a wall I’d ask to know/What I was walling in or walling out,’ (Mending Wall).


Meanwhile Up the Road 1: State-of-play Within ‘The Old Girl’ (By End of June)

Although I’d felt safe in the knowledge ‘The Old Girl’ was in good hands for a long time now, I was still curious as to the ‘state-of-play’ inside those dark green doors.  This curiosity also extended to the length of time the said doors could possibly still remain dark green.  We were, after all, two full calendar years into the merger by now.  Things like that never ceased to make me smile, recalling all the sad backward looks as we left the building for the very last time in 2014.

A bit plaster-spattered, but the side entrance is still as it was.

To discover how the plaster-splashes in the shot above got there, one didn’t have to go very far into the building at the end of June.

The plaster is new but the old south staircase is still green too.

Up until recently, the west wall of the south stairs was still pale blue in colour, although channels had been cut into the plaster to allow the addition of electrical cabling needed to install new wall-lights.  Strange with such a huge window already there.  But I recall Central and GDST folk continually ‘worrying’ about the building being dark.

Channels cut into the still pale blue stair wall.
Despite the large original window on the first floor landing, there are clearly to be wall lights on the stairways of the refurbished building.

This fixation with making things ‘light’ ultimately ran through the entire refurbishment process, which was hard to take for someone who loves natural wood as much as I do.  Those big, rustic bell tower support timbers exposed during the strip-out never stood a chance.

The beautiful old bell tower support timbers in their natural form (above) and now all enclosed in a white melamine casing (below).

I’ve never felt at ease in rooms painted white.  When on a family holiday in Dorset once, the single bedroom allocated to me in an (otherwise lovely) cottage was thick-walled and white.  I found it impossible to sleep in.  It seemed to suck my breath away.  As a child, I recall a school-girl game: think of an animal; now think of an expanse of water; how would you feel waking up in a white room?  Apparently the last question was meant to indicate how one felt about death.  Enough said, I guess.  Well, at least it was still our building.

The bell tower’s timber supports will soon become a white study bay in a very white Sixth Form Library under the eaves.

A rare reversal of this trend was evident on the first floor landing of the newly-created north staircase in the infill extension, however.  This time I did approve of the new design features.  Very, very much.  I thought it a lovely touch on the architect’s part that the one exterior window which remained unblocked off had been allowed to retain its red brick edging.  A nod to the fact that this was once outside.

A lovely design reference to the old within the new.

I know that not everyone will have followed all my posts nor be as familiar with the building as I am.  Because of this, I’m including two images below from a lot earlier in the refurbishment process which should hopefully remind everyone of where this window used to be.

This window used to be second from the left in Newcastle High School’s north elevation. In recent times, it was in Room 9 (RS room). The image above shows the infill extension area as it was in October 2015. By December 2015 (below), it was possible to see which window would still be there in the NHSG building.

It’s also nice to know that, way up high, on the west facing apex of the north gable, two of Newcastle High School’s original windows are still there even now.  True, they’re not the most typical-looking windows and the area into which they were intended to allow light is no longer there, but I love the fact they’re still up there.  Survivors.

Giuseppe’s photos of the exterior brickwork included these two very distinctive images. It took me a little while to figure out both what they were of – and where they were taken.

In this shot of the back of the original Newcastle High School building, you can just make out two small windows high in the gable apex.

The windows at the apex of the north gable-end of the original Newcastle High School building as they were in 1900.

And this is what the same back-of-the-building view looks like today.

The conjunction of old and new: the back of the building now.

Also at the back of the building around this time, a piece of old Church High history was being removed.  In recent times, most will have been unaware of the presence of an old wooden gate within the back perimeter wall.  Others may remember that it once allowed access to five tennis courts on the other side of the wall which Church High used to use.  Before this, the courts in the Fleming Children’s Hospital grounds belonged to the Brandling Tennis Club.  There is now a new development on this land: a care home.  Because of this, no doubt with security uppermost in mind, GDST clearly thought it best to reinstate the stone wall in its entirety once again.

The gates in the wall behind the school as they once were.
The old gates are finally now being removed.
Waites guys say ‘Hello’ to the Helen McCardle Care Home team on the other side of the wall.
Work underway on Fleming Court’s garden.

As with all work undertaken on the building’s refurbishment, the architects took pains to ensure that the finish was high standard.

Reclaimed stone was delivered to the site to do the infill job.

I’m sure you will have worked out by now that wherever Giuseppe’s camera pointed on site indicated where work was being undertaken that day or still needed to be done.  From the shot I’ve chosen to end this post with, I wonder if you can guess what he wanted done next?


Count-Down Complete: The Last Day (Ever) In Eskdale, 7th July 2016

Giuseppe’s photos of Tankerville taken in the sunny, late morning of Thursday, 7th July depict yet another tranquil, almost lazy scene.  If there was heavy work being done, it certainly wasn’t photographed by Giuseppe that day.  As the image above shows, the Boiler House was once again the main focus of activity, although those with very sharp eyes may have noticed signs on the bin-store gates.  At this stage of the refurbishment, the guy passing by in the pale-blue shirt would almost certainly have noticed loud, echoing, grating noises emanating from this area – as I had done earlier in the week.  As more of Giuseppe’s shots show us, arc welding was in progress.

No entry: R.M. Myers’ arc welders are at work.
Though, clearly, they weren’t when Giuseppe did his rounds!

I didn’t venture up to Tankerville that day, because it was the last day of the academic year and anyone connected with schools and teaching will know how busy they are.  Your feet never touch the ground.  But for me, this one was particularly welcome.  My spirits were positively buoyant knowing that this was the last day I would ever have to grapple with all those stairs and traipse across the pot-holed, cobbled back lane to the English Dept in Eslington Tower.  Indeed, I don’t think I even had to go across to Eslington that day.  It also goes without saying that by that time I had reached the point where I never wanted to see another door painted purple ever, ever again.  To have been forced to work as NHSG for two whole years in a building still painted from top-to-toe (and I mean from top-to-toe) in Central’s colours was an insult which will take a while to forget.

The run of purple doors & skirting boards I met every morning.

Another ritual with its legacy in Central was daily Briefing at 8.25 am each morning.  After 6 months back at Tankerville, these have now been whittled down to only Mondays and Fridays.  The first hard-won triumph for those keen to change the ritualistic ways of the building actually occurred very early.  Within a couple of weeks of NHSG, girls were finally allowed to knock on the Staffroom door!  Anyway, for those folk who are curious to know what Staff Briefing at Eskdale looked like, here is my visual record of the very last one.

As you can see, the Staffroom was thankfully painted blue.
If you sat on this side of the room you could at least hear …
…. but if you sat beyond the arch, you didn’t stand a chance!
The SLT always entered at the last minute and all stood in a line at the front. On the last day, the SLT members, from left to right, were: Deputy Head, Amanda Hardie; Director of Finance & Operations, John Crosby: Senior Deputy Head, Michael Tippett; and NHSG Headmistress, Hilary French.
For most of the time, this was pretty much my view of things.

Throughout this whole process, as you know, I have made it my job to document events for posterity.  At Church High in the summer of 2014, I photographed a lot of people for the last time in the places they had worked and loved.  In the summer of 2016, I offered to do the same thing as we got ready to leave Eskdale.  It surprised me greatly that of everyone I asked, only two people said “Thank you” to my offer to photograph them in their offices: Michael and Hilary.  I leave it to you to draw your own conclusions there.  I found it odd.

Michael Tippett in his office on the Main Corridor opposite the Staffroom. Despite the smile, he was sad to be leaving it.
Hilary changed her dress for the Celebration of Achievement.
I know, for some, Hilary’s Office always remained tinged with uncomfortable memories of merger-time interviews, but I thought it a nice room – perhaps because it was painted blue.

However, I suppose, like us, they said all their goodbyes when they celebrated the end of Central Newcastle High School in June 2014.  I was there – probably the only person from Church High who did go.  I was just curious.  To see what the other school we were being joined with was really like.  In ethos and also the physical layout of the building.  After all, this was where I would very soon be working.  I learned a lot that day.  It was a strange experience to witness as an outsider, but it was very helpful, nonetheless.  If you take the time to watch the 15 minute YouTube video created that day, by clicking on the link above, you might notice I appear twice, lurking by the Hall door.  The first time you see me is good timing.  Just after the Town-crier announced that Central’s first compulsory uniform was green!  That morning I also bumped into my good friend Laura Barrett, an ex Central girl, and Mrs Joyce Anderson in the Sixth Form Library.  This is where the history lay and, as such, was always my favourite room.

Meeting Laura Barrett in the modern Conference Room (above) & an ex-Central teacher in the Old Library (below).

From quite early on in NHSG’s life, Hilary’s office was adorned with a small, metal sculpture of a seahorse, made for her by Zoe Robinson.  Hilary hung this in a window so it could be seen against the light.  At the time of making it, Zoe would not have believed you if, somehow managing to look into a crystal ball, you’d told her that just over a year later she’d have won a commission to create a six foot high bronze seahorse for NHSG’s grounds when it finally got home.  An awful lot of other people wouldn’t have believed you either.  This was typical of the way a lot of our talent was undervalued.

Zoe’s seahorse hung against a window in Hilary’s office at Eskdale – as it now does against a much bigger window at Tankerville.

Just as Hilary’s office would always remind some of an interview undertaken in exceedingly stressful circumstances, in my mind the Eskdale building itself could not ultimately be separated from the sad and painful memory of those who were not treated well there.  The imminent return to Tankerville was also a little tinged by the awareness that the number of staff returning was fewer than the number successful at interview who had set off for ‘down the road.’

For me, Eskdale had long echoed with the ghosts of ‘Absent Friends’: by July 2016, Church High’s long-serving IT Team and Senior Science Technician were no longer ‘aboard ship’.

Yes, a lot of things had changed since the whole school stood in front of that newly-painted teal front door on the inaugural day of NHSG.

The launch of NHSG: 4th September 2014. Note a slimmer version of me standing underneath the teal signage, waving.

In real-time, yesterday’s end of term, a year further on, now in a building with teal-coloured doors, saw me enjoying a Celebration of Achievement for the first time.  We are finally finding our ‘sea-legs’.

Celebration of Achievement 2017: Newcastle High School.

There hasn’t been a total sea-change as yet, however.  It is with sadness that I report that two more members of the old Church High staff decided it was time to jump ship: Mrs Batchelor & Mrs Harris.

Goodbye: Lynn Batchelor (above) pictured in her revamped Old Building Home Economics Room and Sue Harris (below) in her New Building Maths Room with members of my Year 9.

But on July 7th 2016, I knew none of this.  I just knew that the dream displayed on the NHSG noticeboard was soon to become a reality.

For two years, this was the dream vision we worked towards.

No more purple doors for me.  Back on Tankerville, I hoped to draw strength from a sky that was blue and trees that were, oh so, green.


Packing On Fast-Track: Penultimate Day At Eskdale, 6th July 2016

It’s just as well my week-by-week narrative of the Tankerville renovations was nearing its natural conclusion, because, by Wednesday July 6th, I really was struggling to find a new ‘point-of-view’.  But I did find one that day, the very last Wednesday I would ever journey up to the old Church High building at lunchtime in term-time.  For, hard as it was to believe, my two year stint working within the old Central Newcastle High School building was nearly over.  Only two more days of the 2015-16 academic year were now remaining.

I don’t know how I hadn’t noticed the bright yellow City Council parking suspension sign in front of Tankerville House, but I hadn’t.  I suppose most of the time my attention had been focused in the opposite direction.  However, it was interesting now to see the predicted project timescale written down in numbers: 50 weeks.  We were not there yet, clearly, but my first encounter with Wates Project Manager, Nick White, outside Westward House the previous August seemed an age ago now.  Nevertheless, looking around me, there was still an awful lot of work to be done.  I had faith though, despite the whisperings gathering momentum around Eskdale that the site wouldn’t be ready in time and we’d be forced to stay put for another term.  It’s no secret the Eskdale buildings and I was not a match made in Heaven.  No, we didn’t get on at all – not mentally or spiritually, but particularly not physically.  It had had the effect of a war of attrition on me and, by the end, I knew I was losing the battle.

But, as the logo on a van taking advantage of the parking suspension on Tankerville Terrace that day proclaimed, all things to do with ‘The Move’ were being fast-tracked now.  In stark contrast to the tranquil, almost sleepy, atmosphere around leafy, old Church High.

That little wall outside the site gates was in disrepair yet again.

No work appeared to be being done inside the old Boiler Room.

And by the movement by Westward House it was clearly lunchtime.

The scene I’d left behind me that day in the Head of Year Office, as I set out once again with my trusty camera, was very different indeed.

The decamping process is now in full swing in the HOY Office.

There seemed no doubt that a decision must have been taken to ensure crates wouldn’t be visible around school until it couldn’t be avoided.  But they were even there in Michael Tippet’s Office now.

Michael Tippett’s Deputy Head’s Office on the main corridor.

I returned to school that afternoon to attend an event which only served to underline the fact that the end of an era was nigh: the last End of Year Leavers’ Assembly ever to take place in the Central Hall.

Hilary French waits with prefects for the Hall to start to fill.
The second NHSG IT Team gather in front of the AV booth.
The first girls in teal blue/green jumpers begin to arrive.
And, yes, that really is a stack of red crates behind the screen!
The Hall now a sea of teal, Eskdale’s final assembly begins.

On my way back into the building that day, I remembered to take a couple of photos which made it abundantly clear that the (very, very slowly) shifting sands had finally moved enough to make a visible impact on what had for so long seemed utterly unmoveable.  Where exterior seating had once been, there was now only holes.

Eskdale Terrace’s entrance is looking empty.

Thanks to Giuseppe, we now know where all that seating had gone.

Exterior seating stashed in a cupboard en route to Tankerville.

As the girls filed out of assembly that day, it was possible to see just how far the plague of packing crates had encroached onto corridors.

There is now no doubt we are ‘on the move.’

Whilst everybody else was in the Hall saying their goodbyes to those members of staff who were leaving and wouldn’t be making the full NHSG journey, ICT Support had clearly been very busy.

A large pile of crates had appeared on the bottom corridor.

The first pile of filled crates lined up outside the ICT Support office left everyone in no doubt this move was definitely now underway.  And the white labels made it very clear where we were all heading.