In late August, just prior to the start of Newcastle High School for Girls’ second year still housed in the old Central High buildings, Wates Construction, having recently been awarded the contract for the NHSG new build, took possession of the old Church High site on Tankerville Terrace. The Project Manager is Nick White, formerly of Shepherd Construction who I met for the first time on 21st August.
A site office was immediately established in leafy Westward House, previously the home of Church High School’s School of Music.
Work started immediately on securing the site by erecting tall wooden hoardings along the whole length of the main building.
It has to be said, however, that if the beautiful Victorian frontage must be partly-obscured from view until the building work is completed in Summer 2016, then it is just as well that the Wates’ brand colours of lime-green and teal- blue are the NHSG colours too!
Although the intention is to maintain as many of the old building’s original interior structural features as possible, in order to ensure optimum circulation and movement around the new site, the modernisation process means that some familiar and much-loved features will be lost. One of these, very sadly from a personal point of view, is the beautiful wooden staircase situated at the north end of school starting just outside the door of the Headmistress’ Office.
Its highly-polished, hand-turned, dark-wood bannisters and spindles, smoothed by the touch of thousands of hands over the years, always spoke to me of a building with a living past and a strong sense of continuity and tradition. Indeed, I met my best friend and long-serving colleague half-way up those very stairs.
During my visits to photograph the demolition of the Junior School, I got talking to one of Tolent’s workforce who had already fallen in love with the beauty of our building. As we watched the wrecking machines levelling the 1970s building and speculated on the new state-of-the-art building it was making way for, Mark commented that the ‘real jewel’ was actually the old building standing behind us.
Having explained my connection with the building , Mark asked me to wait as he thought he might have something that would interest me. He disappeared into the main building and returned moments later with something in his hand. Despite its musty, dusty condition, I immediately recognised it, by its familiar dark green cover, as an old edition of the Church High School Magazine. How appropriate!
He then took me inside to see where it had been found and it transpired that as holes were being punched into walls during investigations into the condition of the old building’s infrastructure, within the boxed-in base of the main staircase a small stash of 1930s magazines had been discovered. Clearly this must have once been used as a storage area and the few remaining contents over-looked.
When I opened the front cover in search of the exact date however, my smile of genuine thanks deepened into a very wry smile. The magazine was dated 1934-35 and recorded the events of the School’s Jubilee year. The opening words of the Editorial were ‘Annus Mirabilis’ and reading on it was hard to resist coming to the conclusion that, by throwing up this particular copy of the magazine now, the building was not unaware of what was happening to it.
The Editorial went on to speak of ‘a second beginning’: ‘There had been that paragraph in the local Press at our inception – “Negotiations are in progress to commence a High School for Girls in Newcastle …… Whether there is an absolute need of such a school …… is another matter”.
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.