I promised our Archivist, Rachel, at Tyne & Wear Archives that, as soon as I was in a position to do so, I would search for a number of old photographs which School had signed out on temporary loan but for some reason had failed to return. When I learned the Church High Alumnae photographic archive had been returned to Tankerville Terrace from its storage crate at Quicksilver in July, this was the first job on my list. It may be our school archive, but once it was signed over to the care of Tyne & Wear Archives at the Discovery Museum – a branch of The National Archives – in 1985, this is where all catalogued items should always be. Not only are they properly conserved and in very safe hands there, they are also freely accessible to anyone who has a desire to view them. Indeed, this is how gaps in the archival material first came to my attention. I found myself both disappointed and not a little flummoxed when my search request to look at an early catalogued photograph of ‘Miss Dickinson playing the piano in the school hall for drill’ drew a blank.
Once the majority of the photographs were located, I made a scan of each image before returning them to a delighted Rachel. Broadly speaking, they were some of the earliest existing photographic records of Newcastle High School at Tankerville Terrace, most likely signed out for a little exhibition to celebrate the School’s 120th Birthday. Aware that, as a girl, Miss Dickinson had moved with the School from Jesmond Road to Tankerville, I found myself looking just that little bit more closely at what appeared to be the very earliest Form photograph, more out of curiosity than in the hope that I might find her younger self looking out at me from the aged image. In turn, this led me to focus this next post on the second half of Miss Dickinson’s memories, written for the Jubilee Book in 1935.
Miss Dickinson first wrote about her long association with the School in an essay entitled ‘Reminiscences’ which was published in the March 1913 edition of the Newcastle High School magazine. It makes fascinating reading and can be read in full on the Heritage website. There are numerous differences to the piece she wrote for the Jubilee Book twenty years later, particularly in relation to her time as a pupil at Jesmond Road. In this essay she very helpfully dates her return to Tankerville Terrace as a young teacher as 1899.
On page 52 of the 1935 Jubilee Book, Miss Dickinson continues the tale: “As I said before, one happy day I came back to my old School as a mistress. The gymnasium, brass locks, glass panels, Wilson’s boy and a green cupboard that I never could draw properly were still there but things had changed a good deal. Instead of 80 girls in the School there were 120, and classes had become Forms and Form I was now little ones.
“The building was smaller [then]; there were no labs, no geography room [the 1927 extension], no dining room … [a further extension in 1935].
“What is now the Botany Lab was then the Art Room – a room furnished with a piano and some chairs. Drawing lessons took place there, music and singing lessons if the hall was very cold, or if the rain was coming in. All the School from Form II upwards had Drawing at the same time then. Form II stayed in its own room, Forms IIIb, IIIa and IVb were in the Hall and IVa and V in the Art Room. This was on a Thursday morning from 11.30 to 1 o’clock. The Mistresses’ Room was where it is now – downstairs – and as you came upstairs from the cloakroom [located then, as the toilets and locker rooms still were even in 2014, at the foot of the South Staircase] and went along the corridor, the rooms were in this order on your right: Form II (under Miss Miller), then Form I and the Kindergarten (under Miss Norman), then Lower IV (under Miss Ram, later Mrs Dilley), then Form III/IIIb together (my Form) [this would have been latter day Rooms 4 & 5 (my own teaching classroom), which I discovered during the restoration process were originally divided by a moveable partition wall], then Upper IV (under Miss Davenport, who was then the Second Mistress), then Form V (under Miss Siddall, the Head Mistress) and then Form VI (at that time, only two girls).
“On the other side of the corridor were a non-descript room where the little ones sometimes played or where an Arithmetic division was taken [in 2014 the room was still being used as a Maths classroom – Room 8] – the hall and the drawing pantry, the room I’ve told you about already.
“Downstairs there were no Form Rooms. If you started at the cloakroom end, on your right there was the Staff room, the Staff Cloakroom, the library, the front door, the Head Mistress’s room, the caretaker’s rooms and the stationery cupboard, the dining room [Small Dining Room] and, on the other side, the kitchen, the gymnasium and the Junior Cloakroom.
“When I came the only game the School played was tennis, but we soon started hockey [Miss Dickinson donated a form hockey cup in 1905 – the first trophy given to the School], first on the Orphanage ground, then on one of the moor intakes. Our first match was against Gateshead High School who beat us 13 – 1 (I think it was). When we started netball some years later, it was a game for Middle School and Juniors and we were the first school in this neighbourhood to play it. Gradually Seniors began to play, all the Secondary Schools took up the game, and for the last two years our first VII has won the County Tournament. Lacrosse and swimming are comparatively recent additions to School sports. [Miss Dickinson remarked in a School magazine that, although cricket had advanced sufficiently for a match to be played in 1905, play often left something to be desired it being ‘by no means an unusual sight to see a fielder taking the opportunity …. of doing a little original research into Botany or Astronomy, or of settling some disputed point with her nearest neighbour ….’ Cricket never became popular with the School.]
“Wartime brought some unusual experiences. Did you know that school might have been taken as a Military Hospital? It was inspected but was too small to be of any use. During the summer holidays of 1914, it was used as a centre of St. John Ambulance work. First Aid and Home Nursing classes were held every day – a sewing party met daily in Form VI and the Senior cloakroom was used as a store for beds, bedding, screens, jugs and basins and anything that might be of use in a hospital. [The year before, Miss Gurney had raised a Women’s Voluntary Aid Detachment for the St. John’s Ambulance Association to serve the county, in addition to the Jesmond Nursing Division. Miss Gurney was the organisations’ Commandant and Lady Superintendent respectively, and Miss Dickinson their Quartermaster and first Nursing Officer (Jubilee Book p.33). For her war service to the City of Newcastle, Miss Gurney was awarded the Tyne Garrison Medal in December 1918.]
“Though we had outgrown the hall for prize-givings, we had to use it in wartime, so blinds (paper ones) had to be fixed to the windows. These blew about considerably when the ventilators were opened. During one prize-giving when the chief guest was speaking, Waterman [School Caretaker at that time] came upstairs to say that two special constables had seen lights shining out of the hall windows and they must be put out. In those days, the Staff spent prize-givings in the corridor so he easily passed on the message to me. The hall was lighted by gas and each bracket had to be turned off separately. I reached the Chairman with some difficulty; he interrupted the speech and said: ‘Will the gentlemen who are sitting on the window side of the room kindly stand on their chairs and put out the lights over their heads? Thank you,’ and the rest of the prize-giving went on in a room which had ‘L’air borgne.’ (Look it up.) [So typical of a Modern Languages teacher to say this, even though, in her time, Miss Dickinson also turned her hand to the teaching of Scripture, History, all English subjects, Mathematics, Singing, Violin and Gymnastics, in addition to coaching Hockey and Netball as well as organising girls’ Swimming. The sign of a true polymath].
“By this time, we had acquired another building – the Junior School and the laboratory were at 5, Henshelwood Terrace [bought by the Governors in 1917. From 1913, Miss Gurney had leased the house as her own home, living there with her sister Nellie. As she did at 16, Otterburn Terrace, Miss Gurney received boarders within her home at Henshelwood too and it was for this address that the first School House Prospectus was produced]. One day the fume cupboard took fire and we had the excitement of having a fire engine at the gates and firemen all over the building. Fortunately, the fire was soon put out.
“The next improvement was having a Lab on the premises ….. [created in 1927 by extending the back of the building out over the playground on pillars; some of the space below it became a Geography room].
” ………….. and the Junior School just across the road in Tankerville House [purchased in 1927], and music rooms instead of pianos in Form rooms.”
In the final paragraph of her 1913 reminiscences, Miss Dickinson confesses that ‘When I came [as a teacher] I made up my mind to stay two years, even if North Country girls were as bad as I had heard they were. I have stayed fourteen [now] and it is quite likely that in the future it will be a Prefect’s duty to wheel me to School in my bath chair!’ And her prediction turned out to be true, if not exactly literally so, for she would stay at Church High as Second Mistress for another 24 years. Known to the girls as ‘Dickie’, Miss Dickinson was loved by all and dedicated her life to School. Dr Williamson, Miss Gurney’s successor, pays her a glowing tribute on page 59 of the Centenary Book : ‘Later in the afternoon [Miss Gurney] took me to tea with the beloved and redoubtable Miss Dickinson. How fortunate I was in having her as Second Mistress for my first year of Headship. Already greatly hampered by lameness, her strength of character was unabated and with her long experience and her mature wisdom she eased me into my job without my knowing it and kept things steady while I found my feet.’
It speaks volumes that the above framed image of Miss Dickinson is the only photograph of a Second Mistress/Deputy Head in the Church High archive, either at School or at The Discovery Museum. Her time spent at Jesmond Road and Tankerville Terrace as pupil, teacher and Second Mistress undoubtedly makes her one of the School’s longest standing servants. Thanks to the 1905 whole school photograph, we are able to compare the graceful, poised figure seated at her desk above with the young Miss Dickinson.
But what of that young girl called Florence who, accompanied by her two sisters, ‘tried three other doors, all of which looked like front doors, before they found the right one’ on her way to Newcastle High School for the very first time and witnessed the foundation stone of the new School being laid ‘in a place rather a long way off anywhere called Tankerville Terrace’? The likelihood of a photograph existing of her are, admittedly, very slim indeed. But there is just a chance that we have one. For looking even closer still at that Elliott & Fry image of the younger children which seemed older than the others, to the left of the group, a serious-looking young girl with long blonde hair wearing a pristine white blouse caught my eye. There is no way I can be sure of this, of course, but the dates do match. How wonderful would it be if this was indeed the young Florence Evelyn Dickinson?