Latest Project Updates

Update 06 February

Last week proved a busy week in the Foundation Office. On Wednesday the team were joined by over sixty Downe House parents and staff at the Royal College of Nursing in London for one of the highlights of the School social calendar, the Lower and Upper fifth parentsí drinks reception. Headmistress Mrs McKendrick spoke about these precious years at Downe House where the girls live in their nominated mixed-age Houses and remain there until they have completed their GCSEs. She also spoke briefly about the Schoolís 10 Year Vision and Centre for Learning capital build. Parents were joined by the House staff and tutors who have known the girls throughout their School career and provide the vital support each girl needs to gain the most from her time at Downe House.

As well as organising the event the team received a further £1,000 towards the Centre for Learning appeal. We are now tantalisingly close to hitting the £6 million mark with only £156,000 left to raise. We are moving ever closer to our final target of £6.5 million when the School will see the vision for the Centre turn into reality.

The Gallery, Auditorium, Cafe, Main Office, 4 x teaching/learning pods, backstage dressing room, School Shop, props room, platform lift, audio visual equipment, library learning packs, digital technology packs and 28 commemorative stepping stones and 39 auditorium seats have been sponsored to date. The response to our appeal really has been incredible and we are so grateful for everyoneís support.

If you havenít yet decided on how you would like to support the project there are still lots of ways you can pledge your support, including donating a gift in kind to the School, donating stocks or shares, setting up a regular gift, making a donation via your business or family trust or leaving the School a legacy in your Will. If you would like further information on how you can help please contact Catherine Newman, Deputy Development Director in the Foundation Office: or 01635 204741.

Update 12 January

Centre for Learning Project Update

Archive photo of water tower

The Downe House site has been a hive of activity. In December, we saw the beginning of phase II of the Centre for Learning enabling works, a series of building and administration cabins were set up on site and the existing heras fencing was re-ordered to allow for access for the ground works to commence.

The ground works are now well underway and we hope this phase of the work will be completed by the end of January.

The Foundation Office returned following a wonderful Christmas and New Year break revitalised and ready to celebrate the Schoolís 110th Anniversary Year. While we were away a number of donations came into the office from the Centre for Learning alumnae appeal mailing and so far we have raised just over £7,000 with money still coming in. Our recent parentsí appeal mailing is still producing donations having raised an additional £65,000 and counting.

The fundraising campaign now stands at an impressive £5.8 million from donations and firm pledges leaving the School with just under £700,000 left to be raised.

Thanks again to everyone who has supported the project.

If you havenít yet supported the appeal and would like to be part of this transformational project and celebrate the Schoolís anniversary there is still time and lots of rooms, areas, steps, pavers and equipment left to sponsor.

For more information and ways to support please contact the Foundation Office on 01635 204719 or email

For project updates, please visit:

Update 7 December

Today will see the beginning of phase II of the Centre for Learning enabling works, a series of building and administration cabins will be set up on site and the existing heras fencing will be re-ordered to allow for access for the ground works to commence on Monday 12 December. The ground works will be completed in early January.

With £5.8 million raised to date we are edging ever closer to the final target of £6.5 million. Our lovely new totaliser takes pride of place on site and is a constant reminder of the amazing support the project has received to date. Thanks to everyone who has supported the project, your support is making all this possible.

Latest Progress
Latest Progress

Update 17 November

In April, the Downe House Estate Team began the enabling work for the Centre for Learning build. Safety barriers were put in place around the Water Tower and work began to make the site ready for demolition. In early August the team demolished the old buildings and flattened the site to make way for ground works to start for the Centre for Learning foundations.

The Foundation Office has received an enormous amount of positive support over the past few months for the Centre for Learning appeal, £5.8 million has been donated and pledged to date leaving us with the final £700,000 left to be raised.

A number of areas/rooms and equipment have already been sponsored, these include:

  • The Gallery
  • The Auditorium
  • The Cafe
  • The Main Office
  • 3 x teaching/learning pod
  • The Props room
  • The Lift
  • The Backstage Dressing Room
  • The School Shop
  • Audio Visual equipment
  • Digital technology
  • Interior and exterior design

21 commemorative paving stones and 20 seats in the auditorium have also been sponsored.

In September, the team launched the 110 Step Challenge which celebrates the thousands of girls who have been educated at Downe House and the staff who have worked at the School over the past 110 years, to date this challenge has raised: £948.50 and continues to bring in funds from our alumnae reunion events.

In October, the team mailed all parents with a Centre for Learning appeal, response to the mailing has been tremendous, raising to date: £54,687.50 with Gift Aid with further donations still coming in.

If you would like more information on the Centre for Learning appeal or sponsorship and naming opportunities please visit the 10 Year Vision webpages on the School website, or contact Catherine Newman, Deputy Development Director: 01635 204741, email:

Update 15 September

A second goodbye to the Water Tower – School Archivist

In 1920, when The Cloisters Estate was advertised for sale by Messrs Simmons & Sons, the sale particulars described the Water Tower simply, practically and with delightful capitalisation, reproduced here.  "There is a very large Rain Water Tank in the Basement.  On the First Floor there is a very well equipped Laundry with Hard and Soft Water Supply and Life, Electric Irons, Washing Machines etc.  On the Second Floor is the Battery Room and Store, and on the Third Floor Four Tanks of 6000 gallon capacity.   The water pumping machine is underground.  Large Domed tank for storing 1000 gallons of oil.  4 large rain water tanks are built at convenient spots."

The atmospheric picture below, of the tower through the trees would have pleased the architect James McLaren Ross who was heavily influenced by the Arts and Craft style.  We have an architectural plan* of the original buildings which is striking in its elegance. Pevsner describes the Water Tower as closing the vista at the end of the drive and there is no doubt that it would have been clear to see from distant vantage points.  Our chapel tower came later to the site.

Miss Willis had been assured, at the time of the purchase, that the water supply for the main buildings was plentiful but at dry times, there were considerable problems with the supply and the girls wrote about this in charming and poetic ways.  They and the staff always banded together to get water to a bathtub and for necessities - timed bathing was essential and hair washing was special. Mrs Richardson remembers that every so often soldiers would come and climb up the tower and raise a flag, and the AA installed a radio transmitter at the top of the tower and would regularly come and inspect the essential equipment, no doubt taking a bit of extra time to enjoy the commanding view. 

The laundry operated from there for many years for the school. The water tower was used for all sorts of other school activity before it was filled with more fuel and water storage tanks, there was a loom there as for a time weaving was very popular.  Hester McClintock (née Wilder) wrote that Miss Nickel (who as well as designing and building bit of the School and teaching the girls to make superb puff pastry, also taught the violin) was asked to take her violin pupils to the water tower for their lessons: "to keep the general peace, all violin lessons were relegated to the top of the water tower – out of everybody's earshot!"  Four days of holiday were had to celebrate the Coronation and though a great number of the girls went to London, some stayed and decorated the water tower with flags and bunting. Priscilla Hayter (née Napier) writes of their Old Testament history lessons at the top of the water tower given by a "vague and pious lady who wore a peasant blouse".

The Water Tower served the School beautifully for many years and its memory will remain forever in its history; visitors were always guided to marked parking spaces "in front of the Water Tower",  it was the departure point for trips out, the spot where parents were greeted and bid farewell, staff would walk past it to Parents' Meetings having before walked past it to their job interviews, teachers were greeted cheerily in the morning by the housekeeping staff walking up past it having prepared the classrooms down below, girls queued next to it for Chapel and the younger girls loved to race past it after lunch, back packs clunking, to have a bit of a play around below it, hopping over the ropes or climbing around the roots of the big tree.  In the 1970, the machinery housed there became redundant.

Whilst we say farewell to an iconic sight the future awaits and we hope that the next generation will have fond memories of the Centre for Learning which takes its place. 

Click here to see a short time-lapse film of the demolition.

Archive photo of water tower

Update 26 August

A new perspective! The Water Tower is no more and the site is cleared ready for the big build. For our returning and new girls the School site looks very different. Exciting times ahead!

Latest Progress
Latest Progress
Latest Progress

Latest Progress

Update 4 August

Going...going...gone! The Water Tower demolition is underway making way for the foundations for the new Centre for Learning.

Water Tower Demolition
Water Tower Demolition
Water Tower Demolition

Water Tower Demolition

Water Tower Demolition

Update 11 April

It's all go at Downe House! Following hot on the heels of Easter the estates team has begun the enabling work for the Centre for Learning. Safety barriers have been put in place around the old water tower, and work has begun to make the site ready for demolition in the summer.

Update 22 March

The cameras are up ahead of work starting on the Centre for Learning. Over the coming weeks we will capture time lapse footage of the work as it happens, so come back and see it progress!

Project update

Update 24 February

Forty supporters joined the Foundation Office at the Centre for Learning Appeal launch event in the beautiful wood panelled Council Room of the Royal College of Nursing, Cavendish Square, London. Emma McKendrick spoke of the School's vision for the project and described the exciting times ahead.

Project update