The Good Schools Guide Review of Downe House
Archetypal traditional girls’ full boarding school turning out delightful, principled, courteous and able girls who go on to make a significant contribution to the world. As one parent said, ‘we couldn’t be more thrilled.’
Background and Atmosphere
Downe House was founded in 1907 by Olive Willis, its first headmistress, as an all-girls' boarding school. Its first home was Down House in the village of Downe, Kent – formerly the home of Charles Darwin. The school outgrew the house so Miss Willis bought ‘The Cloisters’ in Berkshire – its present home – on a high ridge which provides occasional views over distant downs. The Cloisters – still at the heart of the school – comes as a surprise. Built by Maclaren Ross for an order of Spanish nuns who named it The School of Silence, it has an arched walkway linking most of the classrooms which – with its white walls, arches and terracotta pantiles – is incongruously Moorish in the heart of Berkshire. However, the school has grown many newer buildings – boarding houses, specialist blocks etc - around the main building and the site is now extensive – many buildings nestling amongst trees, woody areas and neatly planted beds. All maintained by ‘little green men’ who hover around the site on electric car-lets. There are no architectural gems here – nor any monsters – though a few blocks lack charm. The whole has a sense of modest purposefulness – described by one mother as ‘almost spiritual’.
All but a handful of local day girls are full boarders. Lessons until 12 on Saturdays are followed by sports so everyone signs up to the full boarding life. Saturday evenings are spent in rehearsal, at concerts, trips to theatres, cinemas etc. Sundays include trips, D of E activities and chillin’. The uniform is standard school green skirt, shirt and jumper though the sixth form still cling to their floor length black skirts – those these are not compulsory. ‘They wear them so they can keep their pyjamas on underneath,’ one mum told us.
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