Our history

Discover more about the history of Downe House using our interactive timeline.

Established in 1907, Downe House UK is a traditional school with a modern twist

Founded by Miss Olive Willis at Down House, the former home of Charles Darwin, in the village of Downe in Kent, Downe House UK aims to ignite a love of learning in every pupil making them believe that there is nothing they cannot achieve in the world.

Disillusioned by the independent education that existed for girls at the time, our founder, Miss Olive Willis, held the strong belief that a school should meet the needs of young women by valuing and prizing individuals and engendering a strong sense of community.

She believed that excellence, excitement and enthusiasm for the world around should be hallmarks of that school community, that teachers should not be placed on pedestals and that girls should not be expected to rush around in a feverish attempt to behave like boys.

Consequently, Downe House was established as ‘a school where each individual within the community matters and where relationships between staff and pupils are normal’.

Our values have not changed since the School opened in 1907; kindness and respect for others are as valued today as they were when the School was founded. Downe House’s aim has always been to enable, encourage and prepare girls to play a full and positive part as citizens of a global community and as outstanding women of the future.


Founded by Miss Olive Willis and Miss Alice Carver at Down House, the former home of Charles Darwin, in the village of Downe in Kent.


The School moved to Berkshire In March 1922 to start the Summer Term. Whole buildings are moved from Kent to Cold Ash. Construction of a new kitchen, music rooms and a gym started. Six classrooms and a laboratory are built and the Studio is completed.


The rebuilt Chapel is opened. The organ is dedicated and played by its builder, Mr Daniels of Somerset. Old Seniors present the Chapel Bell and the first Old Seniors’ Dance is held at the Hyde Park Hotel.


The Library is opened by the Duchess of Atholl. The staff house on Red Shute Hill became the San.


Excavation and construction of an outdoor swimming pool begins


The new Dining Room and the South Wing (now Tedworth) are opened. Each year at Christmas, Choral would process around the gallery, singing carols by candlelight to the delight of the school community.


The Concert Room, Chemistry and Biology Labs were built.


A view from the Cloisters


Every year, Seniors’ Weekend welcomed back alumnae with a massed gym display in the Cloisters


The School’s 50th birthday: Construction starts on the Jubilee Hall and a commemorative tree is planted behind the Chapel


Dame Myra Hess performs with the School orchestra at the opening of the Jubilee Hall on 15 June 1968


The first Science Block is opened by Professor Dorothy Hodgkin and Garden House was built as a Sixth Form Block.


Aerial view of the Downe House campus


The new Science Block is opened by Lady Plowden, Old Senior.


The French Project begins and moves to Veyrines-de-Domme in 1991. Cohorts of girls start to spend a term in France which has become a highlight of every girl’s education at Downe House.


Mrs Emma McKendrick is appointed Headmistress.


The Farr Centre is opened by Old Senior, Clare Balding


Downe House celebrates 100 years! Centenary celebrations include a Thanksgiving Service at St Paul’s Cathedral attended by four Headmistresses, Reunions for the DHSA, an Academic Study Day, Institution of the Medley Lectures, a Staff Fun Day and a Girls’ Fun Day. Dr Christian Alexander, a member of the music staff, is commissioned to compose an opera ‘Olive Triumphant’ and a commemorative mulberry tree is planted by the Concert Room.


New Lower School Boarding Houses are opened to accommodate Darwin, Hermitage and Hill.


The Murray Centre opens – with a new 250-seat Auditorium, Library, Collaborative Learning space and a Coffee Shop


From mid-March 2020 the School begins to adapt to remote teaching and learning in response to Covid-19. This culminates in the introduction of Digital Downe House, a full remote teaching and learning Downe House experience.


A very special moment in the history of Downe House and a significant development for girls’ education in the Middle East. Downe House Muscat becomes the first girls-only school in the world founded by an authentic British girls’ school.


Downe House celebrates the School’s centenary year at the site in Cold Ash. Current pupils, families, staff and alumnae come together to celebrate and reminisce about the past 100 years.


From the Archives

Find out more about the history of the school and see photographs of Downe House through the years.


Our Headmistress

Mrs Emma McKendrick has been the Headmistress of Downe House for over twenty years and has successfully guided and inspired thousands of girls as well as overseeing extensive development and change. Read about her ethos and approach in the Headmistress’ Welcome to Downe House.


Tours & Open Mornings

The best way to find out more about Downe House is to experience it for yourself. Book a personal tour or join us at one of our Open Mornings, available throughout the year.

A flexible and modern approach – Full Boarding | Flexi Boarding | Day Pupil – what’s your Downe House journey?
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