Downe House Front ViewDowne House School was founded in 1907 in Charles Darwin’s former home in Downe, Kent by the 30 year-old Miss Olive Willis. Miss Willis was remarkable and idiosyncratic with very strong views on how girls should be educated.  She believed that every individual mattered, that relationships between girls and staff should be normal and that girls should be stimulated and interested in subjects outside the normal curriculum. She felt that time at school should be seen in relation to life as a whole and never as an end in itself.

Starting with just three pupils, the school grew quite quickly and by 1918, there were 52 girls. A Chapel, gymnasium and classrooms were erected in the grounds and the school rented two other houses in the village.

By 1922, numbers had grown to more than 80 and the school, for academic, economic and practical reasons, had clearly outgrown its premises. The decision was made to purchase ‘The Cloisters’, an estate in Cold Ash, Berkshire that had previously belonged to an organisation called ‘The School of Silence’. The lease in Kent was cancelled and in April 1922 the School moved to its present site.

Now over 100 years after its foundation, Downe is home to 580 girls. The beautiful site of 110 acres retains most of the original buildings but many others have been added in the intervening years. Girls’ education has changed fundamentally and immensely, particularly during the last 60 years, and Downe House, led by a succession of inspiring headmistresses, has responded to those changes and challenges. Some of Miss Willis’s revolutionary ideas no longer operate in the way they did but the vision that created them is still there, underpinning and strengthening a thoroughly modern school.

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