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Downe House School
Hermitage Road, Cold Ash, RG18 9JJ, UK Thatcham
+44 (0)1635 200286

A Message from the Headmistress, Mrs Emma McKendrick

Mrs. Emma McKendrickI have great pleasure in welcoming you to the Downe House web-site which I hope, will provide you with a flavour of the School: its history, its present position and its plans, hopes and aspirations for the future.

At Downe House, we believe that every girl is unique and that it is our task to enable her to flourish as an individual whilst also encouraging her to respect the differences, strengths and weaknesses of others within the community. It is by enabling, in partnership with parents, every girl to develop her individuality by presenting her with the maximum range of opportunities possible that the community remains vibrant and forward-looking.

In addition to her personal and social development, it is essential that girls are equipped with the necessary skills of effective communication, analysis and information technology, amongst many others. These will enable her to cope with the demands of later life and to take up the many and varied opportunities that are now open to young women.

Our girls and young women have much to look forward to and it is our aim that they will leave us having thoroughly enjoyed their time at Downe House, with an inner confidence balanced with an appropriate level of humility and a firm set of values on which to base their life.

I hope that after visiting our web-site, you will feel encouraged to visit the School in person. You would be most welcome and there is no substitute for meeting the girls and staff in person. I look forward to seeing you.

Emma McKendrick

Glimpses Into The History of Downe House

Downe House was established as a girls' boarding school in 1907 by Miss Olive Willis, who wished to promote educational excellence within a relaxed but structured framework, which enabled girls to flourish through innovative teaching. It was also to be an environment where mutual respect between staff and pupils was highly valued and pursued.

The Founder

Born in 1877 Olive Willis was a woman way ahead of her time. She was educated at Roedean School, where she also spent the first of her teaching years, and then at Somerville College, Oxford. In the memoir by Ann Ridler, Olive Willis and Downe House, the spirit of the education Olive Willis aimed to provide is captured:

This memoir describes a headmistress of a very different type, Olive Willis, too ... had an imposing presence, but she never felt the need to imitate the style of Victorian headmasters, which those pioneer women seem to have adopted along with the male curriculum. She was naturally dignified, yet she could also make fun of dignity... The respect which Miss Willis inspired in her pupils had nothing in it of morbid fear or of a homosexual excitement. She had, in fact a remarkable balanced personality, and her influence was always benign:

Downe was not to be revolutionary, but it was to be a place 'where life should be normal'. The teachers would not be on pedestals, remote from their pupils, and the girls would not rush about in a feverish attempt to be like the boys...The freedom and natural pace of life were what Olive wanted for her school ... She hoped to instill a serious attitude to education and to offer something better than the average private school of the time, and in due course to prepare some girls for university.

The Location

The School's original location was in the village of Downe in Kent in Darwin's House - Down House. In the years leading up to 1920, it became apparent that the School would for academic, economic and practical reasons need to move to a bigger site so that it could expand its numbers and activities. In addition, the increased noise from the nearby Biggin Hill was becoming a greater nuisance.

In 1920 Olive Willis and those concerned with the School began to look for another location. Miss Willis wanted it to be on a hill, in real country and yet within easy reach of a town and railway station. 'The Cloisters' at Cold Ash fulfilled all her requirements and although it was too small for her needs, and the price asked too high, Miss Willis knew that it could provide just what she wanted and she was determined it should be the home of Downe House.

The house was originally called 'The Cloisters' and was built during the First World War by the architect Maclaren Ross for an organisation which called itself the School of Silence.

However, after all the labour of erecting the buildings at such an unfavourable time, the Order did not flourish; the Founder was unable to pay the interest on the mortgage, and in 1920 she was obliged to forfeit the property and retire.

By December 1921 Olive Willis, with the help of gifts and loans, had become the owner of 'The Cloisters' and in a snowstorm in April 1922, the move began of Downe House from Kent to Cold Ash...

Main Aims

Our Aims

Downe House exists to provide girls with, and promote, an excellent holistic education.

Downe House is a charitable company limited by guarantee which aims to promote the development of the individual by enabling girls to strive for the highest academic results of which they are capable. At the same time they should be able to enjoy the opportunities and support which allow them to develop the personal, social, spiritual and emotional awareness that is the balance to academic excellence and thus prepares them for adult life and work.

Please use the navigation set above for more details.

Key Facts

The Location

By Air:

London Heathrow, with regular scheduled flights from all parts of the UK and a wide range of international services, is 50 minutes from Downe House by car or taxi.

By Rail:

Newbury Station, which is on the main line with regular services from London (60 minutes) and connections from other parts of Britain, is 20 minutes from the School.

By Road:

Situated on the Berkshire Downs, with easy access to the M4 Motorway, Downe House can be conveniently reached from the motorway network.

From the M4:

Leave the motorway at Junction 13 (signposted Newbury, Oxford) and join the A34 northwards towards Oxford. *After a very short distance take the slip road (signposted Chieveley, Hermitage). At the junction at the end of the slip road turn right. Continue along this road for 1½ miles. At the junction with the B4009 turn right (signposted Newbury) onto the B4009. Continue along this road for ¾ mile and take the first turning left (signposted Cold Ash), onto Red Shute Hill. Continue for ¾ mile and the entrance to Downe House will be seen on the right-hand side.

From the South via the A34:

Remain on the A34 passing Newbury, continue ahead on the A34 northbound, towards Oxford, following directions for Newbury Showground. Then follow directions from * above.

From the A4 via Thatcham:

Remain on the A4 and at the second junction with traffic lights after Thatcham town centre turn right into Northfield Road (signposted Cold Ash). Remain on this road for 3 miles as it crosses two mini roundabouts and then goes uphill through Cold Ash. Immediately after passing a garage on the right, the entrance to Downe House will be seen on the left-hand side.

On Arrival:

Visitors are requested to follow the signs to the Reception where you will be welcomed. A number of spaces for Visitors’ Car Parking are reserved near Reception. Should these be full, please use the Main Car Park.

Download a pdf version of the Downe House location maps

Location Map 1

Location Map 2

Location Map 3

The Medley Lectures - Sir Digby Jones

Tuesday 11 September 2007 7.30pm - tickets £10 call Reception on 01635-200286 or email fullerb

click here for further details

Schools Competition Act Settlement Trust

This Trust was established in November 2006 as part of the agreed resolution of the OFT's recent investigation.

The objects of the Trust are to:

  • Make awards or bursaries to beneficiaries which can be used in pursuit of higher or further education;
  • Provision of financial assistance, including equipment and travel, to beneficiaries in the pursuit of their studies or research; and otherwise furthering the education of the beneficiaries.

There are three criteria for eligibility:

  • You must have attended Downe House after 15 September 2001
  • You must have reached the age of 18, but be younger than 30, on the date that the Bursary or Grant would be due to be paid to you
  • Six years must have elapsed from the date when you began attending the school.

For further details go to and click on

Downe House win the trophy of the INDEPENDENT SCHOOLS RELAYS COMPETITION on Wednesday 9 May

7 Schools competing - Senior and Intermediate medley and freestyle relays 1st place. Junior freestyle relay 1st place, and medley relay 3rd place. overall trphy won by Downe House with 40 points

See Sports section for Results

Lacrosse Under 19A XII National Schools Tournament

We are again National Champions, sharing the title with Wycombe Abbey. Congratulations girls.

Lacrosse National Schools

U19A - joint Champions

U19B - Top 8

U15A - 3rd

See Sports section for Results

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