|19 Sep 2018|
|From the Archives|
In 1996, Downe House purchased Hermitage House, a gracious and substantial Victorian home, built of the typical local orange red bricks. It had a long, high brick wall to the street, a considerable amount of garden and the back of the house butts right up to Doctor’s Lane. The two grand cedar trees at Hermitage House gave the name to a small house built later in the grounds and lived in by school staff, though the main house also provided accommodation for the Housemistresses and their assistants.
On June 14 2016, Downe House sold Hermitage House to Pomroy & Hine, a local company of small scale developers who work alongside Rivar Ltd. The Lower School Boarding project brought Hermitage House up to the main school site.
There is a story that the village of Hermitage took its name from a hermit who lived beside a spring in the grounds of Hermitage house in the late 1300s and benefited from the magical and healing properties of the water. This may be fanciful but we do know that the girls lucky enough to be allocated to Hermitage House benefited from fun in the swimming pool there.
In the late 1800s the Didcot - Newbury - Southampton railway line passed through Hermitage and the Downe House girls would have enjoyed the sight of steam trains passing through the valley when they looked out from what is now the History Block. The railway line route is still very clear in some places; it was used for transport of munitions and supplies in WWII it is reported that it fell to Beeching’s Axe in the 1960s. It is very likely that this railway line transported Downe House from Kent to Berkshire and there is testimony of steam engines being used to transport the belongings of the school up Red Shute Hill.
In the early 1900s the Pinewood Brick & Tile Works was established at the northern edge of the village and Pinewood Halt, on the railway line just north of Hermitage station was in operation from 1933 to transport the bricks and tiles out. The brickworks closed down in the late 1960s but when at peak production, it is said that 50,000 bricks a week were produced - St Joseph’s Church in Newbury was built from Pinewood bricks.
The AA website details a six mile walk around Hermitage, which passes Chapel Farm Cottage (which was rented for a time by D H Lawrence and his wife Frieda), Grimsbury Castle and Oare. This and other walks around Hermitage show clearly where the railway line was.
1996 1997 Mrs Rosalind Burns
1997 - 2001 Mrs Mary Moore
2001 - 2008 Mrs Sylvia Brett
2008 - 2010 Mrs Anthea Nash
2010 - 2012 Miss Sarah Haughey
2012 - 2016 Mrs Anthea Nash
2016 Kim Collingwood