In the village of Downe, in Kent, originally called Down House when it was owned by Charles Darwin. Miss Willis leased the school from the Darwin family for her new school Downe House.
Olive Willis and Alice Carver, after some time searching for a house suitable for their school, settled on this one in early 1907; it was the former home of Charles Darwin and his family, near Orpington in Kent. So our own Darwin House is named after Charles Darwin and for forty years it was a happy home to the Darwin family - it is said to have been an open air laboratory and where he wrote The Origin of the Species in 1859.
So the house went on to become another very happy home, to Miss Willis, her staff and her pupils. Darwin’s study became the Common Room, though they always called it the study and a horse drawn bus ran up and down from the nearby village to Orpington. Miss Willis would read to the girls in the evening in the drawing room which had long windows looking out onto the garden through the glass covered veranda.
Anne Ridler wrote, “The house, a white Georgian building three stories high, stands just outside the village of Downe in Kent. It presents a plain front to the road, except for a pillared portico, but at the back Darwin had added a large bow right to the roof, which breaks the outline, and a veranda stands out from the wing which he added in 1877.”
In the Downe House Scrapbook, Priscilla (Hayter) Napier wrote “the old Downe had a calm prospect over Kentish fields, and a large lawn, shaded by an ilex tree and a mulberry tree.” Nan (Woodall) Napier, the first pupil, wrote in the Scrapbook of her science lessons in the laboratory; “Here Miss Heather presided over the bangs and smells. What a gifted teacher she was, making even test-tubes and litmus paper interesting and what an honour to be working in Darwin’s own laboratory; Hilary always had the impression that he was perhaps quite close to us.” (Hilary was the second pupil. Nan was allowed to have her own dog with her at Downe, a bull mastiff called Tiger).
After the war, the house was bursting at the seams even though the legendary Miss Nickel had been inventive and energetic on the construction front; one pupil wrote “Miss Nickel, a wonderful person, ran up buildings as other people ran up dresses.” Miss Willis realised she needed to look for another home for her school and in 1921 she and her sister Dorothy, while spending some time with a friend in Berkshire during holidays, came upon some sale particulars for The Cloisters Estate in Cold Ash.
This poem was written for the first Downe House School magazine published in 1909 (typewritten and carbon copied) when there were 32 girls in the school.
And this is Downe ! Standing among green fields,
High on the windy uplands, where the breeze
Wanders unfettered, whispering peace
To hazel copses and wide-spreading trees.
Down in the sun-kissed valleys corn blows gold,
There shall ye find peace from the wide world’s strife,
Down in the shady lanes where the brambles cling,
There shall ye find Peace --- and Perfect life.
DARWIN HOUSE HOUSEMISTRESSES
1980 - 1985 Mrs Lynne Berwick
1985 - 1987 Miss Peggie McAdoo
1987 - 1991 Mrs Diana Roberts
1991 - 1996 Mrs Rosalind Burns
1996 - 1997 Mrs Gail Tucker
1997 - 2002 Mrs Rosalind Burns
2002 - 2010 Mme Fanelie Chartrain
2010 - 2012 Mrs Sheena Moore
2012 - 2015 Miss Faith Smith
2015 Mrs Frankie Capps