History of Benenden

School History

School Archive 

Historical material held in the Archives dates back to around the 17th century, with maps, documents, drawings and photographs chronicling the history of Hemsted House. The site on which the School stands is of great historical interest as both the parkland and woodland are mentioned in the Domesday Book: “Robert of Romney also holds Benenden [Benendine] from the Bishop of Bayeux”. Benenden had become sufficiently permanent by 1086 to have both a name and a church. 

A Brief History of Hemsted House and Benenden School

The earliest records show that Hemsted Park was given by William the Conqueror to his half-brother Odo, Bishop of Bayeux.

1216
Robert of Hemsted built the first house on the site.

1377
James de Echyngham from Sussex moved in. He is buried in Benenden churchyard.

1388
The Manor was granted to William of Guldeford by Richard II.

1537
House visited by Queen Elizabeth 1. Thomas de Guldeford, son of William, rewarded with a baronetcy.

1718
The house was sold to Sir John Norris, Admiral of the Fleet and Vice Admiral of England. Sir John Norris planted conifers, which were grown from seed gathered on his voyages — hence Admiral’s Avenue. Foul Weather Jack was his nickname. His grandson, John, married Kitty Fisher who died from smallpox in Bath just four months later. She is buried in the Norris crypt in Benenden Church.

1786
The house was owned by Thomas Hallet Hodges, who rebuilt it, filled in the moat and carried out improvements in the 113 hectare grounds including the digging of the lake. Thomas, his son, inherited Hemsted in 1801 and was responsible for extensive plantings at the property.

1857
Gathorne Hardy, Lord Cranbrook, acquired the property for £157,000. Following the demolition of the existing Elizabethan house in 1860 he commissioned David Brandon, president of the Royal Institute of British Architects to design a new mansion on a site a little to the east, at a cost of £18,544. Traces of the old house and its surrounding moat still remain. William Broderick Thomas was the landscape designer responsible for laying out the elaborate gardens and new approaches to the mansion. The site included a pinetum begun in the early 18th century, and a lake at the southwest corner of Park Wood.

Lord Cranbrook also rebuilt much of the village of Benenden, restoring the church and clearing the village green of houses to create one of the earliest village cricket pitches.

1912
Sir Vere Harmsworth, later Lord Rothermere, who purchased the estate and in 1912 called in Herbert Cescinsky to remodel the house into the Tudor-cum-Jacobean style we see today. As well as introducing old panelling from the original house and elsewhere he substituted crenellations for balustrading. 

1923
In April Miss Sheldon, Miss Hindle and Miss Bird, three teachers from Wycombe Abbey, announced the foundation of a new public school for girls. In July the first Council Meeting was held and twenty-four girls were registered. A furnished school in Bickley became the temporary home for the first term and then the trio set about finding a house with at least 70 bedrooms and large grounds - another challenge.

1924
January: Hemsted Park was leased to the Founders, and the school was named Benenden School, to avoid confusion with Hemel Hempstead.

March: The Benenden School (Kent) Limited prospectus was issued at £10 each; five shares entitled the holder to give a nomination to the school. Every parent was encouraged to pay a year’s fees in advance.

September: There were 126 girls on the school roll.
New house names were chosen, with historical associations.
Norris House was established, in the building now occupied by Echyngham.
October: Benenden School purchased Hemsted House (Kent) Limited for £20,000.

1925 
The first Hobbies Display.
New House was built to accommodate first Medway and then Marshall.

1926
The Parsonage was purchased.

1927
In the Cloisters the pigsties and cowstalls were pulled down, to be replaced by classrooms. An outdoor swimming pool was built. Clevelands, opposite the Green, was purchased. The first General Inspection was made; Benenden was recognised as efficient. There were 200 girls on the school roll. Seniors Association established. School Magazine inaugurated.

1928
School song: The School Upon the Weald; words: Miss Bird, music: Miss Lillian Wade.

1930
Echyngham (now Norris) was built.

1934
The Ballad of Benenden was written and performed for the first time.

1936
Guldeford House study and the Dining Room were built.

1938
The Hall was built, at a cost of £8,500.

1939
3 September: Outbreak of the Second World War.

1940
Benenden became a Charitable Foundation. The School was evacuated on the advice of the Council. The bank withdrew its overdraft facilities and the account moved to Coutts. The School moved to the Hotel Bristol, Newquay, Cornwall, with Miss Sheldon and Miss Bird. Miss Hindle stayed at Benenden to look after the estate. She persuaded the Ministry of Health to use Benenden as a Military Hospital. Enid Blyton’s daughters, Gillian and Imogen Darrell Waters joined Echyngham House.

1944
Capitaine Jean Maridor, a French Free pilot died saving the School from a VI rocket. 

1945 
Summer: The Hospital left. Considerable damage had been caused during their stay.
September: The ‘pioneers’ returned from Newquay to prepare the School for the rest of its members

1946
The School returns to Benenden.

1947
25th Anniversary service at St Paul’s Cathedral.

1950
Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, drove through the School grounds and was introduced to members of staff during a visit to Benenden village. The Cloisters was extended to the fourth side of the quadrangle, to create a new form room and laboratory.

1954
The Founders Retire.
The Benenden Angel and Other Fables published.
Miss Clarke became Headmistress. She had first come to the School as a teacher, but had subsequently left to study Law and was called to the Bar. Returning to teaching she had risen to become Vice-Principal of Cheltenham Ladies’ College.

1955
The new Library (now the Art wing) was opened (originally conceived as a Chapel).

1956 
The Chapel was built and dedicated by Archbishop Fisher.

1957
Princess Benedikte of Denmark became a pupil.

1961
The New Wing was built, with dormitory space that meant that girls no longer had to sleep at Parsonage and Somers. The Dining Room was extended into a courtyard. This released the Terrace Room, which became Guldeford House study.

1963
Princess Anne and Princess Basma of Jordan became pupils at Benenden.

1964
The Parents’ Association was founded.

1968
The Music Wing was opened.

1969

A new house was built for the Headmistress, who gave up being a Housemistress. The West Wing was opened by HRH Princess Anne on 7 June.  Miss Sheldon died.

1972 

Denim jeans were introduced as permitted uniform. 

 

1973
The School’s Golden Jubilee, and an appeal was set up for new building. Founders’ Clock was unveiled and the Chapel Bell dedicated at Seniors’ Weekend.

1974

Extensions were built at New House that meant no one now had to sleep at the Hospice (a sanatorium outside the grounds behind Beach Cottages).

1975
Miss Clarke retired in December.

1976
Miss Allen became Headmistress.
In March Miss Hindle died.

1977
The Jubilee Wing was opened by Miss Allen and Miss Bird.

1981
The Bernard Sunley Gymnasium was built. Founders’ House was completed (for Six Twos only).
Diamond Jubilee Service at Canterbury Cathedral

Mr Robin Dalton-Holmes became Bursar.

1982
New classrooms (Far Pavilions) were built by Rose Walk. Miss Bird died on 20 December.

1985
Miss Allen leaves Benenden School.
Mrs Gillian duCharme became Headmistress.

1986 
Guldeford House moved out of the main building to its new home.

1987
The hurricane and the beginning of major re-landscaping. 250 trees had to come down in the parkland and 60 in the gardens.

1988
Leelands, the science and medical wing, was opened.

1990
SPLASH (Swimming Pool, Leisure and Sports Hall) opened by Joan (Sunley) Tics N50.

1992
Channel 4 “Cutting Edge” documentary portrait of Benenden.

1993
Limes/Oaks opened by Liz Forgan (G61).
Miss Clarke dies leaving Benenden School a legacy of £3m after various life interests.
Jonathan Watts appointed as first Housemaster of an all-girls public school.

1997
Elms completed between Beeches and Limes/Oaks.
Mrs duCharme appears in BBC programme "Back to the Floor" which created a link between Benenden School and Forest Gate School.

1998-99
75th Anniversary service at St Paul's Cathedral.
Various lunches for Seniors at Benenden School, St James' Palace and Christie's.
Launch at Coutts bank of the Book 'Benenden: A Great Company' by David Souden.
School Play 'A Great Company' at Her Majesty's Theatre, Haymarket.

2000
Mrs duCharme leaves Benenden School.
Mrs Claire Oulton, Head of St Catherine's, Bramley appointed as Headmistress.

2001
Clarke Centre with the Eugenia Leung Library is completed.

2003
Performance of 'Me and My Girl' at the London Palladium.
Norris development completed, creating seven new class rooms and second floor study bedrooms.
School Dining Room and Cloisters refurbished.
School website launched.
The New Stage Theatre Campaign launched.

2005
Extension to Splash incorporating a fitness gym.
Victorian Water Gardens refurbished.
'Cabaret' performed at the New Stage Ball at the Dorchester.
New School Rugby squad take part in the U18 Rugby 7s at Berkhamsted.

2007
New Theatre is opened by Helena Bonham-Carter.
'Grease' first production staged.

2008
School welcomes HRH The Princess Royal to Seniors' Day.
Refurbishment and installation of Seniors' window in the Chapel followed by rededication service.
'Leading the Field' Campaign launched at Olympic Games in Hong Kong in the presence of HRH The Princess Royal.
School participates in MUN.

2009
Eco-Classroom opened, situated in the Victorian Water Gardens.

2010
New School Cafe is opened.

2012

New Science Centre is opened by HRH The Princess Royal in October.

2013
Mrs Claire Oulton leaves Benenden School. 

2014
Mrs Samantha Price, Head of the Godolphin School, Salisbury appointed as the new Headmistress. Benenden celebrates it 90th Anniversary with a Thanksgiving Service in Canterbury Cathedral.