Our  History

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.

  1. 1216

    Robert of Hemsted built the first house on the site.

  2. 1377

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

  3. 1388

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

  4. 1573

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

  5. 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.

  6. 1780

    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.

  7. 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.

  8. 1912

    Sir Harold Harmsworth, later Lord Rothermere, 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.

  9. 1923

    In April Christine Sheldon CBE, Anne Hindle MBE and Kathleen 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.

  10. 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.

  11. 1925

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

  12. 1926

    The Parsonage was purchased.

  13. 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.

  14. 1928

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

  15. 1930s

    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.

  16. 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.

  17. 1944

    Capitaine Jean Maridor, a French Free pilot died saving the School from a V-1 rocket.

  18. 1944

    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

  19. 1946

    The School returns to Benenden.

  20. 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.

  21. 1954

    Elizabeth Clarke CVO, JP 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. Upon her death she bequeathed £3million to Benenden School.

  22. 1954

    The Founders Retire. The Benenden Angel and Other Fables published.

  23. 1955-57

    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.

  24. 1960s

    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.

  25. 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.

  26. 1970s

    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

  27. 1981-84

    1981 – The Bernard Sunley Gymnasium was built.

    1983 – Diamond Jubilee Service at Canterbury Cathedral. Founders House was opened on Speech Day.

    1984 – Miss Bird died on 20 December.

  28. 1985

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

  29. 1987

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

  30. 1990s

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

  31. 2000

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

  32. 2001

    Clarke Centre with the Eugenia Leung Library is completed.

  33. 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.

  34. 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.

  35. 2007-2010

    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 Café is opened.

  36. 2012

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

  37. 2013

    Mrs Claire Oulton leaves Benenden School.

  38. 2014

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

  39. 2015

    The Centenary Vision is officially launched by HRH The Princess Royal. The Vision outlines a series of curriculum and development innovations to be introduced in time for the school’s centenary. These include the introduction of the Benenden Diploma and the Professional Skills Programme as well as developments including a new All-Weather Pitch and Pavilion, additional staff housing, new School Hall and Music School and enhancements to SPLASH.

    The Benenden Diploma – the School’s enquiry-led curriculum for 11 and 12 year-olds – is launched.

    Combined Cadet Force introduced at Benenden for the first time.

  40. 2016

    All-Weather Sports Pitch and Pavilion and staff housing are officially opened.

    A company of Benenden students performs at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe for the first time.

    Benenden’s Professional Skills Programme for Sixth Formers is launched.

  41. 2017

    The Heart of Benenden campaign gets underway, focusing on delivering the new School Hall and Music School.

    Benenden becomes the first girls’ school to host the annual conference of The Eight, a group of some of the UK’s leading independent schools.

    Benenden’s 1st team wins the National Schools Lacrosse Tournament.

  42. 2018

    HRH The Princess Royal attends her 50th Reunion at Benenden.

    The West Wing is refurbished, designed in the style of the impending new School Hall and Music School.

    Benenden hosts its first Conference for Heads, with 50 prep and senior schools represented.

    A Microlight, built by a group of students as part of an engineering project, is given its launch flight.

  43. 2019

    Construction work begins on the new School Hall and Music School – the Heart of Benenden Campaign.

  44. 2020

    Benenden announces that it will be introducing a limited number of day boarders from September 2021.

    Benenden announced as having the best school food in the country at the Tatler School Awards.

  45. 2021

    Benenden announces that it will be creating a boarding house dedicated to the Fourths for the first time, following the success of year group boarding, introduced due to pandemic bubble arrangements, for the Fourths.

    Junior Bake Off is filmed at Benenden.

  46. 2022

    Episodes of Junior Bake Off air on Channel 4.

    The projects of the uniquely ambitious Heart of Benenden Campaign – The Centenary Hall and Sir David K.P. Li Music School – are completed and open for use.

    Benenden named among the best schools in the world by the prestigious Spear’s guide Mrs Price named.

  47. 2023

    Benenden celebrates its Centenary for the 2023/24 academic year. Initiatives include:

    • the unveiling of a Centenary sculpture
    • the publication of Benenden 100, a specially-produced book
    • global conference, Inspiring Future Female Leaders, for Sixth Formers, held in the presence of HRH The Princess Royal and in collaboration with the International Coalition of Girls’ Schools
    • Celebratory service at Canterbury Cathedral
    • a 100 Acts of Kindness initiative
    • A performance of a modernised version of the Benenden Pageant

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