In the spring of 1889 the first Sisters of the Religious of Christian Education arrived from France to set up a school in Farnborough. That school welcomed its first pupil, Josephine Murray, at Hillside Convent on 15 May 1889. As the school flourished, more accommodation was needed and in 1927 Farnborough Hill was purchased from the estate of the late Empress Eugénie, the widow of Napoleon III of France.
The Sisters commissioned renowned architect Adrian Gilbert Scott to build an extension to the original house which was quickly followed by his beautifully designed Chapel and so the first phase of the purpose-built school at Farnborough Hill was completed. Gilbert Scott went on to design the Jubilee wing in 1939 followed by a further extension in the 1950s and, as a result, the whole site is Grade 1 listed. Initially Farnborough Hill was used as a home for the boarders who walked down to the school at Hillside. However with the advent of the Second World War and the commandeering of Hillside by the army the whole school moved to Farnborough Hill.
The school has since become a day school run by a lay trust but some of the Sisters are still involved on a daily basis and others are members of the Board of Trustees. Farnborough Hill currently has more than 560 students on roll and the facilities now include a sports hall, art and design centre, indoor swimming pool, dance studio and a theatre. In April 2014, a new state-of-the-art music suite, St Cecilia’s, was formally opened by Bishop Peter Egan, the Bishop of Portsmouth.
Staff at the school are all proud of the Sisters’ achievements in pioneering girls’ education. The 125th birthday was celebrated with an assembly for the whole school together with special guests Sister Wright, Sister Rennie, Sister McDonnell and Sister Mannion. The headmistress, Mrs Sarah Buckle, and assistant head, Mrs Cathy Dales, gave a fascinating insight into life at the school over the last 125 years, reading extracts from the forthcoming book ‘From Hillside to Farnborough Hill‘ which is to be published in November 2014 to celebrate this anniversary year.
The Sisters were invited to blow out candles on a huge cake while the entire school sang ‘Happy Birthday.’ The large cake, which was made by the mother of one of the students, featured ribbons in the school colours and Napoleonic bees, still a symbol on the school badge. Festivities continued with the distribution of specially commissioned 125 cupcakes to all students and staff.