The school was so successful that larger premises were needed and a plot of agricultural land, just north of the Academy was bought for £320. The new school building, named Hemdean House, was ready by 1862 and the girl boarders and the Misses Knighton moved in during April. Over the years more Caversham day girls were admitted and the number of boarders decreased.
Matilda was still the
principal in 1921 and had recently introduced school uniform. She retired in
1926 and died just a year later, being buried in
The curriculum was academic and rigorous and the work of the upper school pupils was tested annually by a Visiting Examiner. Within two years of Miss Olivey’s leadership the numbers of pupils had increased from thirty eight to over a hundred.
School numbers rose
during the second world war due to the reception of evacuees, mostly from
private schools in
Miss Olivey was not only principal and teacher, but cooked breakfast for the boarders and helped the younger pupils to wash and dress, lit the fires and took all the registers before taking assembly! At lunchtime she would serve her home made puddings, as the cook would only prepare the main course, and at the end of the school day she presided over the tea table before sweeping out the classrooms and then settling down to mark some books.
In post war years many small independent schools closed, but Hemdean House thrived and celebrated its centenary in 1959 with a service at St Peter’s Church. In 1972, when Miss Olivey was 75, she announced her retirement. “Could Hemdean House go on without her?”, was the question everyone was asking, but also many were saying, “This is a good caring school and it must go on”.
Though there were no
longer boarders, the school continued as a charity, under the headship of Mrs
Ralph, from 1973, and with the newly formed School Council as trustees.
Mrs Harris, the current headmistress, who had been Mrs Pethybridge’s deputy for seven years, was appointed in 2001. Today the caring nature of the school, along with excellent academic results, still continue to attract families from Caversham and further afield.