On a sunny Saturday morning members of the Sixth Form threw open the doors to the Old House to share the history of their beautiful school building with eager visitors.
The morning, organised as part of their charity week, enabled visitors to explore the house with a National Trust style tour led by the girls. Staff experts were on hand to explain key features within the Grade 1 listed building, from the grand entrance hall which once featured the renowned painting of the Empress Eugenie and her ladies-in-waiting by Winterhalter (now exhibited at the Palais de Compiègne) to the Empress’s private sitting room where she regularly entertained Queen Victoria. Many original features remain within the building: a telephone dating from the early 20th Century, original electric light switches, picture hooks which once held Jacques-Louis David’s ‘Napoleon Crossing the Alps’ (now housed in Château de Malmaison), and beautiful ornate radiators. Napoleonic symbolism is rife throughout the Old House; bees adorn fireplaces and doors, while decorative ‘N’s can be found on handles, locks and even drainpipes!
Anthony Geraghty, professor of History of Art at The University of York, gave a fascinating insight into the Empress and her life, talking of a French court in exile at Farnborough Hill with a constant stream of visits by the crowned heads of Europe. He described an intelligent, forward-thinking woman who had great respect for the Suffragettes and recognised the importance of women in history. She had a keen interest in interior design (much to the amusement of other ladies of stature) and many of her stylistic touches remain as part of the fabric of the house today. Of particular poignancy was the Empress’s decision to recreate her deceased son’s study in one of the most beautiful rooms in the house; his desk and unopened letters were moved from their former residence at Chislehurst and placed in a south-facing room with views over the grounds situated next to the Empress’s own private sitting room (both rooms now form the school library).
Thank you to everyone who attended to support the girls and their charities: CLIC Sargent, The Hawk Conservancy and Cherry Trees. If you are interested in attending a historical tour in the future, please email email@example.com to be added to the invitation list.