Uncovering the tradition of Babington House School*

Babington House School is experiencing exciting new times. Building on a tradition that goes back nearly one hundred and thirty years, it is continuing to find every means at its disposal to provide the best academic and pastoral care for its pupils. Not only has the school secured a new sports ground (formerly Granby Sports Club) on Elmstead Lane, but a mixed sixth form was opened this academic year, and boys will be gradually admitted to the Preparatory school up to year six. The secondary school continues to grow and provide education for girls from years 7 to 11.

As we move into the future, it is important to remind ourselves of where we come from, and whose shoulders we are standing on. Institutions, just like nations, have history. And just like nations, this history is made up of the stories of countless individuals. Babington House School is in the process of uncovering those stories. This task can be compared to a detective poring over vast amounts of information, trying to piece together conflicting accounts and dig past the comments, say, in a 1937 school inspection report, or a 1959 newspaper report on the movement of the school from Eltham to Chislehurst.

So far fascinating pieces of information have been uncovered. It appears that the foundation of the school can be traced directly to a death in central London. On 10th April 1885 Henry Rossel died in St Peter’s Hospital in Covent Garden, leaving his widow Elizabeth Rossel and their children. By 1887 Babington House School had been founded in the family home in Eltham. It is this school that was begun by Elizabeth Rossel that now stands in Chislehurst. The founder has been known in school myth simply as ‘Madam Rossel’; we know something of her family life, and that she was originally from Belgium. Unfortunately we do not have a photograph of her.

There was a brief period of management under a Mrs Kingsford and her daughter, before the school was taken over by one of the most colourful and well known headmistresses. In 1891 Catherine Hartley bought the school. She ran the school for ten years, until 1901, and mentioned this with pride in her Who’s Who entry. The daughter of missionaries to Madagascar, her life pushed many established boundaries for the time, marrying and divorcing, writing extensively both about her travels abroad and the nature of being a woman and female sexuality. Before she died she had converted to Judaism in order to marry again. Unfortunately very little is known about her time at Babington House.

You may be wondering how a school that was founded in Eltham ended up in Chislehurst. In 1959 the lease where the house stood (Crown Land) was up, and the school had to move. Elmstead Grange was bought in Chislehurst, and became the new home of Babington House School.

As we continue on our journey forward, we are asking for help in understanding our past, and would like to ask if anyone has any information or artefacts (such as photographs) that they can pass on to the school.

On Friday, 1st May Babington is holding its first reunion for 10 years and past pupils and teachers are invited to attend from 6.30pm – 9.30pm to enjoy refreshments and an opportunity to reminisce with old friends. Tours of the school will be available. If you would like to attend please contact Sally Mean on smean@babingtonhouse.com

Elmstead Grange in 1900, while it was still a family home.
Ethel Bilbrough, who lived at Elmstead Grange, reading to her sister Mary in the garden in 1909.

Note provided by

Helen Balfour
Marketing Manager
Babington House School Ltd