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News > News from The Old Place > A brief history of The Old Place

A brief history of The Old Place

A quick history guide to the Worth Estate
The house in Smith's time with the porte-cochere
The house in Smith's time with the porte-cochere


  • In 1862 a wealthy London builder called George Smith built a mock-Tudor house on this site with the help of well-known architect, Anthony Salvin, who worked on Windsor Castle
  • In 1881 the estate, now known as Paddockhurst, was bought by Robert Whitehead, an inventor, who had made his fortune as the developer of the first self-propelled torpedo in the 1860s. Whitehead extended the house and built the extensive farm buildings including a water tower (now the Clock Tower) and surrounds. Whitehead’s descendants include a granddaughter who married Herbert von Bismarck, the eldest son of the great Chancellor Otto von Bismarck, and another who was the first wife of Georg von Trapp, and the mother to his children. Captain von Trapp remarried after her death and became famous as the patriarch of the von Trapp Family Singers who were portrayed in the semi-fictional stage play and film The Sound of Music. Whitehead’s motto 'In Spe Vivo', "I live in hope' is on the front of the house
  • In 1894 industrialist Weetman Dickinson Pearson, later Viscount Cowdray, purchased the estate. His moto ‘Do it with they might’ can also been seen on the main building. He employed another well-known architect, Sir Aston Webb, who was responsible for the façade of Buckingham Palace, to remodel the house
  • The first two Lord Cowdray’s died within 6 years, so the family had two sets of death duties to pay in the 1930’s depression, so they put one of their properties, this one, up for sale with 500 acres of land. They still own Cowdray Park in Midhurst
  • In 1933 Abbot John Chapman established another monastic community from Downside (which was getting too crowded) and a junior school here
  • The School was evacuated back to Downside in Somerset during the Second World War
  • Canadian troops were stationed in the house to plan and prepare for the D-Day landings in Normandy in June 1944
  • In 1957 Worth Abbey became independent from Downside with Dom Victor Farwell as Prior (later made Abbot in 1965) and in 1959 the Senior School was founded. The Junior School was then the 2nd largest in the country
  • By 1965 a Junior House for boys aged 11 to 13 had replaced the Preparatory School
  • In 1990s was the first English Benedictine school to take both boarding and day pupils
  • 2008 saw first boarding and day girls accepted into the Sixth Form. Girls were welcomed into the lower years in 2010 and by September 2012 the School was fully co-educational
  • School now has 650 pupils and has had a lay head since 2002 with the Abbot being President of the Board of Governors
  • In 2022 Worth Abbey Monastery had 17 monks connected to it




  • The stained-glass windows in the entrance porch depict the four seasons with quotes from Rudyard Kipling poems
  • In Reception the stained-glass windows link Cowdray coat of arms with families connected by marriage; Churchill, Knatchbull-Hugeson & Denman Families, and a memorial to Lord Cowdray’s deceased son Geoffrey


  • In Lord Cowdray’s day this was known as The Banqueting Room, now in honour of Ambrose Barlow, who studied for the priesthood at the English College of St Gregory’s in Douai, France (where the English monks lived between the Reformation and the French Revolution). He was executed for his Catholic faith in 1641 and became a saint.
  • Used as a Common Room by the School until 2019, now an extension of Reception
  • Lord Cowdray’s coat of arms is over the stone fireplace. He had built Dover Harbour and the first Blackwall Tunnel in London and then discovered oil in Mexico, hence the diver and Mexican man depicted


  • Lord Cowdray’s dining room and the monks’ refectory prior to the new Monastery building
  • Minstrel’s gallery where monks used to read during dinner
  • Plaster frieze around the room depicts the ‘History of Travel’ and was created by Sir Walter Crane in 1896. Lord & Lady Cowdray are featured on their bicycles (Lady Cowdray’s bicycle was made by Tiffany’s)
  • Two Italian marble fireplaces


  • The old Music Room, built by Robert Whitehead in 1883
  • Look out for the Muse of Music statue over the door outside (affectionately known in the School as ‘Elvis’)
  • Has enormous fireplace made of Italian woodwork and Siennese marble, another minstrel’s gallery and the entrance porch which used to hold a pipe organ
  • Stained-glass windows depicting a brief history and variety of English music, both folk and religious


  • Officially opened on 25th April 2022, the new Sixth Form Centre and Library is the newest building at Worth
  • Built following a generous donation of £6.25 million from former pupil Michael Spencer, Baron Spencer of Alresford
  • Ground floor houses the new Library and the Spencer Theatre with high ceilings and long windows for excellent use of natural light and upper floor is seminar rooms and study and social spaces for pupils to come together socially and intellectually in a stimulating, pre-university experience
  • Structure is made up of exposed cross laminated timber (CLT) on ceilings, and the ash joinery and wall paneling create a robust, warm interior with good soundproofing and acoustics – with a monastic feel
  • Designed for ultra-low energy use; highly insulated to minimise heat loss in winter and heat gain in summeg, using the School’s new biomass heating system.
  • Planting to front of the building has interesting and varied species of trees chosen by a former Head of Science, Brian Doggett, who was expert in the field
  • Awarded a 2022 Sussex Heritage Trust Award in the Public and Community category celebrating excellence in conservation, restoration and new design across Sussex.


  • Part of the ‘Model Farm Buildings’ built by Robert Whitehead
  • The clock was installed in memory of Lord Cowdray’s youngest son, Geoffrey, killed in 1914 at the Battle of Marne


  • The foundation stone for Worth Abbey Church was laid in 1964 and the Church was finally consecrated in 1975
  • The building was designed by distinguished architect, Francis Pollen (1926-1987)
  • At 900 seats, the largest capacity church in Sussex

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