When Prior's Field School opened on 23 January 1902, it was the fulfilment of a dream for Julia Huxley, niece of the poet Matthew Arnold and granddaughter of Dr Thomas Arnold, the headmaster of Rugby immortalised in the novel Tom Brown's Schooldays. She had long cherished an ambition to open her own school. Having bought a five-acre plot and a moderate sized house designed by Charles Francis Annesley Voysey, a member of the Arts and Crafts Movement, she started her 'high class school for girls' with just one boarder and her dog, five day girls and her seven and a half year-old son, Aldous.
A brilliant scholar and gifted teacher, Mrs Huxley had progressive and somewhat revolutionary ideas about education. She brought alive subjects such as history, art and music by taking her pupils out of the classroom and into galleries, concerts, theatres and museums. She allowed the girls an unusual freedom of choice and expression and encouraged a love of books, culture and solitude.
When Voysey designed Prior's Field, originally called Prior's Garth, he was considered at the pinnacle of his career. His work was a source of Art Nouveau inspiration, but his strength was in designing well-built homes of a simple and austere style. Voysey also designed the door handles, keys and keyholes, fireplaces and hinges. The air vents with their motifs of birds and trees, which appeared in many of his houses, can still be seen in the school today in the Oak hall, the senior common room, and bursary offices. One of his most distinctive features was the Oak Hall with its fine staircase, which remains the heart of the school.
The additions to the original house - formerly known as Private Side - were designed by Voysey's pupil, Tom Muntzer, the work being completed after Tom's death by his father, Frederick. The garden was laid out in a Gertrude Jekyll inspired design and featured herbaceous borders, dry Bargate stone walls, a dipping pond and rock garden. Both Julia and her husband were keen gardeners and Leonard brought many of the plants back from his trips abroad with his sons. In the early years, the care of the gardens was in the hands of lady gardeners, who trained at Swanley Horticultural College.
A century ago, sport was considered unbecoming of young ladies. But not by Julia Huxley. Unable to play hockey with only six girls, the school purchased a football "and all of us used to have the most exciting games with it," Julia wrote in the first school magazine in 1908. Sporting pursuits at Prior's Field have progressed ever since, giving girls the opportunity to develop skills and interests in netball, hockey, rounders, athletics, tennis and whatever takes their sporting fancy.
In 2007, the modern, well equipped, Burton-Brown library was opened. The original library, which was created in 1927 as a memorial to Prior's Field's second headmistress, Mrs Ethel Burton-Brown, will remain at the heart of the school as an important and historic archive centre.
2012 saw the opening of a new all weather sports pitch and in 2013 Dame Diana Rigg opened a new creative arts centre, providing additional state of the art teaching rooms, a new school entrance and reception area.