An illustrious history
and a bright future

The Headmistress

Jo Duncan is a graduate of the University of St Andrews where she read for a joint degree in English Literature and Theology. She grew up in Northern Ireland and attended a girls’ grammar school. She undertook her PGCE at Homerton College, University of Cambridge. Her first teaching post was as a teacher of Religious Studies at The Latymer School in North London – from there, she moved to Benenden School in Kent as Head of Department and Deputy Housemistress. She has held two previous Headships and was appointed Headmistress of Wycombe Abbey in September 2019.

Headmistress' Welcome

Much of my career has been spent in schools founded by remarkable, forward-thinking women. I am passionate about girls’ education and the important role which girls’ schools play in enabling young women to reach their full potential.

Wycombe Abbey is an exceptional place; it operates as a modern full boarding school for 655 girls and we are committed to the development of each one. Built on the firm foundation of more than 125 years of educating young women, our vision is to provide a world-class education. We are excited about encouraging curiosity, bold ideas, innovation, leadership and delight in learning – inside and outside the classroom.

Superb academic outcomes are the hallmark of a Wycombe Abbey education and girls regularly secure places at the most prestigious universities globally. However, we understand the importance of looking beyond the narrow confines of excellent examination results to define success. Our rich co-curricular programme includes an array of activities and opportunities, ensuring that every girl develops her passions and explores new possibilities. These experiences, in turn, help to build the skills, discipline and character that will support her future life.

Ultimately, schools are about people and at the heart of Wycombe Abbey’s success is our total commitment to pastoral care through boarding. The values of mutual respect, encouragement and trust underpin everything we do; in this happy and close-knit community everyone is known as an individual, friendships flourish and girls enjoy each other’s company, all within the wonderful surroundings of 170 acres of magnificent parkland.

I hope that girls who are educated at Wycombe Abbey, including my own daughter, will leave school as confident, articulate, independent young women who are able to navigate a competitive, global, technology-driven world successfully but who also have the qualities to make a positive difference through the lives they live. What are these qualities? I believe they are the ability to form meaningful relationships; to display good judgment; to demonstrate courage and integrity; to be emotionally resilient and to have a deep sense of respect for themselves and others.

It is my privilege to be Headmistress of this School and I warmly invite you and your daughter to come to see what makes Wycombe Abbey such a distinctive place for girls to learn and grow.

Mrs Jo Duncan

 Click here for WYcombe Abbey 125 – Strategic Direction 2020 – 2025

A brief history

Heritage

Wycombe Abbey was founded on the day of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee, 23 September 1896, by Miss Frances Dove, later Dame Frances, a trailblazer who promoted equal opportunities for girls in the Victorian age. The School was established in Loakes Manor which had been redesigned by the celebrated architect James Wyatt for the first Lord Carrington in 1798.

The first cohort of girls in 1896 numbered only 40 but in just three years, the School was full with 210 pupils. The underlying principle of Dame Frances’ educational thinking was education for citizenship. She argued that women should be taught corporate virtues, and that to be good citizens it was essential to have wide interests and a sense of discipline, as well as an esprit de corps.

After Dame Frances’ retirement, Miss Whitelaw led the School through the difficult years of the First World War. She later pursued her plans for the construction of the Chapel; the foundation stone was laid in 1926.

The School continued to grow in strength through its early years. It hosted lectures on topical intellectual subjects and recitals by celebrated musicians. Girls increasingly won places at Oxford and Cambridge. In 1929, in the time of Miss Crosthwaite, the School purchased the old Carrington family home, Daws Hill, and its 200 acres of land.

All activity was suspended with the arrival of the Second World War. For the next four years Wycombe Abbey became ‘Pinetree’, home to the US Army Eighth Air Force and the largest telephone switchboard in England. ‘Pinetree’ welcomed a number of high profile guests at this time. King George VI, Queen Elizabeth, Winston Churchill and Glen Miller and his band all visited the Abbey.

In May 1946 Wycombe Abbey re-opened with 170 arrivals. Of these girls only six were former pupils. After the School received a thorough cleaning it enjoyed a truly ‘fresh start’.

Further expansion took place in the 1950s with the addition of the Walpole Wing and the furnishing of the Dove Library. In the 1960s and 1970s the School launched a number of building projects including the gymnasium, the art block and the front wall and gates, as well as a separate house for the UVI, Clarence House. Thanks to numerous generous donations in the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s, the Lancaster Arts Centre and Archer Recital Hall were built and The Davies Sports Centre opened in 2004. More recently, in 2017 the School opened an atrium café, named The Courtyard, and two new Boarding Houses for Pitt and Rubens.

Experience and insight

Executive Leadership

The Executive Leadership Team works with the Headmistress in the implementation of the School’s vision. Its members have a detailed knowledge of the School and a wide range of experiences.

Jo Duncan

Jo Duncan
Headmistress

Leading the School

Protecting our resources

Mark Mackenzie Crooks is responsible for everything from repairing the staffroom coffee machine to developing the School’s multi-£m estates masterplan and everything in between. Before taking up his role at Wycombe Abbey, Mark spent 7 years as the Business Director at St Helen’s School in Northwood. He holds an MBA from Cranfield University and previously enjoyed a 19-year career in the Army. He was privileged to lead organisations up to 500-strong in various interesting places around the world and he spent considerable time juggling resources in the MOD’s procurement organisation.

A keen sportsman, Mark is chairman of a local cricket club and a rugby referee.

Inspiring academic success

Emily read Theology at Worcester College, Oxford. In her 13-year career at Wycombe Abbey, she has held a variety of leadership positions including Director of Higher Education and Director of Studies. She is now responsible for all aspects of the School’s academic life. Previously Emily was Head of Department at Cheltenham Ladies’ College.

Leading pastoral excellence

James Jones has a Masters in History from the University of Sheffield. He developed his expertise in pastoral care at Brighton College and Bromsgrove School where he held a number of leadership roles. Since joining Wycombe Abbey in September 2017, James has been developing a new pastoral care programme, “[email protected]”, to enhance the wellbeing of pupils and staff at the School. James is also a fully qualified ISI boarding team inspector, and regularly contributes to education journals and publications, writing on pastoral care issues.

James is the father to two young boys and enjoys hiking and scuba diving in his spare time. He is also a black belt in Tae Kwon-Do.

Nick has an MA MEng in Aerospace and Aerothermal Engineering from Downing College, Cambridge. Nick joined Wycombe Abbey in April 2022 and is responsible for the oversight and coordination of the day-to-day organisation of key areas of the School. He works closely with the Headmistress and the Bursar to plan and implement the School’s strategic direction. Prior to Wycombe Abbey, Nick was Assistant Head at Hampton School and a member of their Senior Leadership Team.

Fulfilling aspirations

Dr Carrier read for a BA in Philosophy at University College London and an MPhil in Politics at the University of Oxford. He was then a Jane Eliza Procter Fellow at Princeton University, where he was affiliated primarily with the Department of Philosophy. Dr Carrier returned to the United Kingdom and gained a PhD in Philosophy at the University of Cambridge as an Arts and Humanities Research Council Doctoral Scholar, spending a semester as a Visiting Student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Prior to Wycombe Abbey, Dr Carrier was Head of Religious Studies and Philosophy at Hampton School, where he was also Assistant Head of Higher Education.

Safeguarding our community

Vicky Fawkes read for a BA (Hons) in History at the University of Wales, Swansea, and then completed her Teacher Training through the Graduate Training Programme at the University of Reading. Since September 2021, Vicky has taken on the role of Overseas Pupil Co-ordinator at Wycombe Abbey.

Having joined Wycombe Abbey in January 2014 as Housemistress of Junior House, she then moved on to be the Housemistress of Shelburne House in September 2017. Vicky was appointed as the Designated Safeguarding Lead in September 2019 and is responsible for ensuring that Wycombe Abbey has a whole-School approach to safeguarding members of our community.

Sophie has an MA in Social and Political Sciences from St John’s College, Cambridge as well as an MSc in Occupational Psychology from Birkbeck College, University of London. She is a Chartered Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development and a member of the Independent Schools Bursar’s Association. Sophie joined Wycombe Abbey in April 2022 and leads the School’s HR function. She will lead on planning and implementing a people strategy in line with Wycombe Abbey’s values and strategic direction.

Sophie previously worked as Director of Human Resources at Tanglin Trust School in Singapore.

Jacky Tidbury read Classics and completed her PGCE at Queens’ College, Cambridge. She has held a variety of academic leadership positions in high achieving schools over the past fourteen years and completed the National Professional Qualification in Senior Leadership in 2014. Jacky joined Wycombe Abbey in September 2014 as Head of Classics, a role she continues to hold, and acted as Overseas Pupil Coordinator from 2020 to 2021. As Senior Researcher – International Schools, she is working with Wycombe Abbey International Schools to analyse and share best practice across our global network.

Governing Council

The Governing Council works in partnership with the Headmistress to achieve the purpose and mission of the School. It is the Council’s responsibility to ensure continuity and plan for the future.

The Chair of Council can be contacted via post to Mr Peter Warren, Wycombe Abbey, High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, HP11 1PE or by emailing [email protected]

Chairman of Council

Peter studied Modern History at Oriel College, Oxford. He has had a 25 year career in finance and is currently a partner, and sits on the management board, of Capula Investment Management. Peter has a special interest in education and has 15 years’ experience as a school governor in the state maintained sector. He is a Trustee of the Connection at St Martin’s, one of London’s largest homeless charities. Peter has a close connection with Wycombe Abbey as both his wife and daughters attended the School.

Jeremy qualified as a Chartered Accountant with Ernst & Young and has been an Investment Banker for the last 37 years: 15 years with S.G. Warburg & Co and 22 years with Deutsche Bank. Jeremy is a Liveryman of The Worshipful Company of Haberdashers and a Trustee of the UCL Cancer Institute Research Trust. Education and Health are two issues he strongly supports. Both of Jeremy’s daughters are former pupils of Wycombe Abbey.

Louise studied at University College London and then at St Antony’s College, Oxford. She began her career working for the BBC before taking on a permanent academic post at the University of Oxford, where she remains today. Louise is currently Professor of International Relations, Fellow of St Catherine's College and Head of the Department of Politics and International Relations. She has a keen interest in the Middle East and her edited volume on international relations in the region is already in its fourth edition. Louise has four children and brings a wealth of academic experience to Wycombe Abbey.

Vivek has over 24 years of leadership experience, transforming technology and digital functions in international organisations. He is currently the Chief Customer Officer Salesforce, UK & Ireland, one of the most successful and fast growing technology businesses in the world. And often ranked as one of the best employers to work in UK&I. He has a passion for addressing the digital skills gap in the country and is currently on the board of FutureDotNow, a charitable organisation with a mission to bring together organisations to motivate people and businesses across the UK to boost their digital skills. He is married to Vinita and has two girls, aged 11 and three years.

Chair of Safeguarding, Pastoral and Boarding Committee

Amanda read PPE at Magdalen College Oxford before training as an accountant with Coopers & Lybrand and then spending a period as a corporate financier at Morgan Grenfell. She has strong links to the school being not only a Senior herself but the mother of two Seniors and the grand-daughter and great niece of three further Seniors. She chaired the Wycombe Abbey School Seniors Association for many years and was a Trustee of the Dove Bowerman Trust. She remains a Trustee of the Wycombe Abbey School Foundation. Beyond Wycombe, Amanda has a wide portfolio of roles covering a broad range of interests but with a particular focus on healthcare. In addition to being involved in organ donation and biobanking, she is a Non-executive Director at Whittington Health NHS Trust, chairs RareCan, a start-up company which aims to increase access to research for people with rare cancers. She has also recently completed two terms as a Member of the Human Tissue Authority.

Caro studied at University College, London and Trinity College, Cambridge before qualifying as a doctor in 1981. She has worked as a General Practitioner at Summertown Health Centre in Oxford for the last 28 years, recently being appointed the senior partner. Caro helps to mentor local doctors and is the first woman to have been elected to the Oxford Medical Club in its 125-year history. She has three children and joined Wycombe Abbey’s Governing Council in 2017.

Wendy Griffiths was Headmistress at Tudor Hall from January 2004 to December 2021, where she made the school motto Habeo ut dem, "I have that I may give", part of every day life with a huge focus on giving back to the community both locally and across the world. She has also served as a Governor of five prep schools. She was chairman of the Boarding Schools’ Association in 2014/2015 and a member of the executive for six years. She also chaired the GSA Boarding Committee and served on the GSA executive. Wendy is currently Chair of ISEB joining at a time of significant change and innovation within the organisation. Wendy’s drive is challenging girls to allow them to gain the confidence needed to fulfil their potential.

Nikki holds a BA in Neuroscience and Psychology from Magdalen College Oxford, an MSc in International Relations and Modern Languages from the University of Loughborough, and an MBA from Imperial College London. Since leaving Wycombe Abbey she has worked in commercial roles in sport, and is currently Head of Business Development at England Rugby. She has also represented Great Britain and England in athletics at World Championships and the Commonwealth Games. Outside of work Nikki is passionate about the importance of mental health in young adults, and volunteers as a Family Liaison Officer at University College London Hospital whilst working towards her Doctorate in Clinical Psychology.

Chair of Human Resources and Remuneration Committee

Patrick holds a law degree from Oxford and has an MBA from INSEAD. In his early career he worked for Bain & Company and P&G before joining John Lewis Partnership – after 15 years of operational leadership he is now Group Finance Director. Patrick is also a Mutual Ambassador for the Cabinet Office and Chair of the first local authority mutual spun out of the public sector – 3BM. He has four daughters, three are former pupils and one is still at the School. As a parent and recruiter of talented individuals, he has a keen interest in girls’ education and setting up the next generation for success.

David was called to the Bar after taking a law degree at Exeter University. In a business career, he held advisory, management and Board roles in global manufacturing companies. He has a special interest in education, and not just for the young: he is a former Chair of Governors at Abingdon School, and recently completed an MA degree at King’s College, London. David holds numerous charity trusteeships and currently chairs Chiltern Arts and the Wycombe Abbey School Foundation; he is ‘Lay Chair’ of Aylesbury Deanery Trust. His daughter is a Senior.

Jenny Lovell is a registered architect. She studied Architecture at the University of Manchester and qualified at the Bartlett School of Architecture in London in 1993 (RIBA Part II) and 1995 (RIBA Part III with distinction). Jenny’s experience embraces projects at all stages, from feasibility to construction, and she has a substantial grounding in master planning; she was appointed Associate Director at Allies and Morrison in 2017 where she has worked on a range of projects from multi-unit residential to cultural and university schemes. She has taught ay many institutions in the USA and was an Associate Professor at the Chinese University of Hong Kong from 2011 to 2016, teaching design, environmental systems and construction, as well as working with Estate Management and sitting on the Executive Committee for The School of Architecture. She is currently a member of the Hackney Society Planning Group (HSPG) and an external examiner for Westminster University School of Architecture + Cities RIBA Part II courses.

Jane studied Medicine at Newnham College, Cambridge and trained mostly in London. She is now a Consultant Gynaecologist and Subspecialist in Reproductive Medicine having been appointed to Cambridge University Hospitals in 1994. She has since gained a Masters in Education and has held a number of local, regional and national roles in medical education. Jane is keen to foster a love of learning and help girls and young women to reach their full potential. She has six children and in her spare time she enjoys polo and is a qualified riding instructor.

Chair of Education Committee

One of the first women to graduate from King's College Cambridge in History and Social & Political Sciences and a former Schoolteacher Fellow of Merton College, Oxford, Diana spent 15 years in Bucks Grammar Schools before joining the independent sector. Diana has been Deputy Head of Oxford High School and Head of The Royal Masonic School for Girls in Rickmansworth, retiring from the latter role in December 2016. She chairs the Education, Pastoral & Boarding Committee at Wycombe Abbey and also sits on the Boards of two leading London day schools. Formerly an ISI Inspector and currently a Quality Assurance Officer for IStip, Diana now works as an Educational Consultant. She has been a member of the Schools' Panel of the Wolfson Foundation for over 20 years and is a mentor for the Sutton Trust University Access Scheme.

Alan studied at St John’s College, Cambridge and Balliol College, Oxford. He has been ordained 37 years in the Oxford diocese working in rural, suburban and urban settings and has been Area Bishop of Buckingham since 2003. Alan is Chair of the Oxford Diocesan Board of Education, which serves 285 state schools and 56,000 children in the Thames Valley. He is also a founder trustee of an education development charity that works in Andhra Pradesh, India. Alan is passionate about equality and human rights.

Chair of Finance and General Purposes Committee

Richard studied Philosophy and Economics at UCL before joining PwC in 1985. He was admitted to partnership in 1997 and is on the firm’s Assurance Executive. Richard’s international experience includes leading projects in Europe, the USA, Brazil, Japan, India and Hong Kong. Outside of work he has been a Chair of Merlin and a Trustee (Treasurer) of Save the Children – in 2016 he received a CBE for voluntary services to international development in recognition of his charitable work. Richard has four children who are now all Seniors of Wycombe Abbey.

Strength and success

Our Vision

Wycombe Abbey is looking to the future with a clear vision which is to be at the forefront of girls’ boarding education and to be recognised globally as a world class school.

Our 2020 – 2025 Strategic Plan can be found below or by clicking here for a PDF version.

Our Aims

Wycombe Abbey’s aims were established by our founder, Dame Frances Dove, and remain the same today:

• the pursuit of academic excellence,

• the development of each individual’s talents in creative, physical and social skills, and

• the encouragement of faith in God and service to other people, all in a happy, fulfilling and caring community.

Our Values

Our values are the principles that guide the way we interact with other individuals and groups and are especially important in a boarding community like ours. These are the values that shape our school.

Trust – we foster strong relationships built on trust through good communication, willingness to listen and honesty. 

Encouragement – we promote a positive atmosphere where all members of the community are supported to develop and fulfil their potential. 

Mutual respect – we seek to understand and embrace differences in people, ideas and experiences with tolerance and understanding. 

Dynamism – we are a forward-thinking school that nurtures the leaders of tomorrow for a global workplace. 

Excellence – we believe in the importance of striving to be exceptional in whatever we do through the setting of ambitious goals and taking ownership of our decisions and actions. 

Balance – we understand the importance of supporting staff and pupils to thrive by maintaining a healthy mind and body. 

Innovation – we are excited about creating the future through being open-minded, curious and embracing change. 

Service – we recognise the great rewards that individuals reap in helping, supporting and giving to others both within the school community and beyond it. 

Supporting Wycombe Abbey

Contributions from parents, alumnae and friends make a significant difference and through the generosity of our Wycombe Abbey community, we can continue to deliver an inspiring educational environment. Donations support bursaries, buildings and activities which enrich the experience of our pupils. Find out more about our current priorities and how to give by clicking the link below.

 Find out more

Challenging the status quo

Wycombe Women

Wycombe Abbey provides a world class education. The School’s alumnae push the boundaries within their chosen professions and are often at the top of their field.

Scroll through the timeline below to find out more about our notable alumnae. The date shown is when they left Wycombe Abbey to pursue their life path.

1890

Ethel GabainPainter and Lithographer

War artist and founding member of the Senefelder Club (1909) with her husband John Copley and others.

1890

Joan Hodgson RivierePsychoanalyst

Founding member of the British Psychoanalytical Society (1913). An early translator of Freud and an influential writer in her own account.

1890

Lady Winifred Frances PeckAuthor

Wrote more than 25 books in a career that spanned four decades.

1900

Mary Pickford CBEPolitician, Historian and Industrialist

Elected as a Member of Parliament (1931).

1900

Lady Jessie StreetReformer and Activist

Australian social reformer, recognised internationally for her activism in social justice and women’s rights.

1910

Florence NagleTrainer and Breeder of racehorses and pedigree dogs

Bred 21 UK champions, including Crufts ‘Best in Show’ (1960). Described as the ‘Mrs Pankhurst of British horse racing.’

1930

Elsie BowermanBarrister

Survived the sinking of the Titanic. Became the first Female Barrister at the Old Bailey (1924). Led the status-of-women section of the United Nations in New York (1947).

1930

Mary Edith HideSportswoman

Played cricket for England in the first women’s test match (1934). Captained the team for 17 years, later becoming President of the Women’s Cricket Association (1973).

1930

Penelope FitzgeraldNovelist

Awarded the Booker Prize (1979) and The Golden PEN Award (1999) for a 'Lifetime’s Distinguished Service to Literature’.

1930

Freydis SharlandPilot

Joined the elite female pilots of the Air Transport Auxillary during World War II. Delivered 110 new Spitfires from factory to airfield.

1940

Florence TemkoAuthor and origami pioneer

An origami pioneer and one of the most prolific writers on the subject. She founded Origami USA in 1994.

1950

Elizabeth Butler-Sloss GBEJudge

The first female Lord Justice of Appeal (1998). Appointed President of the Family Division of the High Court of Justice (1999), the first woman to hold the position. Independent Peer in the House of Lords.

1960

Katy Haber MBEInternational Community Activist

Founding member of BAFTA Los Angeles (1987) after a successful career in the British Film Industry. International Community Activist. Founded the Compton Cricket Club (1995) with homeless activist Ted Hayes in one of LA’s most notorious neighbourhoods. Awarded an MBE for services to her community (2012).

1960

Delphine Gray-FiskPilot

One of Britain’s first female airline pilots, flew commercial jets for Dan-Air.

1960

Dr Kathy WilkesPhilosopher and Academic

Involved in rebuilding the education systems of former Communist countries after 1990. Awarded the commemorative medal of the President of the Czech Republic (1998).

1960

Dame Rosalind Savill DBECurator and Ceramicist

Director of the Wallace Collection then Curator at the V&A. Awarded a CBE for services to the study of ceramics (2000). Named as Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (2009).

1967

Dame Elizabeth Slade DBEJudge

Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford 1968-71. Called to the bar at Inner Temple in 1972, Bencher 1990. Took Silk in 1992, recorder and deputy judge of the High Court from 1998 to 2008 and judge of the High Court of Justice (Queen's Bench Division) since 2008. Author of Tolley’s Employment Handbook. Member of the Administrative Tribunal Bank for International Settlements 2000-2008 and European Bank of Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) 2008.

1970

Stella KenrickPrivate Detective

Managed the Oxford Detective Bureau (2002-2012). Voted ‘Investigator of the Year’ (2011).

1970

Caroline BanszkyBusinesswoman

CEO of The Law Debenture Corporation (2002).

1970

Dame Sarah Springman DBE FREngEngineer and Sportswoman

Competed in the 1990 Commonwealth Games Triathlon. Awarded the OBE (1997) and the CBE for service to Triathlon (2012). Awarded Lifetime Achievement Award at the Sunday Times and Sky Sportswoman of the Year Awards (2013).

1980

Rosie AlisonFilm Producer and Author

Credits include Testament of Youth, Paddington and The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. Winner of the 'Orange Prize for Fiction' (2010) for novel The Very Thought of You.

1980

Professor Gemma CalvertNeuroscientist

Founder of Neurosense Limited (1999), the world’s first neuromarketing agency. She is a Visiting Professor at the Nanyang Business School and Fellow of the Institute for Asian Consumer Insight at the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore.

1980

Jo HilditchEntrepreneur

Founder of White Heron Drinks – producer of an award-winning range of British Cassis – and manager of large agribusiness.

1980

Her Honour Judge Juliet Mary May QCJudge

Justice of the High Court since 2015. She was called to the Bar in 1988 and took Silk in 2008, being appointed as a Circuit Judge later that year.

1980

Charlotte MooreTelevision Producer

Director of Content for the BBC.

1980

Wendy Outhwaite QCWine Producer and former Barrister

Founder of Ambriel Sparkling Wine (2013).

1980

Clare Pillman CBCivil Servant

Director at Department for Culture, Media and Sport (2011).

1980

Sally PhilipsActor

Best known for her role as Tilly in the BBC comedy Miranda. Starred in the Bridget Jones’s Diary films. Plays the title role in the BBC Radio 4 comedy show Clare in the Community.

1980

Merryn Somerset WebbEditor

Editor in Chief of the popular personal finance magazine, MoneyWeek, writes for the Financial Times, The Sunday Post and Saga Magazine.

1990

Francesca DonnerJournalist

Editor of The Wall Street Journal (2011). Director at The New York Times (2015).

1990

Georgie FienbergFounder and Director

Established AfriKids, which won the Charity Times International Charity of the Year (2015).

1990

Angharad FitzwilliamsHedge Fund Director

Head of Hedge Fund Capital Group, Asia, at Deutsche Bank.

1990

Naomi FrederickActor

Selected theatre work includes Mrs Affleck at the National Theatre, As You Like It and The Heresy of Love at Shakespeare’s Globe and The Winslow Boy at the Old Vic Theatre.

1990

Professor Angelica RonaldResearcher

Director of the Genes Environment Lifespan Laboratory (GEL) and a Professor at the Department of Psychological Sciences at Birkbeck University. Awarded the Thompson Award (2005) and the prestigious Spearman Medal (2012).

1990

Tabitha Somerset-WebbFashion Designer

Launched the clothing line, ‘Project D’ (2010) with Dannii Minogue and launched her own brand, ‘Tabitha Webb’, in 2003.

1990

Clarissa WardJournalist

CNN Senior International Correspondent. Covered the early days of the Syrian Civil War, receiving the Peabody and DuPont Awards (1998). Also received two Emmy awards and honours from the Radio and Television Correspondents’ Association.

1990

Francesca ZinoAthlete

Represented Team GB in the rowing squad at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney.

2000

Roxane HeatonEngineer

Head of Technology-Innovation, Morrisons. Won FDM Everywoman in Technology Awards (2015). Nominated for driving business change throughout training and operational systems in the Royal Navy.

2000

Nikki EmersonAthlete

Qualified as a wheelchair racer in the 2012 Paralympics and works in the Commercial Team for a Premier League Football Team.

2000

Natalie SimpsonActor

Appeared in King Lear, Cymbeline and Hamlet with the Royal Shakespeare Company. Won a BroadwayWorld UK Award for Best Supporting Actress as Ophelia (2016).

2012

Scarlett KollerAstronautics Engineer

Worked on the Mars 2020 Rover Mission as Systems Testbed Engineer within the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at NASA.

2014

Alice LoxtonHistorian and Writer

TV production, presenting and editing, including one of the most successful History podcasts History Hit with over 3 million listeners. Associate Trustee of the Florence Nightingale Museum.

2017

Soma SaraActivist

Soma founded the platform ‘Everyone’s Invited’ (2020), a viral social media movement and website to support survivors of sexual abuse and was named one of BBC’s top 100 most inspiring and influential women (2021).

Partnerships

We are committed to numerous and varied outreach initiatives which give girls and staff the opportunity to engage and collaborate across communities.

Wycombe Abbey has a long and established relationship with Cressex Community School, a secondary school in High Wycombe. Girls visit weekly to help students with literacy and other skills. A number of staff provide support by volunteering as governors and trustees. We also host a Summer School for those identified as ‘gifted and talented’, organising workshops in Drama, English, Music, Science and Sport.

There are links to a number of other local schools with whom we organise joint ventures, such as our annual Management Conference, our Women’s Leadership Conference, Careers Fair and annual debating competition.

We greatly value the links we have developed with local schools through Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) subjects. Wycombe Abbey is a hub school for the Bucks and Chiltern Ogden Schools Partnership. We regularly take science workshop activities into a number of local primary schools with our Sixth Form girls.

Girls and staff volunteer their time to support a wide range of charitable organisations, assisting local playgroups, retirement homes, secondary and primary schools for disabled children, riding for disabled people and the local hospice and elderly persons’ home.

The School also makes its facilities available to local schools and community groups. We are particularly proud of our partnership with Horizons, a local sports club for young people with a range of disabilities. Horizons meets at our swimming pool on a weekly basis. Both staff and girls volunteer.

Learn more about our outreach activity on the Schools Together website.

Treasures from the Archive

Wycombe Abbey in 12 Objects

We are delighted to share with you treasured items from our archive collection that we hope will bring Wycombe Abbey’s past to life and take you on a journey over the last 125 years.

Click the images below to read the story behind them.

If you have any Wycombe Abbey memorabilia that you would like to donate to the School, please contact us by emailing [email protected]. We love receiving archive pieces and hearing the stories of the many people who have moved through Wycombe Abbey over the years.

The Gazama Box

Wycombe Abbey Archive: The Gazama Box

The Gazama Box is a unique object recording a history that spans generations of Wycombe Abbey pupils, staff, and residents. From the outside though, you would not guess it: this box stands 5cm high, 20cm long and 12cm wide, it is old, tattered, water stained, and its paper coating has ripped at the seams and edges. The lettering KESTOS / Model No 372N / Size 23 / Price 5 shillings and 11 pence can just be made out. The dishevelled box is not something you would expect to find in an archive, and immediately raises the question to anyone who finds it, of “why is this here, preserved for posterity?”

The box dates back to autumn 1938. During this term, two adventurous girls found an accessible space in the roof of the Abbey; they collected the small cardboard box we see today and inside put a page from an exercise book and wrote the following pencilled, laconic, unpunctuated message:

“This monks hole christened Gazama in the year of our Lord 1938 by two members of an abbey house will anyone who finds this sign below”

Both signed the paper and hid the box in the roof. In 1940, five more girls found the box, signed the sheet of paper, and hid it again. In 1942, Wycombe Abbey was requisition by the UK government to serve as headquarters for the United States Eighth Army Air Force; on 18 March 1944, two junior airmen also found the Gazama box and added their names. Eight years later, Mr Plumridge, a member of grounds staff, added his name, as did four workmen in 1994. In 1995, the box was brought into safe keeping, but remains a vivid connection to the games of boarding school life from over 80 years ago

Frances Dove’s note of possible buildings

Frances Dove list of buildings

This object is perhaps one of the most understated but entrancing objects in our collection: a list made by Frances Dove of the buildings she was considering as possible sites to house the school she intended to establish in England, after leaving her role as Headmistress at St Leonard’s School, St Andrew’s. This item is a piece of Wycombe Abbey’s pre-history.

The list is pencilled on thin paper, a working document alive with crossings-out, ticks, notes to self. You can picture Frances Dove folding the A5 sheet inside her diary, making a note of the estate she had seen on her journey home. The document is a by-product of her analytical thought, her working out and weighing up – which site to choose? The page also suggests imagination, Frances Dove mentally conjuring up her school in each of these locations, which would be the best fit?

Frances Dove had stated criteria for her school site, it needed to be near a town, have grounds for sport, have less than average rainfall (so girls could take advantage of the outdoors), and a lake for swimming. Wycombe Abbey met all these requirements, and perhaps by the time Miss Dove wrote ‘Seen’ next to the Wycombe Abbey’s name, she already knew it would be the perfect setting for her school.

Excitingly, this document may be among the first times Frances Dove wrote the words ‘Wycombe Abbey’ when what existed of her school was a vision and tremendous will.

Elsie Bowerman's reflections

Elsie Bowerman's reflections

Elsie Bowerman's reflections

Archives are filled with scraps of paper – photographs, notes, magazines, all of which help the archivist to build a picture of the past. It is rare that an entire unpublished manuscript sits quietly within the boxes, a detailed history already written and waiting to be discovered.

This item is one such gift that was among the items donated by Wycombe Abbey Senior Elsie Bowerman; her memoir Reflections on a Square. Elsie was one of the first pupils to attend Wycombe Abbey, joining as the youngest pupil in the School in 1901 and rising the ranks of Cloister House, under Housemistress Anne Whitelaw, until she left for Girton College, Cambridge in 1907. She lived an extraordinary life, as a survivor of the Titanic, a nurse in the First World War, a witness of the February Russian Revolution, the election for Christabel Pankhurst in 1918, and a continual campaigner for women’s rights.

Reflections on a Square focuses on Elsie’s early life. Her time at Wycombe Abbey is described in warm and affectionate detail, preserving the School’s routines and character during the 1900s for us today; for Elsie, “the evening [newspaper] reading became the crucial moment of each day, and a time at which the ‘family nature’ of the house became evident – when under the influence of the charming young housemistress the interests of all were welded into a general whole.”. It is a picture that many current Wycombe Abbey pupils will be able to relate to. Although some aspects of Elsie’s school years hold less appeal for us now (namely the cold baths!), for Elsie “this new life to me was one long thrill.”. She certainly excelled at Lacrosse, piano, and her academic subjects during her time at School, and took Wycombe Abbey’s values of mutual support, service, and dynamism firmly into her own outlook and achievements.

Audrey Pim's exercise book

Audrey Pim's Exercise Book

How would you compare a secondary school girl today with one from a hundred years ago? What would it be like if they met? What would they say to each other?

Wycombe Abbey pupil, Audrey Pim, asked herself the above questions in 1921 and wrote her response in an exercise book of English essays. ‘Manners’ and ‘dress’ are among the first things she considers, reflecting on how the girl of 1821 was “taught not to give [her] opinion unasked”, quite different to the vocal debates in Houses and classrooms recorded by Seniors since the School’s founding. Audrey also examines how the long sleeves and high necks of the 1820s differed from the ‘flapper’ style of the 1920s, as well as the lack of thorough education for the girl of the past. Audrey is convinced of an improvement to young women’s lives in all areas but clothing – she was clearly no flapper and happy to give the ‘scanty dresses’ a miss!

Her exercise book also includes much that our current pupils will be familiar with, her essays include topics such as the Romantic poets, Shakespeare, and Milton, and she is given space for her own creative writing. We wonder what debates on these subjects, and many others, our current pupils would have with Audrey.

UGSM Mission Day,1904

Photograph of Mission Day at Wycombe Abbey in 1904

What a scene! Trestle tables out, teacups laid, straw boaters and bright midsummer light dappled through the shade of the trees. In our minds, we are all at the party. This is a photograph taken on Mission Day in 1904, the day each year when members of the parish of St Mark’s in Camberwell would travel by train to Wycombe Abbey for cream teas, boating on the lake, and relaxation in the grounds. The south London community were part of The Peckham Settlement, where pupils from Wycombe Abbey and other girls schools supported the needs of residents and local institutions.

Frances Dove was steadfast in her commitment to supporting those in need, establishing many charities and working as a High Wycombe Councillor alongside her role as Headmistress. She also believed that social work was vital to the moral and spiritual development of her pupils. These two forces combined when she became a founding member of the United Girls’ Schools Mission, the charity behind The Peckham Settlement. These were the days before the welfare state, and many communities relied on the philanthropic institutions that developed at the end of the Victorian era.

Part of Wycombe Abbey’s role in the United Girls’ Schools Mission was to host the south London community’s day out in the countryside. Elsie Bowerman describes the role of the pupils on Mission Day: “our duties as hostesses were varied. Some of us minded babies, others entertained grannies, or played cricket matches against their boys, or tennis with the Missioner – a lively Yorkshireman, Canon Veazy, who was a great pioneer of social work.”

Charity work remains integral to Wycombe Abbey today and some of the charities we support have been with us since the School’s foundation, while others are chosen every two years by the girls themselves. This year our chosen charities are Ripple Africa and the Rape and Sexual Abuse Support Service in Buckinghamshire. We are also still involved in many local partnerships which give girls and staff the opportunity to engage and collaborate across communities.

Literary supplements, 1920s

Wycombe Abbey Literary Supplements from the 1920s

These archive items are literary supplements produced by Wycombe Abbey pupils in the 1920s. Each magazine has a colourful woodcut print on the front, a hint to the reader of the artistic pursuits inside. The pages are filled with poems written by pupils: they often reflect on daily life, sometimes politics, frequently include humour, and are invariably personal. The poems are accompanied by confidently carved and carefully pressed woodblock prints. Whilst some might think that the art produced in schools follows the work produced by professional artists, these woodblock prints show Wycombe Abbey pupils adeptly using a medium at the same time that it was being explored by the avant-garde of British art.

The 1920s literary supplements are testament to the rise in academic standards recorded at Wycombe Abbey during that decade – by 1930, the fifth Wycombe Abbey girl in five consecutive years had been offered an Oxford scholarship. There is no received wisdom on why this academic flourishing occurred, but it was perhaps the result of greater opportunities being available for young women following the partial, then full, extension of the franchise in 1918 and 1928, meaning pupils could use their academic training after they finished school. Such possibilities may have motivated the Wycombe Abbey girls of the 1920s to set their sights higher still. An outward looking pupil body is certainly suggested in these supplements, with their desire to share a written craft with a wide audience drawn in by their covers of snow scenes, jesters, and migrating birds. An extract from one of the poems by Nancy Balfour.

The Seagull

A Flash of gleaming white, ‘twixt sky and sea,
A ray of shining light, and circles ever,
Then swoops and drops, a swiftly falling stone,
And lo! a small grey bird swings on a wave.

The Carrington Family

The Carrington Family a photo

This photograph is an image, but it is also an object – wearing its history in its surface texture, sun-bleached edges, and the archive tape attached to its sides in an attempt to stick down its curling edges. Additions – made intentionally or unintentionally – that reveal the photograph’s age and the longstanding will to preserve it; for it is an important photograph, the only one in our collection that depicts the previous owners of Wycombe Abbey, the Carrington family, at the estate when it was their home.

We see the 3rd Lord and Lady Carrington (Lady Carrington in the centre and Lord Carrington seated to her right) and four of their daughters, standing or sitting in the front row. Their friends stand around them, including the Duke of Clarence, who stands on the far left. The figures are assembled in Wycombe Abbey’s cloisters, at what is now the entrance to the Junior Library and was, for many years, access to the staff room. The building, down to its finest details, looks exactly as it does today – the wooden panelled glass inlaid door, the brickwork, the wisteria around the arcade. Looking at the image brings to mind the cool stone surface of the Abbey and the experience of walking in this very place that is pictured, from bright outdoors to sheltered cloister. We are sure any Wycombe Abbey staff or pupil can do the same. But in the image, it is someone else’s house, the pathway into the building is not trod by the Fourth Form heading to the Library or staff eager for a coffee, but by Victorian guests at a private residence, their skirts skimming the ground as they walk. The experience of looking at this photograph is utterly uncanny – it is the same building, “We know that place”, and yet the image reveals to us how completely different the Abbey was in its identity, function, and relationship to its inhabitants before it became a school. Another piece of pre-history.

Lacrosse at Wycombe Abbey

Lacrosse at Wycombe Abbey in 1988

Look at them go! Lacrosse sticks high in the air, arms stretched up, legs and feet balletic as they leap. This photograph records the moment when one pupil has just caught a high-flying ball with her lacrosse stick. It is a moment of sporting achievement and of psychology, as we zoom in on the triumphant players face and see she is still judging whether she will make the catch – will it stay in the net? The other player also reveals her thoughts, she is still poised on her journey to catch the ball, but her face tells us she knows her efforts are in vain.

This photograph is a snapshot that is played out multiple times in many a lacrosse game, but it is an outlier amongst the formality of team photos that populate our boxes. Our team photos chart the faces of lacrosse at Wycombe Abbey since our founding and document the sport’s changing uniform and, more recently, developments in sticks. This photograph, however, conveys something of the spirit of the game that is so dearly loved at School. The image was taken in 1988 and records what is most likely an inter-House match, as both girls don the same kit. The location is Pitch 1, just in front of the main Abbey.

Frances Dove brought lacrosse to Wycombe Abbey from her previous school, St Leonard’s, where the sport had been introduced in 1890. As this photograph alludes to, the sport has been a firm favourite amongst pupils ever since. See below to see the more modern look of a lacrosse match currently played at School.

Below is how Lacrosse looks at Wycombe Abbey today.

Lacrosse at Wycombe Abbey in 2022

House play programmes from 1910

House Play Programmes from 1910

The community spirit of the 11 different Houses at Wycombe Abbey is fundamental to life at the School. Each pupil and staff member are proud of their House’s own idiosyncrasies and passionate defenders of their achievements. The many activities played out within and between the different Houses go back to the beginning of the School, as these play programmes, collected by Eileen Smith (Pitt) in 1910, illustrate.

There are five programmes included in this post, each for the play performed by a different House to the rest of the School – Cloister House’s Scenes from Corilanus, Pitt House’s A Japanese Romance, and Barry’s The Treasure Seekers. Inside, each contains a list of the Dramatis Personae and, in some cases, a list of the acts performed. The hand-drawn covers – all original, redrawn for each programme (apart from the printed ‘Carrotina’) – demonstrate the enormous care given to all elements of the performances, ensuring that every programme was neatly drawn and assured to excite arriving audiences.

The same committed attention to detail in the aid of one’s own House is evident today in the organisation of House outings, the creation of House-specific outfits for School events, and the joyous decoration of each House at Christmas time.

Newspaper clipping of the opening of Clarence House

Newspaper clipping of the opening of Clarence House

This article from the Bucks Free Press in 1979 details the opening of Clarence, by Lord Carrington, as a House dedicated to the Upper Sixth. Clarence had previously been housed in the Abbey, taking girls from each year group like other Houses. This House sought to provide each pupil in their final year with a single study bedroom and somewhere to relax and cook, enabling pupils to organise themselves as they would do at university. The creation of Clarence also encouraged Upper Sixth pupils to focus on their studies and expand their ideas in a year when, as Miss Lancaster put it, “so much work is done for the future”. The concept of Clarence was for the Upper Sixth to be outward-looking, securing their futures, whilst the Lower Sixth would be inward-looking, taking leadership roles within the School. This progression of roles within the Sixth Form is a familiar picture for Wycombe Abbey pupils today.

Although Clarence as an Upper Sixth House gained formality under Miss Lancaster, it was not the first time that final year pupils lived separately. Under Miss Walpole, two decades earlier, pupils staying on for the ‘fifth term’ to sit Oxbridge examinations requested that they be released from the obligations of captaining sport and leading societies to focus on their applications. The vision of those 1950s pupils set an idea in motion, and their approach of identifying problems and creating solutions shows how Frances Dove’s pioneering spirit filtered down the generations. The university-style accommodation offered in Clarence is now considered a highlight of a Wycombe Abbey pupil’s school career.

The article also reminds us of Lord Carrington’s long association with Wycombe Abbey. Peter Carington was, at different points in his career, a military cross winning commander, foreign secretary and secretary general of NATO; he was also a descendent of the Abbey’s previous owners. He remained closely tied to the School throughout his life, serving as President of Council from 1971 until his death, aged 99, in 2018.

Fencing Mistress by Eve Arnold in 1961

Fencing Mistress by Eve Arnold in 1961

Her expression is gentle yet stern, eyes fixed to the side and mouth softened at the corners, you can just as easily imagine her face transformed into in a wide smile as a fierce glare. This image of Wycombe Abbey’s fencing teacher from 1961 captured by the celebrated photographer Eve Arnold, who came to the School on commission from the Sunday Times. Arnold describes the experience in a letter also held in our archive, “I was doing a photo series of five girls’ public schools – for the Colour Magazine of the Sunday Times – and Wycombe Abbey was probably the most colourful of them all.” She continues fondly, “the lady was patient and kind with me, and … the school gave me the run of the establishment.”

Arnold’s image also depicts the fencing pupil. Standing to the left and just out of focus, we can still make out her vizor, sword, and standing position as she waits for her teacher to be photographed – we are seeing a moment’s pause in the flow of the class. The activity of fencing is captured in the pupil’s ready stance as well as in the many textures Arnold’s focused lens draws out on the teacher’s figure – the vizor mesh, the thick patchworked pouch, the softness of her jersey – bringing the scene into multi-sensory reality. The room that surrounds them will also be recognisable to those familiar with our sports archive as the setting for many photographs of gym activities and the famous ‘Swedish Drill’ practiced by pupils in the early years of the School.

Sport has been a key component of Wycombe Abbey pupils’ education since the School’s founding. Frances Dove advocated the integration of physical exercise with academic learning to produce an education that included balance and variety. A wide range of sports, including fencing, are taken up by Wycombe Abbey pupils each term. See below to see how fencing (and photography) has changed at School – this photo was taken last term (spring 2022) by sports photographer David Howlett.

Fencinf at Wycombe Abbey 2022

Frances Dove with first School staff

Frances Dove and her staff

An image of pioneers. This is a photograph that depicts our founder Frances Dove and the first staff body to teach at Wycombe Abbey. The group portrait is set in front of the Abbey building, Frances Dove central as Headmistress amongst the 18 young teachers surrounding her. In many ways the photograph announces its Victorian context to us – sleeves are puffed, skirts long, and the sitters have an invariably unsmiling attitude to the camera. However, this group of female teachers were not doing what Victorian society, still ambivalent about the education of women, expected of them, they were establishing a centre for academic excellence where young women could excel.

Frances Dove sought the highest standards in her staff and looked primarily to Girton College, Cambridge to recruit. In these early years of the School, there was undoubtedly a sense of collective mission amongst the staff; they were willing to make great personal sacrifices to ensure that the next generation of women could receive a thorough and rounded education. Teachers worked long hours with little free time, many forewent their salaries, as Frances Dove herself did, to ensure that the School remained financially stable in the early years. Alongside sacrifice, many of these teachers found a spirit of adventure and the fulfilment of a dream to provide education for women where there was little to none before.

We are incredibly proud of the legacy of Frances Dove and all the Headmistresses and staff since then. We continue to strive to be at the forefront of girls’ boarding education and recognised globally as a world class school. See below for the most recent all-staff photo taken in the Autumn Term of 2021 with Mrs Jo Duncan as Headmistress.

Staff at Wycombe Abbey 2021