An illustrious history
and a bright future
Passionately committed to the interests of young people, Rhiannon Wilkinson became Headmistress of Wycombe Abbey in September 2013. She is a long-time advocate of girls’ boarding education and has a wealth of educational experience. Previously Headmistress of Harrogate Ladies’ College, she has held three Deputy Headships, been a Housemistress and has worked in the independent, international and state sectors.
Born and brought up in Manchester, Rhiannon attended a girls’ grammar school before graduating in Modern History from St Hugh’s College, Oxford. She holds a PGCE ‘with distinction’ from the University of Bath and completed an MEd in Educational Leadership and Management at the University of Manchester.
Rhiannon is married to Donald, also a historian and Oxford graduate. Between them they have four children.
Away from work Rhiannon has wide interests: she enjoys the theatre, singing and travel and, it has to be said, an occasional bout of retail therapy. She also continues to develop her fascination with History.
I am delighted to offer you a warm welcome to Wycombe Abbey. I am Rhiannon Wilkinson, Headmistress, and I regard it as an enormous privilege to lead one of the world’s most successful girls’ boarding schools. Wycombe Abbey is an outstanding School by whatever criteria you may choose to judge educational institutions.
Wycombe Abbey has a long tradition of academic excellence and is consistently one of the country’s top performing schools in public examinations. Our pupils gain admission to competitive courses at leading universities throughout the world. At the same time we are proud to promote a love of learning for its own sake – not just for utilitarian purposes. We are committed to providing a very wide range of opportunities for intellectual interest and development outside the classroom. Wycombe Abbey fosters a culture of high expectations and the importance of trying your best at everything. Everyone works hard and is comfortable about learning from experience and the occasional mistake!
At the heart of the School’s success is a total commitment to the development of good, caring human beings through our proactive, individualised pastoral care. Everyone at Wycombe Abbey is part of a happy and close-knit community. No one gets lost in the crowd – everyone is known and cherished as an individual. We want the best for all our pupils.
In addition, the School provides a rich and varied programme of co-curricular opportunities throughout the week, including Music, Sport, Drama, Dance, outdoor education as well as an extensive range of other pursuits. These opportunities are all hugely enjoyable in themselves but they also help girls to develop confidence and the plethora of skills they will require to be successful and happy in the demanding and ever expanding global workplace. Wycombe Abbey can confidently say it offers a rounded holistic education, and all in the wonderful surroundings of 170 acres of magnificent parkland.
If you are interested in discovering more about life and work at Wycombe Abbey then do please get in touch. My colleagues and I would love to meet you and your daughter to share all our hopes and ambitions for the future.
A brief history
Wycombe Abbey was founded on Victoria’s Day, 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 and 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, 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 cafe, The Courtyard, and two new Boarding Houses for Pitt and Rubens.
Experience and insight
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.
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 Niall Campbell, Clerk to the Council, at Wycombe Abbey, High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, HP11 1PE or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Strength and success
Wycombe Abbey has been at the forefront of girls’ education for the last 120 years. Our aim is to maintain that position in today’s hyper-competitive world.
The hallmark of a Wycombe Abbey education
Our reputation for academic excellence is established beyond the curriculum and by a love of learning for its own sake. To ensure that future generations of Wycombe Abbey girls are prepared for the challenges ahead, we strive to foster in our girls a culture of independent learning and a curiosity of the world in its many facets.
A Rich Culture
A wonderful world where all girls flourish
Happy people are successful people and at Wycombe Abbey every girl is empowered to make the most of her abilities.
Our diverse co-curricular programme aims to imbue in every girl the skills required to succeed, including creativity, emotional intelligence, teamwork and leadership.
Academic aspirations are not the only important thing in life. We realise that girls need balance and opportunities to relax. We offer a wide range of recreational activities on our site, including dance, fencing and even bee-keeping, so that girls’ leisure time is fun and they have the freedom to relax and spend time with friends.
Advancing the School’s Legacy
Investing for the future
Over the next decade, we are investing in new, world-class facilities that will transform our 170 acres of magnificent grounds for the benefit of every pupil at Wycombe Abbey.
The next ten years will see the renewal of all our boarding accommodation, the refurbishment of the main Abbey Building and a new Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) centre. This process has begun with the building of two superb new boarding houses, opening in September 2017.
Wycombe 2020 states its vision and aims are for Wycombe Abbey to continue to be at the forefront of girls’ boarding education in the world through –
• 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.
Challenging the status quo
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 alumnae.
Ethal GabainPainter and Lithographer
War artist and founding member of the Senefelder Club (1909) with her husband John Copley and others.
Joan Hodgson RivierePsychoanalyst
Founding member of the British Psychoanalytical Society (1913). An early translator of Freud and an influential writer in her own account.
Lady Winifred Frances PeckAuthor
Wrote more than 25 books in a career that spanned four decades.
Mary Pickford CBEPolitician, Historian and Industrialist
Elected as a Member of Parliament (1931).
Lady Jessie StreetReformer and Activist
Australian social reformer, recognised internationally for her activism in social justice and women’s rights.
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.’
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).
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).
Awarded the Booker Prize (1979) and The Golden PEN Award (1999) for a 'Lifetime’s Distinguished Service to Literature’.
Joined the elite female pilots of the Air Transport Auxillary during World War II. Delivered 110 new Spitfires from factory to airfield.
Florence TemkoAuthor and origami pioneer
An origami pioneer and one of the most prolific writers on the subject. She founded Origami USA in 1994.
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.
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).
One of Britain’s first female airline pilots, flew commercial jets for Dan-Air.
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).
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).
Dr Kathy WilkesPhilosopher and Academic
Involved in educational reform in former Soviet-controlled states. She was awarded the Commemorative Medal of the President of the Czech Republic in October 1998.
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 Tolley’s Employment Handbook. Member of the Administrative Tribunal Bank for International Settlements 2000-2008 and European Bank of Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) 2008.
Stella KenrickPrivate Detective
Managed the Oxford Detective Bureau (2002-2012). Voted ‘Investigator of the Year’ (2011).
CEO of The Law Debenture Corporation (2002).
Professor Sarah Springman CBEEngineer 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).
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.
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.
Founder of White Heron Drinks – producer of an award winning range of British Cassis – and manager of large agribusiness.
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.
Charlotte MooreTelevision Producer
Director of Content for the BBC.
Wendy Outhwaite QCWine Producer and former Barrister
Founder of Ambriel Sparkling Wine (2013).
Clare Pillman CBCivil Servant
Director at Department for Culture, Media and Sport (2011).
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.
Merryn Somerset WebbEditor
Editor in Chief of the popular personal finance magazine, MoneyWeek, writes for the Financial Times, The Sunday Post and Saga Magazine.
Editor of The Wall Street Journal (2011). Director at The New York Times (2015).
Georgie FienbergFounder and Director
Established AfriKids, which won the Charity Times International Charity of the Year (2015).
Angharad FitzwilliamsHedge Fund Director
Head of Hedge Fund Capital Group, Asia, at Deutsche Bank.
Selected theatre work includes Mrs Affleck at the National Theatre, As You Like It at Shakespeare’s Globe, The Winslow Boy at the Old Vic Theatre and The Heresy of Love at Shakespeare’s Globe.
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).
Tabitha Somerset-WebbFashion Designer
Launched the clothing line, ‘Project D’ (2010) with Dannii Minogue and launched her own brand, ‘Tabitha Webb’, in 2003.
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.
Represented Team GB in the rowing squad at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney.
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.
Qualified as a wheelchair racer in the 2012 Paralympics and works in the Commercial Team for a Premier League Football Team.
Appeared in King Lear, Cymbeline and Hamlet with the Royal Shakespeare Company. Won a BroadwayWorld UK Award for Best Supporting Actress as Ophelia (2016).
Wycombe Abbey has worked in partnership with British Education Limited (BE) in greater China since 2016.
BE launched Wycombe Abbey’s first international school, a coeducational boarding school for pupils aged 3-18 years old, at Changzhou. The School operates independently of Wycombe Abbey but the two schools share the same vision for providing an outstanding, holistic education. Wycombe Abbey has some oversight of teaching and boarding at Changzhou and staff and pupils at both schools enjoy many opportunities to collaborate.
Parents interested in enrolling their children at Wycombe Abbey International School, Changzhou should contact the Admissions Director, Li Li at email@example.com.
For more information on our International Schools please contact Niall Campbell, Chief Operating Officer at firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
Further afield, the School is proud to be linked with the first girls’ boarding school in Afghanistan. The School of Leadership Afghanistan (SOLA) educates more than 30 secondary aged pupils from across Afghanistan’s many provinces. We participate in a weekly ‘virtual exchange’ via Skype on a range of collaborative projects.
Learn more about our outreach activity here: http://www.schoolstogether.org/schools/school/11317/