Wycombe Abbey 125

This year we celebrate 125 years since our founding by Dame Frances Dove. We are excited to mark this anniversary with a number of events that reflect on our history and values, bring together the Wycombe Abbey community, and look forward to the next 125 years.

We will be celebrating not just our founder, but the many Wycombe Women who have moved through the halls of the School and into successful lives as barristers, actors, philanthropists, scientists and adventurers. We celebrate their legacies, and the future aspirations of our current pupils, with the traditions and innovations of being a world class boarding school for girls.

Throughout 2021-2022, Wycombe Abbey and our wider community will come together to celebrate with an exciting calendar of events that will be held in School, as well as online, to make sure everyone around the world is included.

Alongside special events, we will also be holding an Archive Exhibition, the release of Humans of Wycombe Vol. 2 and our 125 Speaker Series: Making a Difference, which will include a range of guest speakers.

We hope you enjoy the programme and look forward to seeing you at School soon.

We will update this page accordingly throughout the year to bring you the latest information.

*Please note that dates are subject to change.

 Click here for a printed version of the 125 Events Programme

Saturday 11 September | Colour Run
Pupils and staff will be blasted with colour powder as they run, jog, walk and dance their way around Wycombe’s beautiful grounds.

Open to: Pupils, Staff


Thursday 23 September | Founder’s Day
A Service in All Saints Church led by the Bishop of Buckingham to celebrate our founding on this day 125 years ago. Followed by a celebratory party for the whole school with music, cake and rides.

Open to: Pupils, Staff


Friday 8 October | 125 Speaker Series: Making a Difference | Liz Earle MBE
A global brand pioneer, Liz Earle MBE co-founded the multi-award winning Liz Earle Beauty Co. She is also Editor-in-Chief of her own magazine, a best-selling author and a passionate supporter of charities including The Prince’s Trust and LiveTwice. Liz Earle will share with us the story of her remarkable career and as well as how she gives back.

Open to: Pupils, Parents, Staff


Monday 15 November | 125 Orchard Tree Planting
Each boarding House will plant a fruit tree in the Wycombe Abbey orchard as a lasting legacy of our 125th year.


Friday 3 December| 125 Speaker Series: Making a Difference: Sir Matthew Pinsent
Sir Matthew Pinsent is a four-times Olympic rowing champion. One of a handful of athletes in the UK who have won four or more golds. He has won ten world titles and two boat races for Oxford and now spends his professional life covering the Summer and Winter Olympic Games for BBC Sport.

Open to: Pupils, Parents, Staff

Friday 4 February | Humans of Wycombe Abbey Vol 2
Second edition of the popular Humans of Wycombe Abbey book with memories and stories of School from pupils, Seniors and staff.


Thursday 10 February | 125 Anniversary Concert
The 125 Anniversary Concert promises to be a wonderful evening of music. The concert will feature Symphony and Chamber Orchestras, Sinfonia and Chapel Choir along with Clarence girls performing solo concerto movements, in addition to the world premiere of our 125 commission, O Be Joyful, by Becky McGlade.

Open to: Pupils, Staff, Parents, Seniors


Friday 25 February | 125 Speaker Series: Dame Helena Morrissey
Former CEO of Newton Investment Management and mother of nine children, Helena Morrissey has been listed by Fortune magazine as one of the world’s 50 greatest leaders. She will discuss her career and ideas from her recent book, A Good Time to be a Girl.

Open to: Pupils, Staff, Parents, Seniors


Friday 18 March | Seniors Making a Difference
Welcoming back a panel of illustrious Seniors to share their experiences of how they are ‘Making a Difference’. Speakers will include Clarissa Ward, CNN’s Chief International Correspondent; Sophie Daud, CEO of Youth Leaders Network and Charlotte Willis, Board Member of the MedicAlert Foundation.

Open to: Pupils, Seniors

Saturday 23 April | Wycombe 125: Live!
Take a journey through 125 years of history with a spectacular celebration of Wycombe Abbey’s existence through music, drama and dance. Performances will include a spectacular dance inspired by the roaring twenties, the rousing spirit of Oh What a Lovely War, and the dramatic poignance of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.

Open to: Pupils, Staff, Parents


Friday 6 May | 125 Speaker Series: Ben Fogle
Award-winning presenter, author, adventurer and United Nations Patron of the Wilderness, Ben Fogle will be sharing tales from his life including climbing Mount Everest, rowing across the Atlantic and racing to the South Pole.

Open to: Pupils, Staff, Parents


Saturday 11 June | Seniors’ Grand Reunion

Bringing Seniors together for a special reunion at Wycombe Abbey.

Open to: Seniors, Honorary Seniors


Saturday 25 June | 125 Dove Day
End of year extravaganza for pupils, parents and staff.

Open to: Pupils, Staff, Parents

Wycombe Abbey in 12 Objects: Treasures from the Archive

We are delighted to share with you treasured items from our Archive. For the next 12 weeks, we will release a piece a week from our 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. You can also follow us on our social channels to see the archive pieces first.

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If you have any Wycombe Abbey memorabilia that you would like to donate to the School, please contact us by emailing enquiries@wycombeabbey.com. We love receiving archive pieces and hearing the stories from 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.

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