Wycombe Abbey

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Wycombe Abbey School
Wycombe Abbey Logo.jpg
Motto In Fide Vade Trust Encouragement and mutual respect
Established 1896
Type Independent day and boarding school
Religion Church of England
Headmistress Rhiannon Wilkinson
Founder Dame Frances Dove
Location High Wycombe
HP11 1PE
Coordinates: 51°37′33″N 0°45′04″W / 51.6259°N 0.7511°W / 51.6259; -0.7511
Local authority Buckinghamshire
DfE number 825/6018
DfE URN 110547 Tables
Students 540
Gender female
Ages 11–18
Website www.wycombeabbey.com

Wycombe Abbey is an independent girls' boarding school in High Wycombe, Buckinghamshire, England. It is academically one of the top schools in the United Kingdom, and the top girls' boarding school (in terms of academic results). The school was founded in 1896 by Frances Dove (later Dame Frances Dove], who was previously headmistress of St Leonards School in Scotland. Its present capacity is approximately 540 girls, aged 11 to 18. The school is situated in 160 acres (650,000 m²) of ground in central High Wycombe. The land includes woods, gardens and a lake, and rises up to 500 feet (150 m) above sea level in the Chiltern Hills. The land is owned freehold by the school. The main house and several buildings at Wycombe Abbey are Grade II*-listed.

Early history[edit]

The history of the school building itself predates Wycombe Abbey's acquisition of it. In the thirteenth century, the area, with the parish church, was part of the holding of the Abbess of Godstow. Ironically the priory at Godstowe, 600 years later, was too refounded as a school by Dame Frances Dove, and today is a 'feeder' preparatory school for Wycombe Abbey.

On the site of the present Wycombe Abbey was a large manor house known as 'Loakes House' which until 1700 was the seat of the Archdale family, when Thomas Archdale sold it to Henry Petty, 1st Earl of Shelburne. The first Earl of Shelburne in turn bequeathed the estate to his grand nephew William Petty (who inherited a different Earldom of Shelburne in 1761,[1] and became Prime Minister in 1782). The Shelburnes, however, had a far larger and grander residence at Bowood House in the Savernake Forest. They spent little time at Loakes House.

Consequently, Lord Shelburne sold his estates in the area. Loakes House was purchased from them at auction by Robert Smith, 1st Baron Carrington in 1798. He then employed the architect James Wyatt to transform Loakes House into the present Wycombe Abbey as we see it today. The original house and other parts of the school are Grade II*-listed buildings with English Heritage.[2]

The 'new' Wycombe Abbey[edit]

As an architect James Wyatt captured the romantic spirit of his era, creating a gothic ecclesiastical style. While building Wycombe, he was also engaged in the building of the greatest gothic extravaganza of the age, Fonthill Abbey, a mansion that was a complete replica of a medieval cathedral complete with soaring tower; it was supposed to resemble the fictitious Castle of Otranto. Fonthill is now demolished which leaves Wycombe Abbey as one of the most important examples of this type of architecture remaining.

While a far less ambitious project than Fonthill, Wycombe Abbey is a jewel of the romantic gothic style. The castellated three floored central block has turrets on each corner, and is seven bays wide, with sash windows. On the ground floor they are ogee topped in the ecclesiastical manner. There is a slightly incongruous bay oriel window in the centre of the second floor. Attached, by a two floored wing, is a chapel-like block clearly indicating the architect's intention to emulate an abbey; this wing is completed by statues in niches on the external wall in the medieval catholic manner.

The whole composition is an echo of the house's larger sister at Fonthill. Like Fonthill Abbey, the whole structure was intended to imitate one of the older country houses genuinely converted from an old abbey or monastery. The final stage of the transformation was the renaming of Loakes House to Wycombe Abbey. This suited the mood of the era admirably.

Wycombe Abbey in World War II[edit]

The Air Ministry requisitioned Wycombe Abbey School in March 1942 to serve as the headquarters of the United States Eighth Air Force after the entry of the United States into World War II. It was returned to Wycombe Abbey on 9 May 1946.[3]


As at most public schools, the pupils are divided into Houses. The Houses at Wycombe Abbey are: Airlie, Barry, Butler, Campbell, Cloister, Pitt, Rubens, Shelburne and Wendover. Girls in UVI live in Clarence, while the junior-most girls, UIIIs, live in Junior House. Every house at Wycombe Abbey is linked to a colour and, as part of the school uniform, girls wear ties which correspond to their House colour i.e., pale blue – Barry, green – Cloister, brown – Airlie, pink – Rubens, yellow – Pitt, orange – Butler, purple – Campbell, dark blue – Shelburne, red – Wendover, lavender – Junior. Each girl also has her own 'House Mother', a girl in the year above in the same House who looks after her, particularly when new to the school. Each House has a housemistress and matrons. The current headmistress is Rhiannon Wilkinson.

Notable alumnae (Wycombe Abbey Seniors)[edit]

Notable staff[edit]


  1. ^ Henry Petty was created Earl of Shelburne in 1719, but when he died without heirs in 1751, the earldom became extinct. It was recreated for his kinsman, John Petty in 1753; it was this latter earldom that William Petty inherited.
  2. ^ "Wycombe Abbey (parts of Wycombe Abbey School)". English Heritage. Retrieved 13 September 2016. 
  3. ^ "History of the School". Retrieved 8 March 2016. 
  4. ^ a b c d e "Wycombe Abbey". Retrieved 1 January 2009. 
  5. ^ Somerset Webb, Merryn (11 December 2007). "Such a Waste, the 'Cupcake Revolution'". The Evening Standard. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Elsie Bowerman. Stands there a School – Memories of Dame Frances Dove, D.B.E., Founder of Wycombe Abbey School (1965)
  • Wycombe Abbey School 1896–1986: A partial history (1989; ISBN 0950383619)

External links[edit]