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.
120 years later, the pioneering spirit of Dame Frances and her contemporaries continues to run through the sinews of the School and continues to inspire us today.