History of the School

Wycombe Abbey was founded by Miss Frances Dove, later Dame Frances Dove, on Victoria’s Day, 23 September 1896. The School was established in the mansion which had been rebuilt by the celebrated architect James Wyatt for the first Lord Carrington in 1798. Upon establishing Wycombe Abbey, Dame Frances set down three aims for the School, all of which remain the cornerstone of the School’s philosophy today – the development of each student’s talents, the fostering of an awareness of God and an understanding of the needs of others.

Miss Dove was a remarkable woman. Born in 1846, the daughter of a Lincolnshire vicar, she was one of the first graduates from Girton College, Cambridge, where she read Natural Sciences. After graduating in 1874 she went to teach Science at Cheltenham Ladies' College and moved in 1877 to become one of the founding staff of St Leonard’s School in Fife. After four years she became Headmistress, and she remained there until 1895, for the last 14 years as Headmistress, and in that year she announced what she described as ‘the new experiment’ which was the foundation of a sister school in the south of England for 40 girls – Wycombe Abbey. Thus in 1896 a syndicate purchased the Abbey and 30 acres for the sum of £20,000 from the Third Lord Carrington whose grandfather had purchased the estate nearly 100 years previously.

Dame Frances Dove
Dame Frances Dove

Wycombe’s connection with the Carington family continues today. The present Lord Carington, former Foreign Secretary, is President of the School’s Governing Council.

When the Carington family vacated the Abbey they moved to a hunting lodge at the top of the estate known as Daws Hill House. In the late 1920s this came up for sale and the School purchased it and converted it into yet more girls’ boarding accommodation. This increased the School estate from 30 to almost 250 acres. However, in March 1942 the Air Ministry requisitioned the School to provide a Headquarters for the US Army Air Force following the United States Entry into World War II. Thus the School became the Headquarters for the Eighth Air Force. An underground bunker was built under Roundabout Hill (below Daws Hill) and a large hutted encampment was built south and east of Daws Hill and on the lower parkland near to the Abbey.

King George VI and the Queen in 1945
King George VI and the Queen in 1945

After the War on 9 May 1946, the School returned to Wycombe Abbey and they reoccupied the School buildings, although the Air Ministry retained the camp to the south and east of Daws Hill and the underground bunker. After protracted negotiations on the site to the south and east of Daws Hill was eventually sold to the Ministry of Defence and the underground bunker site leased for nominal rent. A further area of land beyond Daws Hill House was sold in 1976, thus reducing the School’s estate to its current size of 167 acres.