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Woburn Abbey has been the home of the Dukes of Bedford for nearly 400 years. As such, it is steeped in a vast amount of history. It is not just the antique furniture and art that is an attraction; many of the previous residents of Woburn have extremely interesting and colourful pasts.
Discover a historic encounter with Charles I, find out all about a Flying Duchess, be entranced by a tragic tale of love - and much more. In addition, find out about today's Duke, the 15th Duke, who, together with his family is making his own impact on the history of Woburn.
The Russell Family
The earliest member of the Russell family, Stephen Russell of Dorset, can be traced back as far as 1394 when he represented Weymouth in Parliament but it was his great-great grandson, John, who established the family fortune. The estate was given to him in recognition of his diplomatic service to Henry VIII; he became Baron Russell and in 1550 was created First Earl of Bedford.
Many of the Russells after him became diplomats and parliamentarians, the most notable being:
- John, Fourth Duke - negotiated the Treaty of Paris in 1763.
- Lord John Russell - carried the first great electoral reform bill through parliament in 1832.
- Herbrand, Eleventh Duke – active in The House of Lords and President of Royal Zoological Society for 37 years. Introduced many different species of deer into the deer park.
The Dining Room
Today, the Dining Room is very much part of family life, used whenever there are more than six guests to dinner.
But, during the 4th Duke's residency it was a library and was beautifully decorated in the year before his death in 1770 by Cipriani.
The Dining Room contains the fine collection of Venetian views by Canaletto (1697-1768) which the 4th Duke, John, commissioned when he visited Venice on the Grand Tour in 1731.
One of the family's favourites is the
Entrance to the Arsenal.
The State Dining Room
To prevent food smells in the days before extractors, kitchens were built well away from dining rooms. On display in the State Dining Room you'll find a variety of delightful dishes, covers and stands with burners, which were used in the past to keep food warm during the journey from kitchen to table.
After the end of a delicious dinner, the hostess would signal and the rest of the ladies would rise and leave the room. The gentlemen would stay at the table enjoying port and cigars, while gazing at one of the finest Van Dycks in the family collection - Aubert Lemire.
Building the Abbey
The history of the Abbey dates back to 1145, and was originally a religious house for a group of Cistercian monks. In 1538 the Abbot, Robert Hobbes, was found guilty of treason and the monastery confiscated. Legend states that he was hanged from an oak tree at the Abbey's gate.
Edward VI granted Woburn Abbey to Sir John Russell in 1547, but it did not become a family home until 1619. In 1747, the Fourth Duke commissioned Henry Flitcroft to rebuild the west range, including the grand series of state rooms.
Then in 1802, under instruction from the 6th Duke, Humphry Repton was asked to landscape the park much as it appears today and his original sketches and plans are still kept at Woburn.
Queen Victoria's Bedroom
There are numerous state rooms at Woburn which were kept mainly for visiting royalty. The rest of the time these rooms were kept shuttered and furnishings covered, which is why they remain in such excellent condition.
Notable royal visitors include:
- Elizabeth I
- Charles I
- Queen Victoria and Prince Albert
Etchings drawn by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, a gift to Anna Maria, the Seventh Duchess, who was one of the Queen's ladies-in-waiting, can also be seen in this room.
In addition, there's a display case containing a letter written by the nine year old Princess Victoria to Elizabeth Sackville-West, later wife of the ninth Duke, and two brooches presented to her by Victoria and Albert when she was bridesmaid at their wedding in 1840.
The Silver and Gold Vaults
Here, you can see some of the family’s most precious silver and gold. This includes the Fourth's Dukes silver breadbaskets, crafted by the finest silversmiths, as a wedding present to his second wife.
Some of the family's old outdated silver was melted down and recycled into more fashionable wares. Some of the items are used by the family today, in particular the set of twelve individual silver-gilt teapots displayed in the gold vaults.
Restoration and Development
To preserve Woburn for future generations there is a constant need to repair and restore. Most of the work is paid for by the proceeds of our successful outdoor events.
Three major external projects have been completed within the last 10 years; the restoration of Chambers Bridge, restoring the carved tympanum over the East Court and work on the south front of the Abbey.
Buy a Passport ticket and you can visit both Woburn Safari Park and Woburn Abbey once during the season and save money!
Check the special offers currently available.
Set in a beautiful 3,000 acre deer park, with 10 species of deer roaming free, Woburn Abbey has been the home of the Dukes of Bedford for nearly 400 years.
If you're planning an occasion, there's nowhere quite like the Sculpture Gallery at Woburn Abbey. Flexible enough to cater for a wide range of events, its historic backdrop is complemented by modern facilities.
Concerts, rallies, fairs and displays....Woburn is renowned for its full and varied calendar of events throughout the year and offers entertainment to suit all ages, tastes and interests.