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Home of the 15th Duke and Duchess of Bedford, Woburn Abbey and Gardens are currently closed to facilitate a major refurbishment programme.  We look forward to welcoming you back to enjoy the Abbey and its surroundings in spring 2026 when this is completed.

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Today marks National Seashell Day and we are highlighting one of the oldest rooms at Woburn Abbey, the Grotto. This remarkable room dates from when the Cistercian monastery on the site was first converted into a family home for the Russell family in the early 17th century.  It sits at the centre of a suite of entertaining rooms created for Francis, 4th Earl of Bedford (d.1647). The walls are decorated with bands of bands of ‘frost-work’ carved stone in imitation of naturally occurring stalactites in caves. In-between the frostwork the surfaces of the wall and ceiling are embedded with real iridescent and colourful shells and pebbles shells from the British Isles.  Mythical beings and sea gods animate the space, such as the figures of boys riding dolphins composed of mussel shells on shimmering mother-of-pearl waves.
 
The origin of the concept of a ‘Grotto’ can be traced to antiquity, surrounded by mythology of water Gods and nymphs. They are often incorporated into larger schemes including the Gardens, and were popular in Italian Gardens in the Renaissance. Woburn’s Grotto is a rare survival of an internal shell-lined room in England of this date, and is of exceptional national significance.  It was created for the 4th Earl by the King’s master mason Nicholas Stone and the French architect and landscape designer Issac de Caus, who came to England in 1612.
 
#NationalSeashellDay #WoburnAbbey #statelyhome #grotto #mythology #17thcentury
Looking for something to do this weekend? It’s your last chance to go and see Humphry Repton’s Red Book for Woburn Abbey (1804) in the temporary exhibition ‘Landscape and Imagination: from Gardens to Landscape Art’ at Compton Verney which closes on Sunday 16 June. The Duchess of Bedford was thrilled to rediscover Repton’s Red Book in the Library upon moving into Woburn Abbey, and has been leading a project to restore and reinstate many of the designs in the Abbey’s Pleasure Grounds ever since. Go and see his innovations while you can!
 
#WoburnAbbey #HumphryRepton #WoburnConnections #Exhibition #WhatsOn
Thanks partly to the efforts of Lord John Russell (1792-1878), youngest son of the 6th Duke of Bedford, #OnThisDay in 1832 the Great Reform Act was passed through parliament and effectively gave the right to vote to middle class men across England and Wales. This changed the British electoral system, and was a step towards democracy in this country.
 
In 1831, the House of Commons passed a Reform Bill, aimed at giving industrial cities and towns better representation, which was subsequently defeated by the House of Lords. In retaliation to this, a series of riots and other protests broke out across the country. Beyond this, there was already a desire to reform within Parliament, particularly Earl Grey’s Whig government where Lord John Russell, later Earl Russell, served in the cabinet. His father, the 6th Duke of Bedford, was a fervent supporter of such reform, and when his son was charged to bring in the Reform Bill, he and his other sons were immensely proud. He said ‘I consider myself as almost the Father of Parliamentary Reform having advocated it for nearly forty years’.
 
Following his success in promoting parliamentary reforms, Lord John Russell later became the last Whig Prime Minister in the country and served in office from 1846-1852 and later 1865 to 1866. Major acts passed under his time in office include the Factory Act of 1847 which put limitations on factory working hours and the Public Health Act of 1848 which did much to improve the sanitary conditions of towns and other populous places across the country.
 
Lord John Russell proclaimed that ‘all I did my object was the public good’, as we can see in these reforms he brought to parliament.
 
#WoburnAbbey #onthisdayinhistory
See here an intriguing silver cheese toast maker from the Woburn Abbey collection. How do these work you might be thinking? You fill the base of the with hot water, and then place toast in each of the square compartments. Top the toast with cheese, then place in front of a fire with the lid up to reflect the heat and watch the cheese melt on top! It is important that the water is hot to stop the bread from going cold as you wait. Toast makers like this first appeared in the mid-18th century, and this one, from the Woburn Abbey collection, is dated from 1803.

#WoburnAbbey #statelyhome #NationalCheeseDay #WoburnConnections #WoburnTreasures
Today marks what would have been the 107th birthday of John (Ian) Russell, 13th Duke of Bedford (d.2002).
 
Woburn Abbey had fallen into disrepair following wartime requisition, and high tax rates meant that Duke Ian needed to work hard in order to restore and maintain his estates.
He made the decision to open the Abbey to the public for the first time in 1955, where it soon became a popular visitors’ destination. He was initially criticised by some of his peers for opening his house to the public on such a commercial basis, and reflected on this in a memoir. He stated “I am a showman myself… To make myself utterly reprehensible in the eyes of the Snobocracy, I even enjoy being a showman and try to be a successful one.”
 
He maintained his position and justified his actions to such critics where his good intentions prevailed, as all of these efforts were made to ensure that his estates were sustained for future generations. Following this success, the Duke then opened Woburn Safari Park as a separate attraction in 1970. His grandfather, Herbrand, 11th Duke of Bedford (d.1940), was a long-time President of the Zoological Society of London and had introduced more species of deer to the park as well as antelope, bison and zebra by the late 19th century. Therefore, an ethos of conservation and intrigue was already underway at Woburn and this decision was a natural development.
 
Ian became an unforgettable public figure due to his authenticity and enthusiasm to share details of what it was like to live as a Duke in 20th-century England, and provided his guests with the unique experience of visiting this enchanting estate.
 
#WoburnAbbey #WoburnConnections #safaripark #statelyhome
This charming sketch by Sir Edwin Landseer shows Lord Alexander Russell (d.1907), one of John, 6th Duke and Duchess Georgiana’s ten children. Landseer captured many members of the Russell family either in a sketch, engraving or oil painting, and four Russell children are the subject of Landseer’s first full landscape of the Highlands ‘The Scene of the River Tilt, in the Grounds of His Grace the Duke of Bedford’ (1824). Landseer drew nearly 200 sketches of the Bedford family and their friends in the 1830s. Different to his painted landscapes, they are mostly either caricatures or quick sketches made in the heat of inspiration, and capture more of the character and personalities of the sitters.
 
Landseer is perhaps most famous for his deer painting ‘The Monarch of the Glen’ and for designing the four lions at the foot of Nelson’s Column in Trafalgar Square. His rise to fame was aided the Duke and Duchess of Bedford, as their initial encounter was the start of a long working and personal relationship.
 
#WoburnAbbey #Landseer #nationalchildrensday #drawing #woburntreasures
#OnThisDay 330 years ago, the title ‘Duke of Bedford’ was created as the 5th Earl of Bedford was elevated in the peerage. The Dukedom has passed down the male line of the Russell family ever since, and Woburn Abbey is today home to the 15th Duke of Bedford.
 
The 5th Earl of Bedford, William Russell, experienced some precarious years in court and at Parliament because of the turbulent socio-political climate caused by the English Civil War where he found himself out of favour with both sides. He withdrew from public life until the Restoration of 1660 where he resumed his seat at the House of Lords and bore the sceptre at Charles II’s coronation the following year.
 
After some years of stability, in 1683 his son, William, Lord Russell, was wrongfully executed for his alleged involvement in the Rye House Plot to assassinate the King. The Earl of Bedford once again withdrew from public life. Circumstances suddenly changed again in 1688 when the earl was appointed to the Privy Council and once again bore the sceptre at the coronation of William and Mary.
 
#OnThisDay in 1694, the earl was elevated in the peerage in recognition of what was seen as his family’s great sacrifice in the loss of his son and their dedication to the crown. At the same time as becoming Duke the earl was created ‘Marquess of Tavistock’, which was subsequently used as an honorary title for the heir.
 
The 1st Duke’s political and personal life was complex, but his true passion to oversee the further development of the park and gardens at Woburn gave him purpose. The first known gardener of the estate was appointed by him, and in his portrait he appears to be drawing our attention to the landscape beyond.
 
#ArtHistory #WoburnAbbey #portraiture #portrait #paintingoftheday
See here the individual bookcase numbers from the three libraries here at Woburn Abbey which have been carefully removed for cleaning and conservation. Each number is cast from brass and decorated with flowers, which make a feature of the nail-heads holding them into place.
 
We can see by the slight inconsistencies in fonts, number sizes and patina that these were not all cast at the same time, but they all broadly match. The library collection of books expanded beyond the rooms which take this term in name, and these beautiful numbers can be seen throughout the house on bookcases in corridors and drawing rooms.
 
#WoburnAbbey #historichouse #heritage #conservation #bts #library
Today is the 9th annual International Sculpture Day. The Woburn Abbey Collection holds an extensive collection of sculptures from antiquity to the present day, acquired by generations of the Russell family. Many of these were historically displayed in a converted orangery in the Pleasure Grounds.
 
As part of our ongoing conservation project, we are redisplaying the sculpture collection.
 
Perhaps the most impressive piece in the collection is this 2nd century AD Roman Sarcophagus, carved with scenes from the Trojan War.  It forms the centrepiece of our new display in the 18th century vaulted basement of the Abbey. Sarcophagi were used in the ancient world to bury the dead. The word sarcophagus derives from the Greek words for ‘flesh’ and ‘to eat’ and the term was used to refer a type of limestone that was believed to speed up the process of decomposition. In reality Sarcophagi were made from a variety of materials such as wood, lead and the most luxurious of them from marble. Sculptures carved into sarcophagi elicit intrigue for the objects and there are various theories about their traditional use, ranging from symbol of the afterlife to consolation for loved ones.
 
This relief dates to 250-260 AD. It was made in Attica, Greece out of Turkey marble. Attic sarcophagi are usually rectangular in shape and elaborately decorated with ornamental carving, mythological subjects were the most popular form of decoration, especially the Trojan War. This relief is a perfect representation of this trend and shows a key theme of Homer’s Iliad, the grief and rage of Achilles as Patroclus’ body is brought to him.  Perhaps the person for whom the sarcophagus was carved was a military hero, but sadly that information was lost centuries ago.
 
#ISDay #sculpture #WoburnAbbey #rome #marble #WoburnConnections
#OnThisDay in 1509, Henry VIII ascended to the throne.
 
As one of our country’s most famed monarchs, we often remember him because of his cruelty and fierceness. However, he did show great appreciation to members of his court, including Sir John Russell (d.1555) who would become the first Earl of Bedford.
 
John Russell first entered the court of Henry VII after impressing the King as a translator to the Archduke of Austria, and served him during the final three years of his reign. He may have been educated alongside the future King Henry VIII. Russell kept his place at court when Henry VIII succeeded to the throne and Russell worked hard to be discreet and understand the King’s countenance throughout his reign. As a courtier, diplomat and soldier Russell never put a foot wrong and was able to serve four successive Tudor sovereigns over the course of thirty eight years. During Henry VIII’s reign he never meddled in plots or politics, instead he went about the King’s business doing what was required of him. The King was drawn to his integrity and hard-working nature, thus consolidating his place in court.
 
Before his death in 1547, Henry had spoken of an earldom to Russell and chose him to be one of sixteen councillors to advise his son upon succeeding to the throne. King Henry VIII gave his dedicated servant Woburn Abbey along with other grants of land in Devonshire, Cornwall, Northamptonshire, Buckinghamshire, Bedfordshire, and a large part of Thorney Abbey in Cambridgeshire. In 1550, King Edward VI bestowed upon him the title Earl of Bedford as declared in his late father’s will. This token of appreciation and respect had a profound and lasting impact on the Russell family, and Woburn Abbey remains the family seat of the Duke of Bedford.
 
#WoburnAbbey #HenryVIII #OnThisDayInHistory
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