Image of woburn abbey

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.

Find Out More     Contact Us

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
Today we remember the life of George Sackville Russell, 10th Duke of Bedford (1852-1893) painted here in academic robes by Michele Gordigiani. The painting was delivered to Woburn Abbey #onthisday in 1886, which was also the Duke’s birthday.

George was the eldest son of Francis Russell, 9th Duke of Bedford and Elizabeth Sackville-West, Duchess of Bedford and grew up at Woburn Abbey with his three siblings. Before he inherited the Dukedom he went to Balliol College, Oxford, in 1874 and one year later, he was elected as Liberal Member of Parliament for Bedfordshire for a decade.. He also served as High Sheriff of Bedfordshire and Chairman of Bedfordshire County Council. 

In 1891, he inherited the title the Duke of Bedford, but only held the title for two years. After his premature death, the Dukedom passed to his younger brother, Herbrand Russell, the 11th Duke of Bedford (1858-1940). 

#WoburnAbbey #statelyhome #countryhouse #portrait
Here are a few marble busts of previous generations of the Russell family, enjoying the tranquil atmosphere and reviewing the progress after another day supervising the ongoing restoration works.
#WoburnAbbey #statelyhome #countryhouse #sculpture
#OnThisDay in 1625, Charles I ascended to the throne. For this occasion, we want to share one of the more unexpected objects from the Woburn Abbey collection, his remarkable walking stick. The handle is dated from 1632 and is made of orange agate and the ebony stick which has been inlaid with mother of pearl stars is equally as impressive.
#WoburnAbbey #Woburnconnections #bts #behindthescenes
1,603 years of Venice.
According to tradition, Venice was formally established at noon on the 25th March 421AD. To mark this date, we want to share this painting by Giovanni Antonio Canal, known as Canaletto. He was born in Venice and painted precise and insightful artworks of what was the Republic of Venice. The Woburn Abbey Collection is proud to hold 24 of his paintings, commissioned in 1731 by Lord John Russell, later the 4th Duke of Bedford, during his Grand Tour of Italy. The painting of ‘Ascension Day’ underwent conservation before featuring in the ‘Canaletto: Painting Venice’ exhibition at the Holburne Museum in 2021.
You can see the impact of the removal of several layers of old, discoloured varnish and retouchings. The old varnish disrupted the blue tone of the painting and reduced the contrast in colour between the sky and the sea, whereas now these differences can be seen more clearly, as this photomontage shows.
#WoburnAbbey #WoburnConnections #Venice #Canaletto #WoburnTreasures #Conservation
Follow Us