Woburn Abbey


Woburn Abbey (/ˈwbərn/),[n 1][3] occupying the east of the village of Woburn, Bedfordshire, England, is a country house, the family seat of the Duke of Bedford. Although it is still a family home to the current duke, it is open on specified days to visitors, along with the diverse estate surrounding it, including the historic landscape gardens and deer park (by Humphry Repton), as well as more recently added attractions including Woburn Safari Park, a miniature railway and a garden/visitor centre.

Woburn Abbey
Woburn Abbey.jpg
The west front of Woburn Abbey
General information
TypeStately home
LocationWoburn, Bedfordshire
Coordinates51°58′59″N 0°35′48″W / 51.9831°N 0.5968°W / 51.9831; -0.5968Coordinates: 51°58′59″N 0°35′48″W / 51.9831°N 0.5968°W / 51.9831; -0.5968
OwnerDuke of Bedford
Listed Building – Grade I
Designated22 October 1952
Reference no.1114006[1]
Designated30 November 1986
Reference no.1000364[2]

Pre-20th centuryEdit

Woburn Abbey, comprising Woburn Park and its buildings, was set out and founded as a Cistercian abbey in 1145.[4] Taken from its monastic residents by Henry VIII and given to John Russell, 1st Earl of Bedford, in 1547, it became the seat of the Russell family and the Dukes of Bedford, who demolished the original abbey building and built their house on the monastic site, although the name Abbey was retained. The Abbey was largely rebuilt starting in 1744 by the architects Henry Flitcroft and Henry Holland for the 4th Duke.[4] Anna Russell, Duchess of Bedford, originated the afternoon tea ritual in 19th-century England.[5][6] Bedford was a keen patron of cricket,[7] and established a cricket ground in the park in the early 1740s. His own club, Woburn Cricket Club, briefly played against major English sides of the day such as London Cricket Club.[8][9]

In April 1786 John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, both future Presidents of the United States, visited Woburn Abbey and other notable houses in the area. After visiting them Adams wrote in his diary "Stowe, Hagley, and Blenheim, are superb; Woburn, Caversham, and the Leasowes are beautiful. Wotton is both great and elegant, though neglected".[10] However he was also damning about the means used to finance the large estates, and he did not think that the embellishments to the landscape made by the owners of the great country houses would suit the more rugged American countryside.[10]

World War TwoEdit

Visiting Woburn Abbey in March 1939, the MP and diarist Henry Channon described the well-kept-up "feudal magnificance" of the estate shortly before the outbreak of war. This included more than twenty drawing rooms, thirty cars and whole rooms devoted each to collections of Joshua Reynolds, Canalettos and Van Dyck paintings.[11]

From 1941 Woburn Abbey was the headquarters of the secretive Political Warfare Executive (PWE) which had its London offices at the BBC's Bush House.[12]

1945 to 1970sEdit

The layout of Woburn before partial demolition. Building 'C' was demolished, and the upper half of building 'A' (the east part of the main western building) as well.

Following World War II, dry rot was discovered and half the Abbey was subsequently demolished. When the 12th Duke died in 1953, his son the 13th Duke was exposed to death duties of $14 million[13] and the Abbey was a half-demolished, half-derelict house. Instead of handing the family estates over to the National Trust, he kept ownership and opened the Abbey to the public for the first time in 1955. It soon gained in popularity and in its first ten years, it had ticket sales of $11 million, helping to pay off much of the death duties.[13] Other amusements were added, including Woburn Safari Park on the grounds of the Abbey in 1970. Asked about the unfavourable comments by other aristocrats when he turned the family home into a safari park, the 13th Duke said, "I do not relish the scorn of the peerage, but it is better to be looked down on than overlooked."[citation needed]

1970s to presentEdit

The 13th Duke moved to Monte Carlo in 1975.[14] His son Robin, who enjoyed the courtesy title Marquess of Tavistock, ran the Abbey with his wife in his father's absence.[citation needed]

In the early 1990s, the Marquess and The Tussauds Group planned to turn the Abbey into a large theme park with the help of John Wardley, creator of the roller coasters "Nemesis" and "Oblivion". However, Tussauds bought Alton Towers and built one there instead.[citation needed]

From 1999 to 2002, the Marquess and the Marchioness, the former Henrietta Joan Tiarks, were the subjects of the Tiger Aspect Productions reality series Country House in three series, totalling 29 episodes, which aired on BBC Two. It detailed the daily life and the business of running the Abbey.[15] It inspired several Monarch of the Glen storylines.[citation needed]

The Marquess of Tavistock became the 14th Duke on the death of his father in November 2002 in Santa Fe, New Mexico, United States. The 14th Duke was the briefest holder of the Dukedom and died in June 2003.[citation needed]

On the death of the 14th Duke, his son Andrew became the 15th Duke, and he continues his father's work in running the Woburn Abbey Estate. The building is listed in the highest category of architecture at Grade I.[1]


The art collection of the Duke of Bedford is amongst the finest in private hands,[citation needed][peacock prose] and encompasses a wide range of western artwork. The holdings comprise some 250 paintings, including works by Rubens, Van Dyck, Canaletto and Velasquez. Moreover, the collection encompasses examples of the finest manufacturers of furniture, French and English in many periods, and a diverse collection of porcelain and silverware.[2][failed verification]


View of the entrance to the Arsenal, Canaletto, 1732

Dutch School

English School

Flemish School

French School

German School

Italian School

Spanish School

Books, films and televisionEdit

CFF produced the film "Five Clues To Fortune" aka "The Treasure At Woburn Abbey" in 1957, starring David Hemmings and David Cameron who married German actress Hildegard Knef 5 years later.

The abbey in its landscape

In 1970, Lucio Fulci filmed scenes for A Lizard in a Woman's Skin there.[citation needed] In May 1973, scenes from Coronation Street were set there and featured a cameo by the 13th Duke. He played himself greeting the characters: one of them, Hilda Ogden, was very impressed with the 'Canney-Letty' [sic] (Canaletto) room.[16]

In Anthony Horowitz's 1987 book Public Enemy Number Two, the book's main character Nick Diamond is framed for the theft of the Woburn Carbuncles as part of a plan by two Scotland Yard detectives to imprison him in order to find out the identity of a criminal mastermind known as The Fence—who turns out to be the class teacher who was supervising Diamond and the other children on the school trip to Woburn Abbey.[17]

On 2 July 1977, and again on 4 June 2005, singer Neil Diamond held a concert on the front lawn of the Abbey. The 1977 concert was a part of a television programme broadcast in the United States titled "I'm Glad You're Here With Me Tonight."[citation needed]

In film and television, Woburn Abbey has been used as a filming location for films and programmes including The Iron Maiden (1962), The Flower of Gloster (1967) and Treasure Hunt (1986).[18]

In The Protector's War, a post-apocalyptic alternate history novel by S. M. Stirling, Woburn Abbey serves as a prison for an English knight; the knight is rescued and flees to the Willamette Valley of Oregon in what was the United States of America.

See alsoEdit

Notes and referencesEdit

  1. ^ Locally until c.1960 referring to the Village or Abbey /wbərn/
  1. ^ a b Historic England. "Woburn Abbey (Grade I) (1114006)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 14 December 2016.
  2. ^ a b Historic England. "Woburn Abbey (Park and Garden) (Grade I) (1000364)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 14 December 2016.
  3. ^ "Woburn Abbey". Collins Dictionary. n.d. Retrieved 23 September 2014.
  4. ^ a b Chisholm 1911, Woburn, England.
  5. ^ "Woburn Abbey and Gardens". woburn.co.uk.
  6. ^ "Woburn Abbey". Encyclopædia Britannica.
  7. ^ FS Ashley-Cooper (1900) At the sign of the wicket: Cricket, 1742–1751, Cricket, 26 April 1900, p.83. (Available online. Retrieved 10 December 2021.)
  8. ^ Duke of Bedford's Ground, Woburn, CricketArchive. Retrieved 10 December 2021. (subscription required)
  9. ^ FS Ashley-Cooper (1900) At the sign of the wicket: Cricket, 1742–1751, Cricket, 22 February 1900, p.21. (Available online. Retrieved 10 December 2021.)
  10. ^ a b Adams & Adams 1851, p. 394.
  11. ^ Henry ("Chips") Channon The Diaries 1938-43 (Vol. 2), edited by Simon Heffer, Penguin 2021.
  12. ^ "Political Warfare Executive and Foreign Office, Political Intelligence Department: Papers (Ref: FO 898)". Discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk. The National Archives. 1938–1973. Retrieved 10 August 2017.
  13. ^ a b "Boxoffice Now Lifts The Family Mortgage". Variety. 27 November 1963. p. 1.
  14. ^ "The Duchess of Bedford" by Nicole Nobody
  15. ^ "Benidorm Series 1". TigerAspect.co.uk. 9 May 2013.
  16. ^ "ITV – Coronation Street". solarnavigator.net.
  17. ^ Horowitz, Anthony (2004). Public Enemy Number Two (Diamond Brother Mysteries): Anthony Horowitz. ISBN 0142402184.
  18. ^ "IMDb: Most Popular Titles With Filming Locations Matching "Woburn Abbey"". IMDb.


  • Adams, John; Adams, Charles Francis (1851). The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States: Autobiography, continued. Diary. Essays and controversial papers of the Revolution. The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States. Vol. 3. Little, Brown. p. 394.


  • Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Woburn" . Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 28 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 767.

Further readingEdit

  • Angelicoussis, Elizabeth (1992). The Woburn Abbey Collection of Classical Antiquities, Monumenta Artis Romanae XX. Zabern. ISBN 978-3-8053-1303-2.

External linksEdit

  • Official website
  • The Woburn Abbey Collection of Classical Antiquities in the Arachne (archaeological database)
  • https://web.archive.org/web/20110612053031/http://www.mspong.org/picturesque/woburn_abbey.html
  • Map sources for Woburn Abbey