"WOBURN, a parish, a market and union town and head of a petty sessional division, on the borders of Bucks, on the road from Dunstable to Newport Pagnell, 15 miles south-west from Bedford, 42 from London, 3 south-east from the Woburn Sands station on the Bedford and Bletchley branch of the North Western railway and 7 north from Leighton Buzzard, in the Southern division of the county, hundred of Manshead, county court district of Leighton Buzzard, rural deanery of Fleete, archdeaconry of Bedford and diocese of Ely. The town, more than a quarter of a mile long, is particularly clean, well built and lighted with gas; the water supply is obtained from wells, but there is a reservoir for the use of the fire brigade.
The town is supposed, in Leland's time (c. 1552), to have been a hamlet in the parish of Birchmore; in 1572 the town and abbey were visited by Queen Elizabeth; on 13th September, 1595, the whole place was almost destroyed by fire, 130 houses being consumed; during the civil War the county was chiefly attached to the Parliamentary party and in 1642 the Royal troops burnt a part of the town. It also suffered from the plague in 1625-26, when abut 30 died. The church in Park street, consecrated 23rd Sept. 1868 was built solely at the expense of William, 8th Duke of Bedford, at a cost of £35,000, in the Continental Gothic style of the 13th century, from designs by Mr. Clutton : it consists of chancel, nave of five bays, aisles, vestry, organ loft, a large crypt under the chancel and a western tower 110 feet high containing 1 bell weighing 55 cwt. : the carved pulpit and font are of Bath stone, and there are four stained windows, three of which were erected in 1894 by the Duchess Adeline to her husband, the 10th Duke of Bedford, who died in 1893 : there are sittings for 650 persons; the seats in the nave and aisles, which are all free, are of plain solid oak. The register dates from the year 1558, and contains records of the visitation of the plague here in 1625-6. The living is a vicarage, net-yearly value £300, in the gift of the Duke of Bedford, and held since 1874 by the Rev. Henry Willes Southey M.A. late scholar of Caius College, Cambridge, and surrogate. The old church of St. Mary the Virgin, in Bedford street, rebuilt by Richard Hobbs, last abbot of Woburn, was pulled down in 1868, and a mortuary chapel erected on its site with the materials, but the tower remains : this is an embattled structure of two stages, standing at distance of six yards from the site of the north aisle of the former church, and is about 92 feet in height, with pinnacles at the angles and an open cupola, with a cross and vane; the tower was built or rebuilt in the 17th century by Sir Francis Staunton knt. with the material of the parish church at Birchmore, and it was again rebuilt in 1830 by John, 6th Duke of Bedford K.G. under the direction of Mr. E. Blore, and contains 8 good bells, two of which were given by the 9th Duke; four were recast in 1663 and a fifth in 1724: in the mortuary ohapel are memorials to Sir F. Staunton and Elizabeth, his wife, 1630, and others to the Kay family, removed from the old church.
Here are Wesleyan and Congregational chapels.
The Town Hall, which stands near the centre of the town, at the intersection of Leighton and Park streets was built in 1830 from designs by Mr. E. Blore F.S.A.; it is now used for petty sessions and also for entertainments; during 1884 the interior was refitted at the cost of Hastings, 9th Duke of Bedford K.G. under the direction of Mr. Glutton. Woburn Institute and Reading Rooms, Leighton street re-built in 1884 at the cost of Hastings, 9th Duke of Bedford K.G. is open daily on week days from 12 o'clock noon till 10 p.m. The reading room is provided with various daily and weekly papers and several monthly magazines, the library consists of 1,400 volumes; there is also a billiard room. A Nurses' Home is now (1898) in course of erection by the Duke of Bedford.
There is a fire brigade consisting of 1 superintendent and 12 firemen: the engine-house is close to the church. The inhabitants are employed to some extent in lace and straw plait making, but this handicraft is gradually dying out.
There is a Friday's market, and four fairs in the year- January 1st, March 23rd, July 13th and October 6th.
The endowments of this town, derived chiefly from the Russell family, are considerable, and comprise a rent-charge of £20 yearly on the Whittlebury estate, which is given away in bread monthly by persons appointed by the Parish Council; William Underwood's, bequeathed in 1793, and Green Thetford's charities of £100, the interest to be yearly distributed in bread on New Year's Day; a rent-charge on the Birchmoor estate, of £30 yearly, is given away to the inmates of the almshouses. There are 20 almshouses in Bedford street, originating in a bequest by the will of Sir Francis Staunton, dated 1635, of £40 to the poor, augmented in 1665 by estates, value £24 yearly, which, in 1761, was consolidated and granted to John, Duke of Bedford, on condition that he should found an almshouse for 12 persons, and endow the same with £30 yearly: there are 24 inmates, each of whom receives £1 5s. annually. John Fountain, of Abingdon, Berks, bequeathed in 1710 lands value £20 yearly for bread.
The Free School, founded by Francis, Earl of Bedford, has ceased to exist; the endowment, amounting to about £12 yearly, is in the hands of trustees, viz. Mr. William Thomas Hulatt, Mr. John Gilby, jun. and a representative of the Parish Council and the vicar; a scheme for its administration was framed by the Charity Commissioners in 1884.
Woburn Abbey, the seat of the Duke of Bedford, still retains its conventual name, although no part of the ancient structure now remains. The abbey was founded to Stephen (1145) by Hugh de Bolebec, a Norman baron, whose father had accompanied the Conqueror, for monks of the Cistercian order, and was dedicated, in accordance with their custom, to the Virgin, the house being colonized from the Abbey of Fountains, in Yorkshire; it was surrendered by Richard Hobbs, the last abbot, 26 Henry VIII. (1534-5), when the revenues were estimated at £391 18s. 2d. clear yearly value : the abbot having thrown off his allegiance and joined the insurgents in Lincolnshire and Yorkshire, was at lengthy taken prisoner, and hanged on an oak tree in front of the abbey: the tree is said to be still standing. In 1547, the site and circuit of the abbey wore granted to John, Lord Russell of Cherries, Bucks. Queen Elizabeth visited the abbey in 1572, and received for two days the hospitality of Francis, 2nd Earl of Bedford, and Charles I. was also entertained here on three occasions, in 1644, 1645 and 1647, by William, 3rd Earl, and subsequently Duke of Bedford. The present mansion was built about 1744, by John, Duke of Bedford, and is a structure of Totternhoe stone, in the Italian style, from designs by Flitcroft, forming a quadrangle, with corridors on the north, east and south sides, surrounding a great court with an area of 148 by 138.feet; the west or principal front, 272 foot in length, is of two storeys, the lower being rusticated, and consists of a central compartment divided by four Ionic columns supporting a pediment, and wings of five bays, terminating in quasi-towers, from which a balustraded wall of the height of the first storey projects on either side; the upper storey is also finished with a balustrading, above which rises a line of dormers; the east front, which has a portico of eight Doric columns, conducts by a flight of steps to the corridors above mentioned, and looks out upon an extensive green, partially inclosed by the stables, forming two oblong courts on either side, and the riding house and tennis court between these at the extreme east end; near the south stable court is the sculpture gallery. The entrance to the park, built by a former duke, exhibits a facade decorated with Ionic columns, and surmounted by the arms of Russell, and was designed by the late Mr. Henry Holland. The north corridor, 170 feet in length, is fined with bronzes, plaster casts, vases and tazze, and in this wing also are the principal bedchambers, furnished in the old French style, and containing many fine pictures: at the extremity of this corridor, the principal suite of rooms, including the drawing room, saloon, dining room, portrait gallery, Canaletto room and library, is entered, and comprise that portion of the house usually shown to strangers: the portrait gallery, 111 by 18 feet, is divided into three compartments by slight screens with advanced columns, 16 foot in height, and contains, besides many family portraits, those of courtiers of the Elizabethan period, and the cane of William, Lord Russell, executed in Lincoln's Inn Fields, July 21, 1683; the rest of these apartments are magnificently decorated and furnished, and the walls are hung with fine examples of Sir Joshua Reynolds, Claude, Poussin, Cuyp, Rubons, Rembrandt, Titian and Annibale Caracci; the Canaletto room contains 24 pictures by that master, painted expressly for an ancestor of the present duke. The south corridor, of the same length as the north, contains a series of family portraits; the private rooms, on the south side, form a continuous range with the inner library. The museum room in the east corridor contains models of English cattle executed by Gerrard, for Francis, 3rd Duke of Bedford. The sculpture gallery, already referred to, comprises an ante-room, hung with engravings, after works by Canova, and in the centre stands an antique vase of exquisite workmanship: the gallery itself is 138 feet in length by 25 feet wide, and was originally intended for a conservatory, but now contains a superb collection of marbles of the highest class, the columns which divide it into compartments being themselves antiques; in the centre is placed the celebrated Bedford vase, and on either band are fine works by Canova, Chantroy, Flaxman, Thorvaldson, Nollekens and Westmacott. At the east end is a temple of the Ionic order, designed by the late Mr. Henry Holland, and containing a bust of Charles James Fox, with others : in the frieze is a Latin inscription by Dr. Parr; the west end terminates in a temple, erected by John, 6th Duke, from designs by Mr. Wyattville, and the frieze bears an inscription by Mr. Rogers; the interior contains Canova's famous group of the Graces, and in the approach to it are portraits in marble, by Chantroy and Thorvaldsen, of two infant daughters of a former duke. The park is amply stocked with deer, and tastefully diversified with abundance of wood and a chain of eight lakes : the whole extent of the park is 2,686A. 3R. 14P. of which 845A. 3R. 25P. is woodland, and is connected with Ridgmount Park, another demesne of the duke's, which is included in the above area.
In the romantic wood of Aspley, belonging to the duke, and nearly adjoining Woburn Park, broken fragments of the trees are frequently picked up from the ground in a petrified state, a circumstance ascribed to the extreme coldness of the soil, said to be derived.from a neighbouring petrifying spring. Camden mentions that a ladder was to be seen in Aspley monastery, which, formerly of wood, having been buried in the earth for some time, was dug up a perfect stone.
The Duke of Bedford is lord of the manor and the principal landowner. The soil is the lower green sand which stretches from Leighton to Sandy; subsoil, gravel. The chief crops are wheat, barley, oats, beans and peas. The area is 3,392 acres of land and 54 of water; rateable value, £7,187; the population in 1891 was 1,193, including 4 officers and 66 inmates in the workhouse."
[Description(s) transcribed by Martin Edwards ©2003 and later edited by Colin Hinson ©2013]