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Woburn History

First recorded as a Saxon hamlet. The name derives from the Saxon word “wo” meaning crooked and ‘burn’, a small stream

Recorded in the Domesday Book as a small hamlet.

Cistercian monks from Fountains Abbey in Yorkshire founded an abbey close to Woburn. The hamlet soon became a village.

A chapel is recorded in Bedford Street, probably the site of the present day Old St Mary’s (now the Heritage Centre).

The body of Queen Eleanor of Castile, wife of Edward I, lay overnight in Woburn en route from Harby in Nottinghamshire to London. A cross was erected in each place where she had rested, but there is no trace of Woburn’s cross or where it stood.

Woburn now a thriving market town with three markets each week, trading in wool and "Woburn earth", later known as Fuller’s Earth, extracted from the Greensand Ridge to the north of Woburn. It also held three festivals each year.

Following the dissolution of the monasteries in 1538, Henry VIII bequeathed Woburn Abbey and its estates to John Russell of Chenies who became the first Earl of Bedford. In 1694, during the reign of William and Mary, the family was given the title of Dukes.

Woburn School was built on Bedford Street next to the church. Over 400 years later it is still the school. The base of Old St Mary’s tower is of the same iron stone.

A huge fire swept through Woburn, taking the fronts of buildings along Bedford Street, George Street and Leighton Street. At the time Woburn Abbey was being rebuilt so the Duke sent his architects to the village to restore the damaged buildings. Hence the beautiful early Georgian village centre we have today but most of the buildings are mediaeval behind the Georgian facades.

During the coaching era Woburn was an important staging post between London and the North and East/West to Cambridge and Oxford. There were 27 inns recorded in Woburn, serving travellers and a change of horses. It had the first 24 hour post office outside London house in what is now The Woburn Hotel.

When the railways arrived, the coaching trade declined, as did Woburn. In the 1851 census the population was over 2,000 but by the 1960s it had dropped to 700. It now stands at about 1,000.

The new St Mary’s church was built in Park Street. Old St Mary’s was reduced in size and became a mortuary chapel. Funerals were held there until the 1960s when the building became redundant. Some years later it was rescued and became the Heritage Centre Museum.

The wife of the 11th Duke, later known as the Flying Duchess due to her pioneering flights to South Africa, India, and many other countries in the 1920s, was keen that the village should have a cottage hospital. Started in 1897 at 1 Leighton Street, a purpose-built hospital was later built in 1904 at the end of Leighton Street named Maryland, after the Duchess. The hospital became an education centre in 1948. It has now been converted into private apartments.

During WWII Woburn Abbey housed government and services departments and was also home to the Wrens who worked at Bletchley Park. Woburn was at the centre of much secret activity with Black Propaganda stations at Milton Bryan, Aspley Guise and at Maryland.

Woburn became a centre for artists, including John Brunsdon and Derrick Greaves, who used the old Congregational Chapel on Duck Lane (now demolished) as their shared studio. The village was also famous for its antique shops.

Today Woburn is a thriving tourist village with a wide selection of pubs, restaurants and a variety of specialist shops.

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