Woburn is a well preserved 18th century Georgian village, a successor to a medieval village that was destroyed in an unfortunate series of fires between 1595 and 1724. As such most of the town's historic buildings date from the rebuilding programme which begun after 1724. One of the few exceptions is the old school, located next to St Mary's Church. It dates to the times of Queen Elizabeth in the late 16th century and is still used as a school today.
Arguably the village's most fascinating building is the new St Mary's Church, built of Bath stone between 1865-8 by Henry Clutton for the 8th Duke of Bedford. It is a grand building constructed in a late 12th century French style, and is guarded by a couple of gargoyles. The interior is impressive, refitted in fancy Gothic style as the duke preferred it.
The Centre of the village stands on the site of old St Mary's Church, of which only the base of the medieval tower survives. Woburn Abbey was founded on a Cistercian monastery in 1145 and prospered until its destruction by fire in the 16th century. The remaining ruins were granted to John Russell, later 1st Earl of Bedford, in the will of Henry VIII in 1547. Amongst numerous architects employed at Woburn, Henry Flintcroft (1747-61) and Henry Holland (1787-90) are the most influential. Flintcroft designed the West Front, Stable Courts and State Rooms, while Holland's influence is evident in the Library, Canaletto Room and other surviving rooms in the south wing, as well as the Chinese Dairy and Sculpture Gallery outside the house.
The interior has a fantastic display of furniture, paintings, sculpture and ceramics. There is porcelain and silver of the highest quality, as well as some of the best artwork produced by the likes of Van Dyck, Rembrandt, Velazquez, Gainsborough and Canaletto. The lavish State Apartments include an exquisite set of Tudor paintings hanging in the Long Gallery, most notably the famous Armada Portrait of Elizabeth I by George Gower. The surrounding parkland with its rolling hills and mature trees, was landscaped by Humphrey Repton early in the 19th century, and now supports nine species of deer.
The Russell family, Dukes of Bedford, used to own a tenth of the county. And that is why many of the cottages on their estates have a carved 'B' under a coronet on their facades. Additionally some of these cottages have no door at the front of the house, owing to the whim of an early Duke of Bedford who disliked seeing cottagers gossiping at their front doors.
Another great feature of the Duke's huge estate is Woburn Safari Park, 300 acres of parkland which form the largest drive-through wildlife reserve in Britain. Motorists drive their own vehicles through to observe endangered species such as the African white rhino and bongo antelope, as well as lions, tigers, elephants and bears. Nearby in the leisure area is Sea World, Adventure Ark, Penguin World and a number of boating lakes.