Woburn Abbey, the seat of the head of the Russell Family, the Duke of Bedford, was a sad half-demolished, half-derelict house in 1953 after the death of the heavily indebted 12th Duke. The Abbey, originally given to the family by Henry VIII, had been largely rebuilt by the 4th Duke in the 18th century. The architects Flitcroft and Holland had been employed on the project. Following World War II, dry rot had been discovered and half the Abbey was subsequently demolished.
The layout of Woburn before partial demolition.
Following his father's death, John, 13th Duke of Bedford opened it to the public for the first time in 1955. It soon gained in popularity as other amusements were added, including the safari park. The 13th Duke died in November 2002 in Santa Fe, New Mexico (U.S.A.). Asked about the unfavourable comments by other aristocrats when he turned the family home into a theme park he once said, "I do not relish the scorn of the peerage, but it is better to be looked down on than overlooked."
The 14th Duke, Robin (who enjoyed the courtesy title Marquess of Tavistock), ran Woburn Abbey for many years with his wife, the former Henrietta Tiarks, before inheriting the title on the death of his Monte Carlo based father.
Robin, 14th Duke of Bedford (the briefest holder of the Dukedom), died in June 2003. His son, Andrew, 15th Duke of Bedford, now runs the Woburn Abbey Estate.
Anna Maria, the 7th Duchess of Bedford of Woburn Abbey in Bedfordshire, was the originator of the afternoon tea ritual in 19th century England.