Woburn is recorded as a Saxon hamlet in 969 and in the Domesday Book of 1086. The name derives from the Saxon words “wo”, meaning crooked and “burn”, a small stream.
In 1145 the Cistercian monks from Fountains Abbey, in Yorkshire, founded an abbey at Woburn. The hamlet became a village and then a town with a market on three days a week, held on The Pitchings, the cobbled area and still the hub of the village. Woburn was also on a drovers’ route with drovers’ ponds at both ends of the village. On market days the drovers would use Caswell Lane to avoid the busy centre – an early bypass!
Following the dissolution of the monasteries John Russell of Chenies was allowed to purchase properties to the value of £600 (£225,000,000 in present day values), one of the estates he purchased was Woburn Abbey and he was created First Earl of Bedford. In 1694, during the reign of William and Mary, the then head of the Russell family was created Duke of Bedford, the present Duke is the 15th.
A fire in 1724 destroyed much of the town which was rebuilt in the Georgian style we see today.
The centre of Woburn contains some the finest Georgian buildings in Bedfordshire. These black and white photographs show Woburn in 1949.
During the coaching era of the early 19th century Woburn became an important staging post on a countrywide network, including London, Cambridge, Oxford, Nottingham and Leeds and had the first 24 hour a day post office outside of London, housed in what is now No.2 Bedford Street. There were 27 inns in the town and old coaching archways can still be seen between the pubs and houses on Bedford Street and Leighton Street. In the 1851 census the population of Woburn was 2100, by the 1960’s it had dropped to 700 and is now just over 1000. The fine Georgian village is now a centre for good pubs, restaurants and specialist shops.
Woburn in the 19th century
Woburn Walk Leaflets for self guided walks of varying distances around Woburn are downloadable as PDF files from the Woburn Village website: www.woburnvillage.co.uk/guides.
Information about Woburn in general and many of the individual buildings can be found on the Bedfordshire Archives website: