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The Manor of Woburn

Woburn Abbey coat of arms
Woburn Abbey coat of arms

Volume III of The Victoria County History for Bedfordshire was published in 1912. It contains a history of Woburn Manor. In 1086 Walter Giffard, a Norman knight of William I’s held ten hides at Woburn as overlord. His tenant was Hugh de Bolbec and either he or his son of the same name seems to have succeeded Giffard as overlord because Hugh de Bolbec the younger granted the manor to the newly formed Cistercian abbey of Woburn in 1145 and it continued to hold the manor as one of its sources of income until the abbey was dissolved in 1538.

The manor, also known as the Manor of Woburn Abbots for obvious reasons, was valued at £67/1/5 in 1539 and the next year Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII’s chief minister and architect of the dissolution of the monasteries, was stated to be the chief steward for the king. In 1542 Henry VIII (1509-1547) considered making a palace for himself at Ampthill and grouped a number of local manors held by the Crown, including Woburn, together as the Honour of Ampthill to fund the place.

The Russell family coat of arms
The Russell family coat of arms

In 1547 the new king Edward VI (1547-1553) awarded the Manor of Woburn to Lord John Russell, who was created 1st Earl of Bedford two years later. The Earls and, latterly, Dukes of Bedford continued to hold the manor into the 20th century. A succession of Law of Property Acts in the 1920s extinguished all manorial incidents, courts and copyhold tenure of land. This effectively abolished manors in all but name.

The site of Birchmoor church stands close to today's Birchmoor Farm. This suggests that Birchmoor Farm may stand on or near the site of the original manor house of Woburn Manor as the two structures generally stood close to one another. A later manor of Birchmoor is first mentioned in 1612 when it was held by Edward Staunton. Perhaps this represents part of the original Manor of Woburn which had somehow become detached from the rest, The Victoria County History suggests that the Abbot of Woburn had leased or sold it to the bailiff of the abbey lands Edward Staunton shortly before the abbey was dissolved in 1539.

The Staunton family held this supposed manor until the death of Stavely Staunton at the end of the 17th century when it passed to his widow, who married Montagu Pickering in 1679. It then passed to Staunton's daughter who had married Sir Gilbert Pickering, first cousin of Montagu and then to her son Sir Edward Pickering. In 1747 Sir Edward sold the supposed manor to the Duke of Bedford, reuniting it with the manor of Woburn.