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Woburn Abbey

The Russell Heritage

London the ring - Covent Garden the jewel of that ring". These words were written by the 4th Earl of Bedford who in 1631 began to develop the family estate in London to the designs of Inigo Jones. The great square or piazza at the centre attracted many visitors when built and served as a model for a long sequence of residential squares in London and other cities.

Covent Garden was one of several estates acquired by the first Earl of Bedford, (Inigo Jones, arcitect of Covent Garden, also built Woburn's Grotto). His wife had brought two properties to the marriage: Chenies in Buckinghamshire where they lived (and where she later added a mortuary chapel to the parish church in which the Earls and Dukes of Bedford are commemorated) and Thornhaugh in Northamptonshire. From the Crown the Earl acquired the confiscated abbeys of Thorney, Tavistock and Woburn. The marriage between the Lord Russell who was later executed and the daughter of the Earl of Southampton brought Bloomsbury to the Russell family. Its subsequent development is regarded as a model of eighteenth and early nineteenth-century town-planning. An estate at Streatham and the Great Wet Dock at Rotherhithe came to the family when Lord Russell's son married the heiress of the Howland family.

The country estates involved many different types of farming and land usage: mining, forestry, fen drainage, breeding and arable. The great agricultural improvements of the late eighteenth century were adopted and promoted by the 5th Duke who set up a model farm at Woburn. His statue on the Bloomsbury estate is appropriately adorned with farming motifs. In the social reforms of the nineteenth century the Dukes of Bedford were often leaders, particularly in providing schools, churches and model dwellings for labourers. Meanwhile Covent Garden Market (first licensed in 1670), had flourished and expanded and in 1828 the 6th Duke got Parliamentary powers to provide the market buildings which now occupy the Piazza. Political opinion, which found private ownership of a major food market intolerable, eventually led to the whole Covent Garden estate being sold in 1918. Though the family now has no connection with Covent Garden we are proud that in its market buildings, in the Drury Lane Theatre and the Royal Opera House the Russell heritage provides so much pleasure to visitors to London.

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