Shaping The Abbey
Woburn Abbey, as it can be seen today, has been shaped by a number of architects, each of whom was a leading designer of their day. Henry Flitcroft, Sir William Chambers, Henry Holland and Sir Jeffry Wyatville are amongst the most notable examples.
Henry Flitcroft (1697-1769)
Flitcroft was commissioned in 1747 by the 4th Duke to rebuild the entire West range of Woburn Abbey. He designed the impressive suite of State Apartments which run the length of the West front in the Palladian style. Flitcroft also designed the impressive Grand staircase which is cantilevered from the walls and has a beautiful wrought iron balustrade. To increase the sense of height, Flitcroft cleverly narrowed the staircase towards the top to become a single lane flight of stairs.
Henry Flitcroft is responsible for the two Stable blocks in the grounds, known as North Court and South Court. Built around 1750, the west flanks of both Courts are topped by impressive octagonal drums and domes.
Sir William Chambers (1723 -1796)
Swedish born Chambers became one of the most influential early neo-classical architects of his time. He specialised in the popular Palladian style, but enhanced his designs with French, Italian and Oriental styles. He was employed by the 4th Duke to make various alterations to the Abbey and was responsible for Chambers Bridge. The bridge separates Basin Pond from New Pond and was constructed around 1770 with three semi-circular arches. This is the bridge you cross as you drive through the deer park on your way up to the house.
Henry Holland began his architectural career as his father’s assistant, and developed a close connection with Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown. Through this association with Brown, Holland was introduced to some of the grandest families in the country, from whom he soon received commissions.
Holland was commissioned by the 5th Duke to modernise Woburn Abbey. He redesigned the South front, building a sophisticated three part library, divided by screens of columns. Holland also designed and built the Chinese Dairy in the gardens, as well as the large indoor riding school and tennis court located behind Flitcroft’s two Stable Courts. This latter structure was demolished in the 1950s due to dry rot.
Henry Holland was still at Woburn in 1789 building a conservatory complete with an impressive Venetian window. The conservatory was linked to the Abbey via a covered walkway which extended round to the new riding school and onwards to the Chinese Dairy. The Duke later changed this building to become a sculpture gallery, housing busts of his favourite political heroes; and commissioned Holland to build the Temple of Liberty within it in 1801.
Unfortunately, the young Duke suddenly died in 1802, and it was his brother John, the 6th Duke, who completed the works.
Sir Jeffry Wyatville (1766-1840)
Wyattville became the Duke’s architect in 1806, and was commissioned to design and build Endsleigh, a cottage orné, in Devon. According to an inscription in the stables, Endsleigh ‘was built and a residence created in the sequestered valley by John, Duke of Bedford, the spot having been previously chosen for the natural and picturesque beauties which surround it by Georgiana, Duchess of Bedford...’ The foundation stone was laid by their four eldest sons on September 7th 1810. The interiors were entirely decorated and furnished by Wyatville; the landscaping carried out by Humphry Repton.
The 6th Duke also commissioned Wyatville to adapt Holland’s conservatory in 1816 to make it into a more impressive setting for his increasing sculpture collection. Wyatville designed the Temple of the Graces, in preparation for Canova’s sculpture The Three Graces (now in the collection of the V&A and NGS). The central bay has eight magnificent antique columns, brought back from Rome by the 5th Duke, and installed by Wyatville to support his shallow dome. In 1822 he constructed the Camellia House which adjoins the East End of the Sculpture Gallery.