Life Before The War

Herbrand Russell had an older brother and grew up without the expectation of ever becoming Duke. He pursued a career in the army and fought in the Egyptian Campaign of 1872. Herbrand became aide de camp to King Edward VII and King George V on the training and retention of militia battalions. During 1885-6 he was aide de camp to the Viceroy of India and it was whilst serving in this position he met his future wife, Mary du Caurroy Tribe. They married in January 1888 in Barrakpore, India after which they and took a long honeymoon including visits to Darjeeling, Cairo, France and Berlin. It was following his brother’s death in 1893 that Herbrand Russell became the 11th Duke of Bedford and took up residence at Woburn Abbey with his wife, Mary, and their 5 year old son, Hastings.

Mary had listened to a number of Red Cross lectures during her school days at Cheltenham College and her interest in medical matters took a practical turn when she opened a small cottage hospital in Woburn village in 1898. Having attended further lectures in London, she designed a model Cottage Hospital (pictured) which opened in the village in 1903. Mary supervised this hospital herself until the outbreak of World War I in 1914.

It is here that our exhibition picks up on the story. Duke Herbrand and Duchess Mary’s backgrounds in the military and medical worlds meant they were ideally placed to provide a practical service to their country during the subsequent and dreadful years of war. Mary converted a number of the Abbey’s buildings and cared for thousands of patients who were transferred to Woburn between 1914 and 1918. Herbrand, having previously advised on the training of militia battalions, established the training garrison at nearby Ampthill.

‘Valiant Hearts: World War I – Woburn and its Stories’ will continue the story of Herbrand and Mary and introduce you to the countless other men and women who trained, worked and were treated here between 1914 and 1918.


Pippa Gardner

Woburn Abbey Marketing Executive

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