Abbey reveals Valiant Hearts

World War One patients at the Sculpture Gallery at Woburn Abbey.
World War One patients at the Sculpture Gallery at Woburn Abbey.

Marking the centenary of The Great War, a new exhibition at Woburn Abbey will demonstrate the roles played by the 11th Duke and Duchess, the Abbey and the people from the estate and surrounding villages during the conflict.

Valiant Hearts: World War I – Woburn and its Stories will present a number of unique narratives, giving visitors an insight into what life was like for people connected to the Woburn Estate during World War I.

Duchess Mary during World War One, in her nurse's uniform.

Duchess Mary during World War One, in her nurse's uniform.

Within the exhibition, visitors will be able to explore a recreation of the training garrison established and paid for by the 11th Duke, and read some of the poignant letters from commanding officers that meant His Grace was able to follow the progress of each of these local soldiers throughout the war.

The exhibition will also explain how the 11th Duchess converted parts of Woburn Abbey to create one of the most advanced hospitals of the time. Visitors will find out how she, and hundreds of other women, put their nursing training to good use in treating wounded soldiers returning from the front.

An extract from the 11th Duchess’ diary reads: “This hospital began to receive patients on the 7th September 1914 and was closed as a military hospital on the 31st March 1920. The accommodation was for 120 beds. 2,453 serving soldiers passed through the hospital.”

Valiant Hearts has taken its name from a hymn inscribed on a war memorial, in Ampthill, that is dedicated to all the soldiers who were trained at the Duke’s garrison and who subsequently lost their lives during the war. The staff team at Woburn Abbey are currently trying to contact friends and relatives of these soldiers, as well as the nurses who worked in the hospital, in order to tell their personal stories within the exhibition.

Patients outside the Chinese Dairy at Woburn Abbey during World War One.

Patients outside the Chinese Dairy at Woburn Abbey during World War One.

In 2014, as you explore Woburn Abbey, Gardens and grounds, visitors will be able to examine a range of artefacts, photographs and archive materials which together tell the incredible and moving stories of men and women from the local area during World War 1.

The exhibition opens on Friday, April 11 and runs until September 28. Visit

>> Woburn Abbey is part of Woburn Enterprises which includes the Safari Park, The Sculpture Gallery, Woburn Golf Club and The Inn at Woburn.

Woburn Abbey - a timeline of history

1145 Hugh de Bolebec founds Woburn Abbey, with monks from Fountains Abbey

1538 Abbot Robert Hobbes executed for treason by Henry VIII and Woburn Abbey dissolved

1630s Francis, Fourth Earl builds two-storey north wing, with the grottos. Both still part of the house today

1647 Charles I twice previously visited as a guest but this time as a prisoner and had a fateful meeting with Oliver Cromwell

1683 Execution of Lord William Russell for involvement in the Rye House Plot

1694 Posthumous pardon issued for execution and Earldom elevated to Dukedom

1731 4th Duke’s Grand Tour takes him to Venice. Commissions paintings by Canaletto as a souvenir.

1763 4th Duke negotiated the Treaty of Paris, which ended the Seven Years’ War. Louis XV gifts Sèvres porcelain service in appreciation

1747 4th Duke employs Henry Flitcroft to rebuild the West Wing, turning Woburn Abbey into a graceful Palladian house

1802 John, 6th Duke employs Humphrey Repton to landscape the park

1816 The gardens are the site of the world’s first ecological experiments and results will later influence Darwin’s argument on the origin of the species

1832 Lord John Russell passes Reform Bill through parliament and twice becomes prime minister during Queen Victoria’s reign

1841 Royal visit by Queen Victoria and Prince Albert

1872 – 1891 Hastings, 9th Duke contributes to agricultural experiments, school improvements and tenant welfare

1914 Mary, wife of the 11th Duke takes on role of nurse and turns Woburn Abbey into a military hospital

1937 After several record breaking flights in previous years, Mary disappears on solo flight to Norfolk

1939 – 1945 Woburn estates taken over as centre for black propaganda and billeting of Wrens from Bletchley Park

1955 The Abbey opens to public visitors

1970 Woburn Safari Park opens to the public on May 20, 1970

1974 The 14th Duke creates a world class golf facility with Woburn Golf Club. 1976 saw the opening of the first of the three courses: The Duke’s.

1999 – 2002 The 14th Duke and Duchess become television favourites on the TV series ‘Country House’

2003 Andrew, the 15th and present Duke inherits the Estate

2011 Woburn Abbey Gardens awarded RHS Partner Garden status

2012 Woburn Abbey Gardens win the Hudson’s Heritage Award for New Commission for the newly re-created rockery pavilion

2013 Woburn Abbey Gardens win The Georgian Group Architectural Award for Restoration of a Georgian Garden or Landscape