Our Church Building

St Mary’s was built by a Duke and has suitably noble proportions. It was designed and constructed between 1865 and 1868 for William, 8th Duke of Bedford, by the architect Henry Clutton. Clutton had just finished another church for his patron at Tavistock, on the Russell estate there. It was an equally grand conception in the Romanesque style. Clutton was a student of French medieval architecture. He won a competition to design a Cathedral at Lille but it was not constructed. Woburn was his compensation, a model of a French Gothic cathedral.

St Mary’s was originally built with a tall spire, which must have been a notable Bedfordshire landmark, and a crypt for the interment of members of the ducal family.

The Russells have continued to rest at their family vault at Chenies in Buckinghamshire, however, and the spire had to be dismanded for safety reasons in 1890. This accounts for the rather squat and ungainly external appearance of St Mary’s today: a somewhat gaunt building relieved only by the carved grotesques and gargoyles on the tower roof and waterspouts.

Church Interior The interior however shows all the marks of a French cathedral in its lofty lines, slender pillars and single vaulted roof. It was enhanced by a delicate rose window at the eastern end; created-by Kempe in 1894 and presented by Adeline, Duchess of Bedford in memory of her husband Francis, the 10th Duke. In 1903 the great gilded wooden reredos was installed, designed by W.D. Caroe and manufactured at Oberammergau. It depicts the Annunciation and the Holy Family and makes a dramatic conclusion to the long sweep of the church and the flight of steps to the chancel and High Altar.

The altar hanging or dorsal which you see today is a more recent introduction. It is a panel of woven and embroidered silk made by Jill Thompson and others and presented in 2003 in memory of Hugh Paddick, the film and television actor. The lily is the symbol of St Mary and light radiates across the panel, the church and the world.

At the eastern end of the south aisle there is the striking stained glass window. It depicts St Francis of Assisi, standing among the birds and flowers of the Woburn Abbey estate. It commemorates the life of Mary, Duchess of Bedford from 1865 to 1937, a lady as the inscription says “whose work was in the hospitals, whose delight was in the birds”. Mary built and ran a cottage hospital at Maryland, in Woburn, where wounded soldiers were treated in the First World War.

Resourceful and intrepid, she was among the early aviatrixes and was lost when her aircraft went missing on a flight over East Anglia. The only reminders of Woburn Abbey in the church are the roundels along the nave walls which commemorate, by their coats of arms, the benefactors of the abbey and its last abbot before the dissolution of the monasteries. The Lady Chapel in the north-eastern corner of the church is living evidence however of the loyalty which this church still commands. The painting of the Virgin and Child is by Carlo Maratti, a 17th century Italian painter: presented by one of the Dukes of Bedford, it originally hung in the old Woburn church. A plaque on the wall will tell you that most of the elegant carpentry in this area of the church was the work of Kenneth Spavins, a Churchwarden for many years, who carried out this project to mark the centenary of the church’s foundation in 1968. Clearly, St Mary’s Church is rooted in the Woburn Abbey Estate which continues to maintain and restore its exterior. It is however, also part of the local community. Every Sunday its fine peal of bells rings out over the village as a reminder of its presence and the eternal gospel it continues to preach. There is an equally fine three-manual organ made by Norman and Beard in 1904 and a sustained tradition of choral music in the parish and larger neighbourhood. St Mary’s is popular for weddings and other family occasions. The crypt has been redesigned as a well-equipped function room.

The older church which you will see in the village is what remains of the medieval church of Woburn. While modern St Mary’s was under construction, much of it was demolished, but not the elegant tower which had been restored by Blore in 1830. Today it houses the Woburn Heritage Centre, a museum of local life and history which is well worth a visit.

Ringing times

1st Sunday in the month 5-15 p.m.
2nd Sunday 9-30 a.m.
Practice night 1st Thursday , other Thursdays by arrangement, please contact Bob Tregillus on 01525 379973 or email tregillus@hotmail.com 

Recruitment: please contact Bob Churchill on 01525 280632
Peals rung : Woburn, St Mary, Bedfordshire 106 https://www.cccbr.org.uk/felstead/tbid.php?tid=5608 Woburn,
St Mary (old church), Bedfordshire 15 https://www.cccbr.org.uk/felstead/tbid.php?tid=6532

Anyone interested in learning to ring can visit us on the 1st Thursday in the month. There is a ring of 8 bells whose weights are:-

  cwt qr lbs
Treble 6 2 13
2nd 7 0 0
3rd 8 0 19
4th 9 1 27
5th 11 2 18
6th 12 3 2
7th 17 1 13
Tenor 24 1 16

The inscription on the Tenor bell reads “This peal, recast from 7 bells in the old tower and from the large bell formerly hanging in this tower, was presented to the church of St Mary, Woburn by Herbrand XI Duke of Bedford K.G. on Christmas Day A.D. 1910. C R Dickinson MA., Vicar, C.P. Hall, W.T. Hulatt, Churchwardens”

The Organ was built in 1904 by Norman & Beard Ltd The Blower is a 1904 Sturtevant Kinetic fan maximum output 5″ wind driven by 3hp electric motor. The Action is exhaust pneumatic except the pedals which were electrified by Leighton Organs in 1962. The Manual compass is 58 notes and the Pedal 32 notes. The organ was overhauled in 1974 by Norman Hall & Sons of Cambridge and has recently had the reservoir leathers renewed by Alan Goulding

GREAT SWELL (Enclosed)
Double Diapason (Metal) 16′ Lieblich Bourdon  16′
Open Diapason Large  8′ Violin Diapason 8′
Open Diapason Small  8′ Lieblich Gedeckt 8′
Wald Flute  8′ Echo Gamba 8′
Dolce  8′ Voix Celeste (Tenor C) 8′
Principal  4′ Lieblich Flute 4′
Harmonic Flute  4′ Gemshorn 4′
Fifteenth 2′ Fifteenth 2′
Dulciana Mixture






Trumpet  8′ Contra Fagotto 16′
Oboe 8′
Vox Humana 8′
Swell Octave (Repeats on Great but not Choir) 8′
PEDAL CHOIR (Enclosed) 4′
Harmonic Bass (from Bourdon) 32′ Contra Viola 4′
Open Diapason (Wood) 16′ Dulciana 2′
Violone (Metal) 16′  Aeoline 8′
(from Great Double Diapason) 16′ Rohr Flute 8′
Bourdon 16′ Viola 4′
Bass Flute (From Bourdon) 8′ Flauto Traverso 4′
Octave (From Violone) 8′ Piccolo 2′
Trombone 16′ Clarionet 8′
Orchestral Oboe 8′
 Swell to Choir Swell tremulant Trigger Lever
Swell to Great Reversible Toe Piston Great to Pedal
Choir to Great Four Toe Pistons to Swell (Duplicating Thumb Pistons)
Swell to Pedal (Mechanical) Four Toe Pistons to Pedal
Great to Pedal (Mechanical) Four Thumb Pistons to Swell (Duplicating Toe Pistons)
Choir to Pedal (Mechanical) Four Thumb Pistons to Great
Three Thumb Pistons to Choir
Great and Pedal Piston Coupler Switch
Balanced Pedals to Swell and Choir

The Pistons are adjustable by switches behind the side panels