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Duke and Duchess of Bedford, the 13th

Category: Business and political leaders

 

John Ian Robert Russell, 13th Duke of Bedford (24 May 1917 – 25 October 2002), was a British peer and writer. He inherited Woburn Abbey from his father and was the first Duke of Bedford to open Woburn Abbey up to the public.

Bedford married Clare Gwendolen (née Bridgman) Hollway (1903–1945) on 6 April 1939. She died of a drug overdose in 1945.   On 13 February 1947, he married his second wife, Lydia Lyle (born 17 October 1917 – died 25 July 2006). They were divorced in 1960. Bedford married Nicole (Schneider) Milinaire (29 June 1920 – 7 September 2012) on 4 September 1960. There were no children from this marriage. The marriage lasted until his death in 2002.

 

This entry is about the Duke and the third Duchess - Nicole, along with one of her children by a previous marriage.

Nicole Russell, Duchess of Bedford (born Nicole Marie Charlotte Pierrette Jeanne Schneider, and often known professionally as Nicole Milinaire; 29 June 1920, Paris-6 September 2012) was one of the first female television producers in France. After becoming the Duchess of Bedford, she helped the Duke popularize one of the first Stately homes to be opened to the public - Woburn Abbey. She was also a best-selling author.

Milinaire was the eldest child of Capt. Paul Schneider, a World War I flying Ace, and Marguerite Durand, of the noble Crouzet de Rayssac (or Raissac) des Roches family on her mother's side. Shortly after turning eighteen years old, her parents told her she would be married that December to Henri Milinaire, a painter 14 years older than herself whose family owned steelworks in France. With Henri she became the mother of four children: Didier Milinaire, Caterine Milinaire, Gilles Milinaire, and Anyes Milinaire.  It is Anyes who also figures in this entry. 

 

Bedford and his third wife became tax exiles in 1974, leaving the United Kingdom and eventually settling in Monaco. Bedford died in Santa Fe, New Mexico, in 2002.  Nicole, Duchess of Bedford, died in September 2012, aged 92.

The reason for the entry is that a part of Woburn Abbey – a part that visitors of today do not see – has ‘ghosts’ that the family saw.

Dr George Owen and Victor Sims - Conclusions

l. There is a good prima facie case for supposing that Woburn Abbey is "haunted" by an influence generating physical phenomena.

2. The facts on balance suggest that this influence does not fit the "classic poltergeist" situation, but may be of the genius loci variety.

3. No evidence serves to identify the genius loci or characterise it at all precisely

The observations

The observations come from the rather unfortunately titled Science and the Spook by George Owen and Victor Sims.  Dr A R G Owen was a Fellow of Trinity College Cambridge and a Geneticist, Biologist and Mathematician, his scientific papers having been published in the prestigious Proceedings of the Royal Society and also in Nature.  But he was also very interested in phenomena which had not yet been explained by science - poltergeists, healing, and apparitions. Hence the title of the book.  In 1964, Dr Owen was awarded the Duke University prize for his ‘distinguished work’ in the field of scientific analysis of the ‘unexplained’.

Victor Sims is most notable for being [ironically] the ghost writer for people like Honor Blackman [the Avengers and the Bond films] but also Donald Hume the murderer, and he specialised in investigative reporting.

In the 1960s, Dr Owen, who was a member of the SPR (Society for Psychical Research), decided to undertake a detailed survey with Victor Sims of some of the cases that had come to light as a consequence of the work of the SPR.  Owen and Sims visited the Duke and Duchess at Woburn on 15th July, 1966.  Woburn’s popularity with its visitors has nothing to do with any ‘ghosts’, as such both Owen and Sims knew that the Duke and Duchess were telling them what they knew of the phenomena in the house, because they were as interested in finding out why it was happening as the investigators were.  The Duke and Duchess were exceptionally helpful and hospitable and “afforded us every facility to interview the servants, many of whom had been employed at the Abbey for a very long time”.

Woburn Abbey

Woburn Abbey occupying the east of the village of Woburn, Bedfordshire, England, is a country house, the family seat of the Duke of Bedford. Although it is still a family home to the current duke, it is open on specified days to visitors, along with the diverse estate surrounding it, including the historic landscape gardens and deer park (by Humphry Repton), as well as more recently added attractions including Woburn Safari Park, a miniature railway and a garden/visitor centre.

the current duke in front of the house with his family

Woburn Abbey is a great mansion, comparable with Blenheim Palace but more graceful, and immensely rich in art treasures and objects of historic interest.

The house takes its name from the Cistercian Abbey which was suppressed in 1538. 

The Abbot, the Sub-Prior and a monk were hanged on a great oak tree about 20 yards from the West front of the house.

Nothing remains of the abbey. The house first built by Francis Russell, the 3rd Earl of Bedford, in 1626 is now represented only by the North Wing of the present building, successive Earls and Dukes having extensively demolished and rebuilt.

Naturally enough a place as large and as ancient as Woburn Abbey has tended to acquire several traditions of the uncanny.  At the time that Owens and Sims visited the house, there was a bare patch on the lawn below the branch of the oak tree from which it is supposed the monks were hanged, and which Owen concluded “doubtless results from purely natural causes.

the Blue Drawing Room

A portrait, which was then in the Dukes' Corridor showed a black boy in attendance upon Wriothesley, the 3rd Duke. Some of the servants at the time believed this boy to have been murdered, and that in times past his apparition had been seen in the Abbey. However as this ghost had not been seen within living memory, it was beyond the reach of the critical analysis of Owen and Sims. The Duchess indicated that the servants' tradition concerning the boy was not factually accurate.  Although subject to extreme violence, the boy was not murdered, but tied up and imprisoned one night in the Masquerade Room and then “taken out by the housebreakers and desperadoes responsible and thrown into the lake, being fortunate to escape drowning”.  This fact is relevant to the observations, however, as it is the room in which the imprisonment occurred that saw some of the ‘haunting’ activity.

The Long Gallery today, used for exhibitions, weddings and celebrations

A Long Gallery traverses the length of the main block (which runs from north to south). The Gallery at Woburn was once the informal meeting place of the great Whig politicians, and various State rooms open from it.

The floor above is in attic form with dormer windows. It is traversed by a passage called (for reasons unknown) "the Nuns' Corridor". From this there opens a series of guest-rooms “attractively modernised by their Graces”.

And it is in these rooms, notably the Green Room and the Rose Room, previously known as the Masquerade Room - that some of the strangest things have taken place.  The rooms were subject to ‘door opening’.  The Green and Rose Rooms are separate from another room in the private wing used formerly by the Duke and the family as a television room, which was also subject at that time to inexplicable door-opening.  A summer house, "The Thornery", in the grounds had the reputation of a “depressive and unhappy affect”.

Plan of Woburn before alterations - notice the Egg shape and the
cross, we suspect that at one time the Repton plan [Repton knew
his symbolism ] was more Egg shaped

When Owen and Sims examined the lock of the Rose Room and the fit and hanging of the door, they “discerned no imperfection, and believe there is no tendency for the door to open spontaneously”.

It might be argued that in the night, temperature effects might cause extreme changes in the hanging of the door. However the phenomenon appeared to only happen with a particular group of guests, female rather than male ones, - sensitives in other words – which tends to militate against this explanation.  Although it apparently also happened to Paul Getty when he slept in the Green Room. Owen and Sims concluded that:

we feel it is fair to say that there exists at present a strong prima facie case for believing that an unaccountable physical phenomenon does occur at the Rose Room.  It would be tempting, since Miss Aynes Milinaire has been apparently the person most subjected to this nuisance, to ascribe it as primarily resulting from herself functioning as a poltergeist medium, especially since she is within the age-range normally encountered. But such a conclusion would be extremely unsafe.
Miss Milinaire has been accompanied by no phenomena elsewhere. Also, other ladies have encountered the door-opening in the Rose Room. The haunting, if paranormal, would seem therefore to be of the genius loci variety.

Owens and Sims hypothesised that the terror the poor little black boy must have experienced as a result of his maltreatment, might have imprinted itself in the fabric of the building and this was then ‘replayed’ as a constant need to escape his imprisonment

Ghost hunters would find it an attractive hypothesis to suppose that the Rose Room (Masquerade Room) acquired its "psychic charge" as a result of the experiences there of the unfortunate black servant. The fact that he did not die there is of no significance, because on a "trace" theory of hauntings it is the "emotional charge" generated by those who are either the subject or object of violent deeds that in some way "rubs off" on the environment.

Although this might explain the imprinting of the effects, it does not explain why they were replayed and we think it has to do with the site. 

Abbeys were placed on ‘telluric hot spots’, places where extremely high levels of experience could be guaranteed.  The design of Woburn with its central courtyard and its water features, simply served to concentrate that energy.  This is also a sacred site.  Only those sensitive to this level of resonance by virtue of their size would notice – women and young adults.  Men would probably be too big to resonate with the right frequency.

 

Observations

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