Lydia, Duchess of Bedford, 88, Pioneer in Noble-Tourism, Dies

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Lydia, Duchess of Bedford, an English aristocrat who helped transform Woburn Abbey, her second husband’s ancestral home in Bedfordshire, into a pioneering and satisfyingly lucrative example of blueblood tourism, died July 25 in Chertsey, Surrey, England. She was 88.

Her death came after she was injured in a fall, said Paul de Fraine, personal assistant to the present duke.

After inheriting Woburn Abbey in 1953, with its staggering estate taxes and annual heating bills of $14,000, Ian Russell, 13th Duke of Bedford, a former newspaper reporter and rent collector, decided to make the dilapidated property pay for itself by reinventing it as a tourist attraction. It was not easy; half the building had been demolished because of dry rot.

The estate, with more than 10,000 acres of land, had been in the Russell family since 1547, and when the new duke and duchess, who had been farming in South Africa, were called home to do their dynastic duty, they literally rolled up their sleeves and washed antique porcelain dinner services and dusted off the paintings by Canaletto, Landseer and Van Dyck.

Six months of cleaning later, Woburn Abbey’s doors were opened to the public in 1954. The entrance fee was a half-crown, about 35 cents; it is now £10.50, about $20.

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