Since becoming patrons of Paris House, we have heard so much about the building, from past inhabitants, research, historians and customers. We have pieced everything together to tell what we think is the most accurate story of this incredible building – but if you know more, do get in touch!
Paris House was originally built in 1878 as part of The Paris International Exhibition. The ‘Street of Nations’ was located on the Rue des Nations (next to the Quai d’Orsay) in Paris. The street was 730 metres in length, and was devoted to examples of the domestic architecture of nearly every country in Europe and several in Asia, Africa and America. It was bordered on each side by 28 pavilions representing 28 countries.
Britain was represented by 5 houses, of which Paris House was one. Visitors to the exhibition entered the 220,000 square metre Grand Exhibition Hall through the front door of any one of these houses. Consider that London Excel is 100,000 square metres, or London Olympia just 20,000 square metres – gives you some idea of the scale!
On 30 June 1878, the completed head of the Statue of Liberty was showcased in the garden of the Trocadéro palace, while other pieces were on display in the Champs de Mars. Among the many inventions on display was Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone. Electric arc lighting had been installed all along the Avenue de l’Opera and the Place de l’Opera, and in June, a switch was thrown and the area was lit by electric Yablochkov arc lamps, powered by Zénobe Gramme dynamos. Thomas Edison had on display a megaphone and phonograph. So Paris House was in good company!
Over 13 million people paid to attend the exposition, making it a financial success. The cost of the enterprise to the French government, which supplied all the construction and operating funds, was a little less than a million British Pounds, after allowing for the value of the permanent buildings and the Trocadero Palace, which were sold to the city of Paris.
Paris House, designed by Gilbert Redgrave and built by William Cubitt & Son, was based on the Renaissance half-timbered architecture of the Cheshire region of England and was erected in prefabricated sections of the Tudor style and pegged together. The 9th Duke of Bedford fell in love with the building, had it dismantled, shipped piece by piece to its current home and rebuilt in the stunning grounds of the Woburn Estate. Here, it was extended and made into a usable home.
On arrival at Woburn the building was used mainly as accommodation for staff of the Abbey. Duchess Mary Russell of Bedford, the wife of the 11th Duke, also used it as a hospital and it soon became affectionately known locally as the ‘Tonsil Hospital’. The Duchess, known as “The High Flying Duchess” because of her passion for planes, invited a pilot who had rescued her when she crashed her plane in the desert, to use the house. He lived here until 1937 when, at the age of 71, The Duchess disappeared after leaving Woburn Abbey in a De Havilland Gipsy Moth Plane which crashed into the North Sea.
During the Second World War the house played host to many notable guests. During this time Paris House welcomed The Queen Mother’s brother, King George VI, Queen Elizabeth (as she was then), General de Gaulle and Dennis Sefton Delmer – director of Special Operations during the war and the first British journalist to interview Hitler.
There is a bomb shelter in the back garden that is said to have been built for Winston Churchill as a bolt hole from his work at nearby Bletchley Park, home of code-breaking. We are also told that there were clear plans for the King & Queen and two princesses to be evacuated here if necessary. There are underground tunnels connecting us to nearby Milton Bryan, home of black propaganda where broadcasts of mis-information were made. Anti-Nazi military resistance member Otto John lived at Paris House while working for the British Secret Intelligence Service. We hope to find out more about this story as the Military Intelligence Museum investigates the tunnels further and releases more information.
In the years that followed, Paris House enjoyed a colourful culinary history. In 1983 it was acquired by Peter Chandler, the first English apprentice to celebrated chefs Albert and Michel Roux.
The new Paris House opened under the 10 in 8 Group in February 2010 under the culinary leadership of Executive Chef, Phil Fanning. In 2014 Phil and his wife Claire took ownership of the restaurant. A full refurbishment of kitchen and dining rooms followed in Spring 2017, injecting new life into Paris House and bringing it back to its former glory.
We plan to be here for years to come, but as the Woburn motto goes – ‘Che Sara Sara’!