The first stately house to open to the public as a tourist attraction was Longleat. It also has the first safari park to be established outside of Africa. If you are searching for a fun location, where your family can enjoy outdoor entertainment with a mixture of history, then Longleat is a great spot to visit. The true beauty of the grounds is the immaculate house which has a long standing story in terms of history.
Key Facts about Longleat
- Current seat to the Marquess of Bath
- Awarded 2014 Certificate of Excellence by Trip Advisor
- Wedding exhibition currently on display to show the recent wedding of Ceawlin Thynn, the 12th Viscount Weymouth to Emma McQuinston.
A Brief History of Longleat
The beautiful Longleat house is situated on a 1,000 acre area of land near the towns of Warminster, in Wiltshire, and Frome, in Somerset. The property was purchased by Sir John Thynn in 1540 for only £53. At that time, it was approximately 60 acres of land that contained the original house, an orchard and a rabbit warren. The original house was burnt and destroyed during a fire in April 1567.
Sir John successfully rebuilt the house with the help of architects Adrian Gaunt, Robert Smythson, Alan Maynard, Humpfrey Lovell, and the Earl of Hertford. However, much of the design work was completed by Sir John. The house was fully completed by 1580. Sir John Thynn was the first of the Thynne dynasty. The spelling of the last name was changed to different variations throughout time. However, the current head of the family returned the name back to Thynn in the 1980s.
A variety of different nobles inherited the estate as the years progressed, each making different improvements or changes in the overall upkeep of the house. The 1st Viscount Weymouth, Thomas Thynne, created the large book collection in the house. He also commissioned the help of George London, Arnold Quellin, and Chevalier David to create the formal gardens, fountains, and canals.
Thomas also founded a boy’s grammar school in 1707 in the town of Warminster. It later became known as the Lord Weymouth School, and in 1973 it merged with the St. Monica’s School for girls to create Warminster School. His son, also named Thomas, and the 2nd Viscount Weymouth, married Louisa Carteret. Her ghost is said to haunt the house.
The next heir, who began the Marquess nobility, and carried on the name of Thomas, wanted to modernize the land to mirror that of other famous landscapes. He commissioned the famous Capability Brown to design a landscaped park that would replace the formal gardens, as well as add extra entrance roads and dramatic drives that viewers utilized when visiting. His son also worked to modernize the house by employing Jeffry Wyatville to demolish different parts of the house, which included a staircase, in order to build a larger staircase and a new gallery. He also built different buildings on the outside of the property, such as the Orangery.
The events of WWI brought a new need for the home, when it was temporarily transformed into a hospital to help the soldiers. The house was also converted into a Royal School for Daughters of Officers of the Army during WWII. Unfortunately, the war had a negative impact on the overall finances of the estate. In order to pay for death duties, Henry Frederick Thynn had to sell a large portion of the estate’s assets in 1947. He was also forced to open the house to the public in order for Longleat to prosper. The 7th Marquess of Bath, Alexander Thynn, was responsible for the creation of all of the maze designs on the property. He designed the creations himself. The house is still used as a private residence for the Thynn family.
What Makes This House Famous
The house is most famously known for the safari and adventure park that are present on the grounds. These features were first opened in 1966, and it is considered to be the first drive-through safari park outside of Africa. The safari park is considered to be a remarkable attraction, unique from other events located elsewhere. The animals are able to freely roam the grounds where they are contained, and the visitors are the ones who are in cages, or in reality, cars.
The safari park was an idea brainstormed by Jimmy Chipperfield, who is also the former co-director of Chipperfield’s Circus. Today, there are 9,000 acres owned by the Longleat estate, in which 500 animals roam in a safe and humane environment. Other features include a bat cave, penguin exhibit, hedge maze, mirror maze, jungle railway, and other equally exciting entertainment.
For visitors who want a true safari experience, there are various cottages for rent around the property that puts the visitor front and center of the safari action. They can wake up to see the sun rise over the African Village to make them feel as if they are literally in Africa. Other cottages include secluded locations around the property that provide a quiet and relaxing vacation.
TV & Film Appearances
Longleat has been the host location for several film productions. The earliest was the 1959 film ‘Libel’, in which Longleat is utilized as an estate location for Dirk Bogarde’s character. It was also a location for the Bollywood film ‘ Mohabbatein’; as well as the location for the nature program ‘Animal Park’. Other events include the estate being transformed into ‘Memory Manor’ for a memory skills program on the BBC, and the location for the Red Bull Air Race in 2005.
While the Safari portion of the estate is highly sought after, the contents inside of the house are extremely popular. The house itself is packed with antiques and important artifacts from history. Along the ceilings of the house, are ornate paintings that have made Longleat incredibly famous. The estate has introduced a new feature for guests: moving portraits. In the Great Hall, visitors can take awe in two painted portraits that come to life. The paintings show the 2nd Viscount Weymouth, Thomas Thynne, and his wife Louisa argue about the mysterious death of her manservant. There is also a ghostly vision of Louisa that floats throughout the house and visits many of the tours that are presented in the property.
The libraries in the house are also popular with a total of over 40,000 books recorded in possession. Longleat is recorded as having one of the largest private book collections in Europe. In the Great Hall of Longleat, the waistcoat worn by King Charles I, at his execution in 1649, is on display and still has the blood-stained silk sleeves intact. There are house tours that are performed every morning, lasting 40 for minutes that show many interesting antiques. Most of the contents within Longleat have been exempted from taxation. Due to this, some items are not able to be seen on a main visitor tour. Private tours are available which can show these rare items.
The Longleat house and adventure park is open daily between 21st March through until 3rd November, and they are open Friday to Monday from 28th February through to 17th March. There are also periods of time throughout the year when they are open for a limited time, such as during the Christmas holiday or when there is inclement weather. They encourage everyone to verify with the website about opening availability if they are planning on visiting the safari excursion, due to certain weather conditions that may limit the visibility of the animals. For more information about admission prices, opening and closing times, and other visiting information, check out the website: www.longleat.co.uk.