The Longleat estate, built in 1580 and belonging to the Thynne family, is spacious and versatile, showcasing tapestries, manuscripts and paintings, as well as rolling countryside.
When John Thynne bought a derelict priory, some land and an orchard in 1541, he could never have dreamed of the Longleat estate which exists today. Most of the house was completed by 1580 and 15 generations of the Thynne family have lived here since then; currently, the present Marquess of Bath, Ceawlin Thynn, lives here and manages the business. In the 17th century, Sir James Thynne invited Sir Christopher Wren to modify the house, and his grandson, 1st Viscount Weymouth, added formal gardens and fountains. Not all family members approved of these modifications, however, and Wren’s staircase was removed and the formal gardens replaced with a park landscaped by Lancelot “Capability” Brown less than a 100 years after they had been built.
The Thynne family are keen art fans, and the house has many paintings and artefacts that have been passed down through the family. The libraries count over 40,000 books, and there’s a set of Flemish tapestries in the 90-foot long Saloon, as well as many paintings including a Titian painting that was stolen from the house in the 1990s.
Longleat was one of the first grand English homes to open to the public in 1949. There are several different tours. For example, the “butlers and housekeepers tour” will take you through the hidden passages which were used by servants and maids in years gone by, and the “scandalous history tour” will give you the low-down of all the family drama over the last 500 years. Some of these tours change their route every day, so you never know what you’ll find when you visit.
Outside, you’ll find several gardens and walks including a Pleasure Walk, Secret Garden and Sun Maze. You can visit the grounds either by yourself, or on a guided tour. The Safari Park which opened in 1966 was the first drive-through safari park outside Africa and many children will enjoy the experience of gazing out of the car at the lions, monkeys and cheetahs that roam the land.
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