To the Manor Born: Longleat

History Facts

Where: Wiltshire, Southwest England
When: 16th century
History: Unusual Italian influences 400 year old stately home turned into a money spinning theme park by an eccentric Marquis
Go there for: The legendary lions of Longleat and the spectacular 18th century gardens

Longleat is an English stately home with a difference. Despite its distinguished history, Longleat was the first stately home to open it’s doors to the public, and now the estate and its attractions are one of the most popular family days out in the south of England.

What happened here?

After Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries in 1539, the former medieval priory of the Black Canons and all its grounds were purchased by Sir John Thynne. When the priory burned down in 1567, Thynne, who had been knighted in 1547, wanted to build a house that was a fitting seat for his newly titled family. The house he built was unusual for 16th century architecture, as it reflected the new Italian-style and looked out towards the magnificent grounds rather than in towards the courtyard. It has retained the same exterior appearance since Sir John’s death in 1580.

In the 18th century, renowned landscape gardener Capability Brown set to work laying out the gardens, orangery and terraces. His extravagant genius is still evident in the gardens today.

As working class culture boomed in the 1960s, the fortunes of England’s upper classes began to wane. Maintenance costs were sky-high and the nobility had to find new ways to fund their extravagant lifestyles. The sixth Marques of Bath came up with the answer: he installed a number of new attractions on the grounds and for a small fee welcomed the public into his historic home.

His Lordship, the 7th Marques of Bath still lives at Longleat. He traces his family history back as far as Tassipus, the Roman historian, Charlemagne, and William the Conqueror. The Marques is an eccentric fellow who has decorated his private apartments with a series of flamboyant murals.

What’s there to see & do?

– Apart from the magnificent house, there’s a host of attractions in the grounds of Longleat which are open throughout the year. You should allow an entire day to see everything on offer. The Lions of Longleat in the safari park are world famous, and there’s also a pet’s corner, the butterfly garden and the maze. For fans of the cult TV series, there’s an excellent Dr Who exhibition.

– There are regular special events held at Longleat and you can also arrange private functions and weddings on the estate.

Updated! Events and Filming

(sourced from Wikipedia)

  • Longleat staged the Red Bull Air Race in 2005. The second Air Race event at Longleat took place in 2006 but was cancelled at the last minute due to poor weather conditions.
  • The Bollywood superhit film Mohabbatein starring Shahrukh Khan and Amitabh Bachchan was filmed at Longleat, which served as the location for the Gurukul School.
  • The nature programme Animal Park was filmed at the park.
  • A copy of the painting The Fallen Madonna, a running joke from the BBC television sitcom ‘Allo ‘Allo, was made for Henry Thynne and hangs in Longleat House.
  • It was transformed into ‘Memory Manor’, a laboratory to explore memory skills and the working of the brain for the BBC show How to Improve Your Memory.
  • In the 1959 film Libel, Longleat is used as the estate of Dirk Bogarde’s character.
  • Several episodes of the BBC science-fiction television series Doctor Who were filmed at Longleat, and for 30 years a Doctor Who Exhibition was hosted on the grounds of Longleat.


Longleat Estate
BA12 7NW
Tel :- +44 (0)1985 844400
Fax :- +44 (0)1985 844885

Lord Bath
Fascinating website of the seventh Marques of Bath, expounding his ideas on life, poetry, art and his own unconventional lifestyle.

Wiltshire Web
County-wide information on all there is to see and do in Wiltshire.

 Main image: A View of Longleat, Jan Siberechts, 1675, oil on canvas.

By Jess Halliday