Longleat is a late Elizabethan
country house with extensive grounds designed in the 17th century by 'Capability' Brown
. It is set in the Wiltshire
countryside, 20 km from the city of Bath
Since 1540, Longleat has been the home of the Thynne (Thynn) family. Since around 1760, the eldest Thynne son has traditionally borne the title of Marquess of Bath (Lord Bath) Through some key innovations by the two most recent owners, Longleat has become a pioneer in the development of the UK's flourishing historical tourism industry. It was the first ancestral home to be opened to the public (in 1949) and subsequently (1966), the first safari park outside Africa.
Longleat itself was first bought for the Thynne family in 1540, when Henry VIII was dissolving the monasteries. The original Black Canons monastery burned down in 1567, and was re-built over the following 12 years, gaining the same broad plan as it has today in 1579.
For the next few centuries, Longleat and other ancestral homes such as Chatsworth, were run primarily for their respective families, as private residences. The land provided sufficient income to fund lavish lifestyles for the aristocratic owners. However, as wealth switched from land to business, the income from the estates became insufficient to fund the upkeep on the buildings, and far from enough to pay the heavy death duties which accrued each time the land passed from one generation to the next.
The result was that by the 1940s and 1950s, many of the old family estates in the UK were extremely short of money and the buildings were in a terrible state of repair.
The 6th Marquess of Bath changed all that. He opened the house and grounds of Longleat to the public in an effort to raise money. Over the following decades, many land owners followed this lead and as the idea became more accepted, the more far-sighted built visitor attractions on their private estates. While the families retreated to small, private apartments within the main houses, guides were hired to explain the history and relevance of the buildings, furniture and culture of the various ages through which the house and family had lived.
Longleat was the first such ancestral home to open its doors, and the first to exploit the tourism potential of its grounds with its Lions of Longleat safari park. Others quickly followed: Beaulieu, Chatsworth, Woburn Abbey, and even Buckingham Palace opened their doors to the public and most have built attractions in the grounds to meet the increasing demand from historical tourists and day trippers.
Under the current Lord Bath, 7th Marquess of Bath, (Alexander Thynn), the Longleat estate continues to flourish. It was voted UK Family Attraction of the Year 2002" by the Good Britain Guide, and now has ten specific 'attractions' in addition to a number of other ways to raise money.
Aside from the house and grounds with the safari park--which offers vistors the chance to drive past lion, tiger, giraffe, baboons and, of course, monkeys, the Longleat visit offers ten specific paid-for attractions. You can buy a pass which allows one-time entry to each of these attractions. The pass is valid for the whole summer season, so that visitors can spread their visit over a number of days.
Beyond these, the park offers fishing, conferences, accommodation and other ways to tempt visitors to part with their money.
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