Lions and tigers and lanterns...oh my!

Date Posted: 01/10/2015

Pictured: A dragon boat at Longleat's Festival of Light.

As Longleat approaches the 50th anniversary of its safari park, Sarah Holt discovers what the estate’s plans are for the next half century.

At the end of September, the BBC made a three-part documentary about the Longleat estate in Wiltshire. Entitled All Change at Longleat it focused on Ceawlin Thynn, heir to the 7th Marquess of Bath, and the story of how he has settled-in to running the Longleat Estate since his father passed on the responsibility to him in 2010.

What the three million viewers of the documentary might not have realised is that change is nothing new at Longleat. It’s part of a culture that has been present at the historic estate since Ceawlin’s grandfather opened the first safari park outside of Africa in the grounds in 1966.

The first visitors were so bewildered by the concept of a drive-through live animal experience that some of them drove past the wild lions with their windows open.
In fact, a dedication to change is embodied in Longleat’s core values, which assert that the estate should be true to its pioneering roots at all times.

Need proof? You only need to glance back to 2014, when Longleat launched its first Chinese lantern festival. The idea of CEO Bob Montgomery, The Festival of Light saw 40 Chinese artists descend on the property to install a series of huge lantern displays throughout the grounds.

The event was such a success that the 2015 festival will feature more lanterns, including a huge dragon boat, which will be installed in the middle of Longleat’s lake in time for November.

Hugo the lion at Longleat

Pictured: One of Longleat's iconic lions - Hugo.

The theme of change will also fuse in to 2016, when Longleat will host an entire year of novel celebrations to mark the 50th anniversary of its safari park.

In April, a brand new event space will open at the estate, which will be used for putting on shows and hosting corporate events and banquets. The new area will come into its own next summer, when Longleat will launch its African Summer – a celebration of the estate’s African animals.

As part of the festivities a daily Africa-themed show will take place in the event space, featuring acrobats, dancers, musicians and gymnasts. 

Of course, ‘pioneering’ is not the only word in Longleat’s mission statement. The estate is also dedicated to being real, immersive, wondrous and true to its heritage.

The final motif is something that Longleat is going to make a priority next year. Regular visitors to the estate might have already noticed a change in the Longleat logo, which now features a lion wearing the estate’s house as a crown.

“For a while, the house at Longleat became lost,” explains Alex Lloyd from Longleat. “All the emphasis had been put on the safari park and the house and grounds had become marginalised. But we wouldn’t have the safari park without the house. The park exists to support the house and to keep it in fantastic condition. We wanted to make it clear, through the logo, that the two are one and the same.”

Longleat House

Pictured: Longleat house.

Ceawlin’s wife, Emma, will be a driving force in bringing out the heritage of Longleat house next year. At the start of 2016, she’ll be launching Emma’s Kitchen in the cellars of the Elizabethan property, which will double up as a shop and cookery demonstration space.

Emma has been researching the sort of foods that have been historically eaten at Longleat and she’ll be preparing a selection of recipes and on-the-shelf products inspired by her research into these foods from the past as well as the present. In Elizabethan times pineapples were grown at the stately home as a sign of prosperity, so Emma has created a range of pineapple inspired recipes, like chutney, for example.

In 2016, Longleat will also celebrate the 300th anniversary of Capability Brown, who designed some of the grounds at the estate. From April, groups will be able to take special Capability Brown tours, which include a cream tea.

And as for the future? More animal attractions are in the pipeline. Although, in keeping with the estate’s heritage ‘absolutely no roller coasters’ will ever be built at the estate. Whatever the future holds, however, one thing remains true – you’ll get the best experience of Longleat by visiting in person, rather than watching it on a screen.

The Longleat timeline

Nov 1964:     Jimmy Chipperfield meets the 6th Marquess of Bath at Longleat and proposes the idea of a safari park.

Mar 1966:     The first eight lions arrive at Longleat from quarantine quarters at Plymouth.

Apr 1966:     Safari park is opened to the public with 50 lions.

Mar 1967:     Safari boat trip opens on lake while hippopotamuses are released into the lake enclosure and chimpanzees released on Ape Island.

May 1968:     East African Game Reserve opens featuring 17 giraffes, 12 zebras, antelope, ostriches and cranes.

1969:             Monkey jungle opens with more than 200 baboons.

Apr 1976:     Opening of the tiger reserve on the 10th anniversary of the safari park opening.

2010 - 2013:   New attractions open including Penguin Island with Humbolt penguins, Gorilla Colony and the African Village with a Lemur walk-through.

A Q&A with Ceawlin Thynn, Viscount Weymouth

Q. What’s your favourite part of Longleat?

A. Within the house it would have to be the living area that Emma and I created (well, that she created really!) – it’s a real sanctuary. Outside it is the Love Maze and Peacock Garden – very romantic!

Q. If you could sum up your vision for the future of the estate in three words what would they be?

A. Pioneering, harmonious, spectacular.

Q. What future plans are you most excited about?

A. There are so many, most of which are currently secret, so if I told you I’d have to kill you!

Q. What’s your favourite season at Longleat?

A. Christmas, because it’s a relatively new season for us and as a family experience I think it’s the best in the UK.

To find out more about Longleat visit www.longleat.co.uk.

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