Luxury retreats with lion views

SIX cottages on the Longleat estate, some dating back to the 18th century, are being converted into rural escapes, with the first three due to be available for bookings from April.

The project to transform a collection of cottages on the Longleat Estate into luxury retreats has revealed their fascinating history. As part of the renovation work, a team of archivists has researched the heritage of each of the properties and discovered interesting details of the lives of the people who lived in them over the centuries.

Within the Longleat archives, the researchers found original plans and drawings, and old photographs and documents which show the role of the cottages in the history of the estate.

East Lodge was originally built in the 1760s as part of Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown’s transformation of Longleat’s parkland. Constructed in the shape of a triumphal arch, it was redesigned in the 19th century by architect Jeffry Wyatville, the man behind the remodelling of Windsor Castle.

The building once afforded lodging for a porter to oversee traffic entering the Park and collecting the occasional ‘special’ tolls, such as sheep drovers’ way fees, or the shilling due from hearses taking a coffin to its burial place.

Set in secluded woodland, the 18th century Deer Keeper’s House was originally built to house the Longleat steward. By the start of the Second World War it was being used by gamekeeper Bill Buckett, who became Sergeant of Longleat’s Auxiliary Unit, set up to resist German invasion, and used as the unit’s equipment and ammunition store.

When plans for the opening of the famous Safari Park became public in 1965, the then tenant urgently requested the installation of a telephone line in case of stray lions!

Overlooking what is now the Safari Park’s East Africa reserve, the two keepers’ cottages were originally a single dwelling. Its first resident, park keeper Charles Lucas, lived there for more than 40 years. On top of his salary, he also had a weekly allowance to keep four bloodhounds. In 1968 the building was divided into two and used as accommodation for the “Lions of Longleat” keepers.

East Lodge, Keeper’s House and Keeper’s Cottage will be available for bookings from April, with Deer Keepers House, Gardeners Cottage and Prairie Lodge being added in time for the summer.

Home to the Marquesses of Bath since the 1600s, Longleat has been welcoming visitors for more than 400 years. The Wiltshire estate was the first to open its doors to the public back in 1949 and totally re-defined the world of tourism in 1966 when it launched the first drive-through safari park outside of Africa.

•         For full details on all of the cottages and information on how to book visit www.longleat.co.uk/accommodation/accommodation-at-longleat

Pictured: Longleat keepers in 1919, Charles Lucas is second right; Keepers House and Keepers Cottage, seen from the East African Plains; a leaflet advertising Longleat, when the safari park opened in 1966.