Monday 24th August
Today we experienced our first seriously rainy day of touring and it certainly makes a contrast to the high thirties we experienced for a month in Italy. We drove from Chippingham 35 minutes south to the C15th mansion of Longleat, ancestral home of the Thynne family who survived Tudor politics, serious Cromwellian warfare and the ups and downs of aristocratic life and who still own their house today.
The present Marquess is an artist and patron of artists who has added to the over 1000 paintings and portraits in Longleat his own quite impressive political and social comment art as well as two mazes and many other garden additions. In 2010 he handed over the running of the estate to his son Viscount Seymour.
The estate is vast although not as big as in Elizabethan days. It still measures 1000 acres of immaculately kept parklands initially established by famous English landscape designer Capability Brown. In addition there are 4000 acres of farmland which includes a running farm and another 4000 acres of woodland.
It was Henry Thynne (1905 -1992) who saved Longleat from the English death duties taxation system (and in the process many other stately homes). Against significant ridicule he opened the house to the public on a regular paying basis thereby setting a standard for many eventually to follow. In addition as an amazing entrepreneur he created an impressive wildlife safari park and a holiday campsite. Many major public events are held at Longleat and many films have been made there. Longleat is generally regarded as the most impressive still standing Elizabethan house in England.
The House itself contains just one space, the baronial hall remaining from Elizabethan times but that itself is an impressive space. Many ot the changes that have been made were completed in the C19th by architect Sir Jeffrey Wyatville but what made an impact on us were the rich furnishings throughout the house and the high standard with which the interior and furnishings have been maintained. In addition the very committed and enthusiastic staff made an impact by their passion for the house. What made an impact on me was the library of over 44 000 books in seven extraordinary rooms! Hmm…
Leaving Longleat after a very pleasant lunch in the crypt of the mansion, we journeyed back to Chippenham via the beautiful small Cotswolds town of Bradford on Avon which contains three very historic churches. We were able to visit two of them. The most ancient is a small and simple Saxon Church, the Church of St Laurence whose existence is noted by William of Malmesbury in the 1120’s but thought by him to date back to the time of St Aldheim (died 709) although this date is contested and the original Saxon site may have been on the site of the present Holy Trinity Anglican Church. This is an ancient church indeed and reminds me of the simple chapel we saw in Glendalough Monastery in southern Ireland some years ago.
Holy Trinity is also an ancient church in Bradford on Avon although substantially rebuilt in the 1860’s. It certainly dates from the C12th on this site and ancient features include a faded wall painting in the sanctuary dating from c1300, the C15th tower, a funeral tomb for Anne Yew dating to 1601, the memorial to Charles Steward who fell off his horse in 1698 and the amazing “squint” or “hagiograph”…a long small corridor with a window into the sanctuary to enable leprosy sufferers to see the priest and hear what was happening in the sanctuary. In the former monastery in which the chapel was built there was a leprosy hospital. The Church will soon celebrate its millennium and is a lively and spiritually active community.