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Sixties Longleat

House c1966, Longleat
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Many fond memories of Longleat over the last 46 years: the freedom we all enjoyed as villagers to roam across the estate - the sixth Marquess was always very generous in this respect. The remains of the American hospital were still much in evidence then; dad would drive the car to one of the old stone ramps so that he could work underneath it! We'd walk across the park from Corsley before the reserve was built, and when it was finished and the lions introduced, we all worried that one might escape, but to our knowledge, they never did! Mum worked part time for the catering company J.G. Boyes who originally set up a cafe marquee near the house; this later moved to the new cafe/restaurant building that stands today. Dad also got a p/t job driving a Boyes ice cream van based in the park. Other memories include the pop concerts mounted on the front steps of the house including the Rolling Stones I seem to remember, but sadly the Beatles never played at Longleat - something we hoped for. Various TV shows were broadcast from Longleat including the children's show Tinker and Tucker. I remember seeing Viscount Weymouth, as the current Marquess was then, driving up to the house in his open top sports car and looking very cool. In the Rushpool area of the park where the Giraffe house now stands, llamas actually ran free in the park constrained only by deer fences, cattle grids and gates, and I can honestly claim to be one of very few Wiltshire schoolboys to be regularly chased on my Molton Mini bicycle by furious llamas who would chase bikes and probably cars too! In the seventies, baboons were an early addition to the menagerie and they did escape on many an occasion and run up into the parkland but to my knowledge never caused any harm or damage. The estate and surrounding farmland was very well maintained in those years with gamekeepers, carpenters and various trades employed to keep everything in order. As kids we were welcome to wander - with the exception of pheasant pens there were no boundaries and we appreciated it. Also during the sixties, motorcycle scrambles were held in the parkland and there were hillclimbs up to Heaven's Gate. In the 70s and early 80s the Lombard Rally included Longleat as a stage. From Park Hill a small aeroplane operated giving people an aerial tour of the estate, for £5 I seem to remember - I believe Park Hill had been a small airfield used by the USAF during WW2 for bringing in casualties to the hospital. Finally, I must mention Carpet Walk that linked Heaven's Gate with the car park on the Horningsham road. In those days it really was like walking on a carpet of green. Maybe one day the grass will be allowed to recover and once more it will be known as "Carpet Walk". We also used to walk regularly through Cannimore and Redway Plain, which is where Centre Parcs is now situated. There wasn't a part of the estate we didn't know in those days. These have been just some of my memories, but I hope somebody will contribute with memories from the 50s and 40s including recollections of the Royal School, RAF Crabtree and the USAF Hospital. Longleat has such a fascinating history.

Written by Geoff Pridmore. To send Geoff Pridmore a private message, click here.

A memory of Longleat in Wiltshire shared on Wednesday, 20th September 2006.

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