At 4,500 acres, the Savernake is the largest privately-owned forest in Britain. Owned by the Earl of Cardigan and his family, since 1939 the running of the forest has been undertaken by the Forestry Commission on a 999-year lease.
The forest is mostly open to the public, although visitors are encouraged to stick to footpaths when crossing farmland, and there are a number of private residences.
The Savernake is an ancient forest. The Saxons called it the Safernoc. Aroyal forest was established in the 12th century, when it extended to an area of some 150 square miles.
King Henry VIII used to visit the forest warden, Sir John Seymour, for a spot of deer hunting, and it was on one such expedition that he met Jane Seymour.
The high point for the forest is considered to be the period between 1741 and 1814 when Charles Bruce and his nephew Thomas Bruce-Brudenell were custodians of the forest.
Lord Thomas Bruce, the Earl of Ailesbury, governor to the King George IV, employed Capability Brown to plant great beech avenues in Savernake Forest, which was then some 40,000 acres, nearly ten times its present size.
These included the Grand Avenue, running through the heart of the forest, and which at 3.9 miles stands in the Guinness Book of Records as the longest tree-lined avenue in Britain.
The Grand Avenue runs from the outskirts of Marlborough to Tottenham House. The Grade I listed building has 100 rooms and dates from around 1820, where it was built on the site of previous homes.
For much of the 20th century, the house was rented to Hawtreys Preparatory School, a feeder school for Eton. The school buildings were requisitioned by the War Office during the Second World War, and during the early stages of the war the forest became an ammunition dump, where up to 22,000 tons of high explosives and other ammunition was stored.
In 2006, Tottenham House, with its stable block, outbuildings and some farmland, was leased for 150 years to a consortium of Euro Property Holdings, Conduit Investments and the Buena Vista Hospitality Group of Tampa, Florida, to become a luxury hotel and golfing centre, although the economic downturn seems to have brought a temporary halt to proceedings.
In 2008 the band Radiohead recorded their album In Rainbows at the house.
Although the house and parkland are not open to the public, a public footpath from the hamlet of Durley to the pretty forest church of St Katharine's – built in 1861 as a chapel of ease to Great Bedwyn – runs closer to the building that views from the main road would allow.
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