At the heart of a vast estate, the majority of which is still essentially a medieval deer-park, stands an imposing stone mansion that was the ancestral seat of the Legh family for nearly 600 years. In 1398 Margaret Legh came to Lyme Park, after exchanging an annuity granted to her grandfather several years earlier for his courageous efforts at the Battle of Crecy whilst accompanying the Black Prince. At that time Lyme Park was probably no more than a modest hunting lodge surrounded by forest and moorland.
Development of the estate began in the 16th century, when Sir Piers Legh VII instigated an extensive rebuilding programme, which successive generations further improved and added to as fashions changed. In the 1720s a major modernisation of Lyme Park was undertaken by the famous Venetian architect, Giacomo Leoni, whose work included recasing the original house, creating spacious internal areas, and constructing the magnificent Italian style courtyard. Peter Legh XIII bought most of the fine furniture that can be seen in Lyme Park, today towards the end of the 18th century to compliment the newly decorated rooms. Shortly after this major restoration and refurbishment, Peter suffered a family tragedy and let Lyme Park deteriorate into a dreadful state, which was further compounded by his successor.
Salvation came in the form of Thomas Legh, an intrepid explorer and collector whose pioneering journey through Egypt and up the Nile was well documented in 1816. Being an extremely wealthy young man, he decided to give the outdated family home a completely new lease of life and commissioned Lewis Wyatt to undertake this enormous task. Every room received his attention in some way but, quite remarkably, the sympathetic way in which Wyatt handled the remodelling in no way impacted on the 17th century character of Lyme Park. A superb example of the quality and tastefulness of his work is perhaps most prominent in the saloon with its magnificent rococo ceiling and the Grinling Gibbons carved wood decorations. Throughout, the house is quite striking, with massive round-headed doorways and huge fireplaces contrasting well with the more delicate ornamentation.
Like so many of his predecessors, William John Legh had been a soldier and a politician during his life and, after accepting a peerage, he became the first Lord Newton in 1892. His contribution to the improvements at Lyme Park included the creation of the beautiful Dutch garden, the building of a new stable block, and the addition of many new buildings on the estate. When the 3rd Lord Newton inherited the much-cherished family property in 1942, he immediately handed it over to the National Trust, to ensure the future of Lyme Park and the vast estate, totalling some 1400 acres.
Throughout its long occupation by the Legh family, Lyme Park has certainly witnessed some interesting characters and events. There have been competent businessmen, valiant soldiers, influential MPs and diplomats, not forgetting one of the more colourful members of the family who made his claim to fame as an Egyptologist. With a great deal of documentary evidence, numerous family portraits, and many personal possessions, there is something from every one of the Leghs' lives on display.