Kingston Lacy

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Kingston Lacy
The south and west sides of Kingston Lacy house
Alternative names Kingston Hall
General information
Type Country house
Architectural style Italianate architecture
Town or city Wimborne Minster, Dorset
Country England
Coordinates 50°48′39.39″N 2°1′56.12″W / 50.8109417°N 2.0322556°W / 50.8109417; -2.0322556Coordinates: 50°48′39.39″N 2°1′56.12″W / 50.8109417°N 2.0322556°W / 50.8109417; -2.0322556
Construction started 1663
Completed 1665
Client Sir John Bankes
Sir Ralph Bankes.[1]
Owner National Trust
Technical details
Structural system Red brick, later encased in Chilmark stone[1][2]
Material Red brick
Floor count 4 (2x main floors; 1x basement; 1x attic)
Grounds 164 hectares (410 acres) (5 hectares (12 acres) of gardens and pleasure grounds; 159 hectares (390 acres) of park and other ornamented land)[2]
Design and construction
Architect Roger Pratt
Other designers Inigo Jones (Interiors)
Designations Grade I listed
Renovating team
Architect Charles Barry
Kingston Lacy @ National Trust

Kingston Lacy is a country house and estate near Wimborne Minster, Dorset, England, now owned by the National Trust. From the 17th to the late 20th centuries it was the family seat of the Bankes family, who had previously resided nearby at Corfe Castle until its destruction in the English Civil War after its incumbent owners, Sir John Bankes and Dame Mary joined the side of Charles I. They owned some 8,000 acres (3,200 ha) of the surrounding Dorset countryside and coastline.[1]

The house is a Grade I listed building. The park and gardens are Grade II listed in the National Register of Historic Parks and Gardens.[2]


The grounds on which the house stands originally formed part of a royal estate within the manor of Wimborne. The original house, greatly developed in the medieval period, stood to the north of the current house and was used as a hunting lodge, with an accompanying deer park to its northwest. Leased to those in favour of the crown, these included the Lords de Lacys, Earls of Lincoln, who held it together with Shapwick and Blandford. By the 15th century the property was leased to John Beaufort, Duke of Somerset, whose daughter Lady Margaret Beaufort, mother of King Henry VII, was brought up at Kingston Lacy.[2]

In the 17th century Corfe Castle was demolished by order of parliament

By the 16th century the house was in ruins. In 1603 King James I gave the lands to Sir Charles Blount, whose son later sold the estate to Sir John Bankes in 1636, who in 1634 had been appointed Attorney General to King Charles I.[3] Sir John was born in Cumberland, but through his extensive legal works had acquired the Corfe Castle estate. During the English Civil War from 1642, the Bankes remained loyal to the crown, resulting in the death of Sir John in Oxford in 1644, and after two sieges defended by Mary Bankes, the ruination of Corfe Castle in 1645 after two Parliamentarian sieges.[2]

In March 1645 Parliament voted to slight (demolish) Corfe Castle, giving it its present appearance. As it provided a ready supply of building material, its stones were reused by the local impoverished villagers to rebuild their own homes.[4]


Sir Ralph Bankes, during whose life Kingston Lacy was constructed, portrait by Sir Peter Lely.

After the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, the Bankes family regained their properties. Rather than rebuild the ruined Corfe Castle, eldest son Ralph Bankes chose to build a new house on their other Dorset estate near Wimborne Minster.

In 1663, Ralph commissioned Sir Roger Pratt to design a new property to be known as Kingston Hall on the current site, based on Clarendon House which Ralph had visited several times. Construction of the red brick building started that same year, and was completed by 1665. The building has two main floors, plus a basement and an attic floor lit by dormer windows. The lead-covered hipped roof has a central flat section, surrounded by a balustrade with a cupola rising from its centre. The house is entered from the north through a later mid-19th-century porte-cochère, whist to the south a central door leads to a stone-flagged terrace extending the full width of the building. The east facade has a triple-arched loggia with access to the garden, while the west accesses the later 18th-century laundry and kitchen garden.[2]

The interiors were influenced by Inigo Jones, but executed by his heir John Webb, confirmed many years later when the National Trust discovered Webb's plan during their formal takeover of the estate.[1] Sited centrally within the 164 hectares (410 acres) grounds, externally the new house was provided with 5 hectares (12 acres) of formal gardens and pleasure grounds, some of which were enclosed by walls, while a series of formal avenues radiated throughout the surrounding 159 hectares (390 acres) of park lands.[2]


After the death of Sir Ralph in 1677, the house was leased by his widow from 1686 and 1688 to the Duke of Ormonde. John Bankes the Elder regained the property in 1693, and with his wife Margaret, daughter of Sir Henry Parker of Honington Hall, Warwickshire completed the majority of his fathers original development plan. After passing to his second son Henry in 1772, he remodelled the house, built a new servants wing, and enclosed the parkland for better agricultural management use.[2]

The 1784 Enclosure Act allowed Henry Bankes the Younger, the grandson of Ralph Bankes, to create the current estate and park lands footprint. This allowed him to: remove the hamlet of Kingston, situated adjacent to the 16th-century Keeper's Lodge; diverted the B3082 Blandford Road; convert the former agricultural land to parkland. He undertook some further minor alterations in the 1820s, before he became an MP for the rotten borough of Corfe. He was a trustee for the British Museum and its parliamentary advocate, and some of his collections which were once part of the house, now reside in the Museum.[1] Bankes often entertained his friends Pitt the Younger and the Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington at the house.[1]

His son, the explorer and adventurer William John Bankes commissioned his friend Charles Barry (later Sir Charles Barry, known for his re-visioning works on the Palace of Westminster), to encase the red brick Hall, and enlarge his other property Soughton Hall. The house, which was now to be formally known as Kingston Lacy, was extensively remodelled by Barry between 1835 and 1838: faced the brick with Chilmark stone; added a tall chimney to each corner; and lowered the ground level on one side, exposing the basement level and forming a new principal entrance. He also planted Lime tree avenues along the Blanford Road, of which today some 3.5 kilometres (2.2 mi) survive.[2]

William John Bankes provided most of the antiquities that currently form part of the house's collections. He travelled extensively to the Middle East and the Orient, collecting the largest individual collection of Egyptian antiques in the world.[1] Most notable is the Philae obelisk, which he brought back and which now stands prominently in the grounds of the house. He also acquired in Genoa, Italy the portrait of Maria Di Antonio Serra, by Sir Peter Paul Rubens, painted on the occasion of her marriage to Duke Nicolo Pallavicini in 1606. In 1841, after being caught in a homosexual scandal that could have resulted in a trial and his death, William John fled the country for Italy. He continued to return items that he collected to the house, and is rumoured to have returned to the house occasionally to view his collection, until his death in Venice in 1855.

During William John's absence the estate had been managed by his brother, Canon George Bankes, who inherited the estate on his brothers death, but a year before his own in 1857. His youngest grandson Walter Ralph inherited the estate in 1869, who in later life married Henrietta, and had a son Henry John Ralph Bankes. On Walter's death in 1902, his widow undertook the last major developments to the existing estate, including: construction of the church (1907); new entrance lodges (1912–13); and numerous estate cottages.[2] In 1923 control passed to Ralph Bankes, the seven times great-grandson of the original creator Sir Ralph Bankes. During World War II an extensive military encampment was established in the south-east quarter of the park, which was only restored after the National Trust took ownership.[2]

Upon his death in 1981, Ralph bequeathed the Kingston Lacy estate (including 12 working farms and Corfe Castle) to the National Trust, its largest bequest to date.[1]


On display in the house is an important collection of fine art and antiquities built up by many generations of the Bankes family. One of the rooms, the Spanish room (named by reason of the Murillo paintings which hang there), has walls hung with gilded leather. It was recently restored at a cost of several hundred thousand pounds over a 5-year period. Other important collections include paintings of the family stretching back over 400 years. Other artworks include works by Velázquez, Van Dyck, Titian and Brueghel.

Aside from the Spanish Room, the library is the most atmospheric of rooms, upon the wall of which are hung the huge keys of the destroyed Corfe Castle, handed back to Mary Bankes after her defence of Corfe Castle during the Civil War. The state bedroom is extremely ornate and has featured such important guests as Kaiser Wilhelm II who stayed with the family for a week in 1907. The main staircase is beautifully carved from stone and features three huge statues which look out onto the gardens from their seats. These depict Sir John Bankes and Lady Bankes, the defenders of Corfe Castle, and their patron, Charles I.

Within the estate are Badbury Rings (an Iron Age hill fort) and the Roman road from Dorchester to Old Sarum. Architecturally there are several huge stone gates which stand at entrances to the Lacy estate. The house and gardens are open to the public and in 2011 received 234,124 visitors.[5]



  • Pitt-Rivers, Michael, 1968. Dorset. London: Faber & Faber.
  • THE EXILED COLLECTOR by Anne Sebba. Biography of William John Bankes. ISBN 0-7195-6571-5

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