The Bankes Family was one of Dorset’s largest landowner. They owned both Corfe Castle between Wareham and Swanage as well as their main house, Kingston Lacey, near Wimborne. They also owned thousands of acres of farmland.
At the time of the planning and construction of the Corkscrew Railway, Kingston Lacey was in the ownership of William John Bankes (1786 to 1855).
Generations of the Bankes family had contributed to the evolution of the Kingston Lacey estate. However, it was William John who implemented some of the most fundamental changes to the house and collections. He had spent time abroad with Wellington in the Peninsula Wars and then in Egypt. During this time, he started collecting great art work.
He set about re-imagining Kingston Lacy as a complete artwork. It became a treasure house of extraordinary art with interiors inspired by Venetian palaces.
The house is a miniature “national gallery” for the South West. It displays remarkable paintings by renowned artists like Rubens, Van Dyck, Titian, and Brueghel. Lavishly decorated interiors include the spectacular Spanish Room. The largest private collection in the UK of ancient Egyptian artefacts is displayed in the Egyptian Room.
Sadly, he never saw his vision fulfilled. In 1841 William John went into exile in Venice after he was charged for the second time with same-sex acts. At the time, homosexual relationships between men were punishable by death.
During his exile, William John continued to collect and commission art, marble carvings and furniture, all to be displayed at Kingston Lacey.
William John Bankes was never able to live at Kingston Lacy again. In 1855 he died whilst still in exile.
Kingston Lacy is the heart of the “richest ever gift” to the National Trust. The 8,500-acre estate is part of the 16,000-acre Bankes estate that was bequeathed in 1981 by Henry John “Ralph” Bankes. It is a grand estate, but it is also a proud family home.
Above all, Kingston Lacy is an extraordinary legacy of people and place. It is an estate where a pocket of rural Dorset connects with the world on account of the curiosity, vision and creativity of its most influential owner, William John Bankes.