Kingston Lacy estate has a varied early history, much of which is linked with the history of the English monarchs. Anton Fägersten's "The Place Names of Dorset" lists it existing as 'Kyngeston' in 1176, though A.D. Mills' "Dorset Place-Names: Their Origins and Meanings" identifies it as 'Kingestune' even earlier, in 1170. The name was probably derived from the Saxon "Cyning Tun" or the King's farm. In the early years the cyning tun was owned by the Saxon kings and was a place of social and judicial importance, with a farm, a residence, a court, a prison and a moot (meeting-place) where the local peasants paid their rents of labour and arms to their lords and kings.
In 1066 Kingston Lacy was held by Edward the Confessor, and after the Norman Conquest the huge manor passed directly to William the Conqueror. Domesday Book (1086) gives the first details of lands, population and agricultural practices after the Conquest. Plotting the bounds of the surrounding manors and the areas given in Domesday Book, it was possible to estimate the size of the royal manor as 21,500 acres.
The manor remained in the hands of the de Beaumonts until 1204 when Robert Fitz-Parnel died childless. As his brother, Roger, was the Bishop of St. Andrews and his other brother, William, a leper, the manor passed to his second sister, Margaret. She had married Saer de Quincey, Earl of Winchester. The manor remained in the de Quincey family until 1229, when it was granted by a final concord at Westminster to John de Lacy and his wife, Margaret. In the archival collections, the oldest dated document is from 1249, and relates to lands in Shapwick and Badbury (D-BKL/C/K/2/10), and a dispute between Simon de Montford, Earl of Leicester and Margaret de Lacy.
The Dorset Feet of Fines (1229-30) records Henry III's statement that "Roger de Quincey granted the manor of Kingston with the whole forest and chaces of Winburneholt and with all the woods and warrens of Kingston and with all the other liberties belonging to the manor". In 1229 much of the estate was still forest.
The estate passed to Henry de Lacy, who was an honoured soldier and a man of considerable diplomatic ability. In the holding of Kingston Lacy he claimed the right of justice and death over thieves and robbers; free chace and warren through all of the manor; fairs in Wimborne Minster and Pamphill, a market in Wimborne Minster and free burgage of Blandford. Apart from Kingston Lacy he held the manors of Canford, Blandford and Charlton, an estimated 80,000 acres administered from Kingston Lacy.
In 1414 Henry V granted Kingston Lacy to the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of Winchester, Cardinal Henry Beaufort. The Bishop controlled the running of the manor and its revenue and after his death the manor remained in his family. However, soon after being declared King, Edward IV confiscated Kingston Lacy and the other lands of the Duchy of Lancaster and the manor was granted to the King's brother, Richard, Duke of Gloucester.
Following confiscation, the manor was eventually granted to Lord Stanley, husband of Margaret Beaufort. Henry Tudor, son of Margaret, hoped to use the manors of Canford and Kingston Lacy as a safe landing place when he returned from France. After defeating Richard in August 1485 and declaring himself King, he reinstated the Duchy of Lancaster and its lands and awarded them to his mother. It is believed that Margaret Beaufort lived at Canford, three miles away, because the great manor house was in a state of decay. Church Wardens' accounts in Wimborne Minster mention "cast downe stonys" bought from 'Kingston'. Margaret Beaufort died in 1509 and the manor was held directly by Henry until 1525 when he granted it to his illegitimate son, Henry Fitzroy. The running of the manor was in the care of a steward, as Henry Fitzroy did not live at Kingston Lacy. In 1536 Fitzroy died of consumption and the manor reverted to the Crown.
When Henry VIII died in 1547 and was succeeded by Edward VI, Kingston Lacy was given to Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset, who was beheaded in 1552. When Mary succeeded to the throne in 1553 she retained the manor of Kingston Lacy, giving the manors of Canford and Poole to Gertrude Blount, Marchioness of Exeter, in return for her support. In 1563 the manor was granted to Thomas Hall. On the death of Thomas Hall in 1593 the manor was returned to the crown. Queen Elizabeth I then gave the lease of the manor to Edward Rogers. The tenants on the manor objected strongly to Rogers and his intention to raise taxes and wrote a lengthy petition to the Queen to have his lease withdrawn. The petition failed and Rogers continued to hold Kingston Lacy until the death of the Queen in 1603.
James I granted the manor of Kingston Lacy to Charles Blount, 8th Lord Mountjoy, a great favourite of Elizabeth, as reward for his part in the defeat of the Irish. Charles Blount died in 1606 and was buried in Westminster Abbey. His son, Mountjoy Blount, succeeded his father and was created Lord Mountjoy of Thurveston, Co. Derby in 1627 and Earl of Newport, Isle of Wight, in 1628.
The collection holds a range of material relating to the 1249-c1600 period, including title deeds (D-BKL/A), and manorial and hundredal material (D-BKL/C) which gives a fuller impression of the scope and range of the estates and lands relating to the manor of Kingston Lacy. At various points, the Manor contained the tithings of Abbottstreet [Abbott Street], Barnseley [Barnsley], Cowgrove, Leigh, Stone, Thornhill and Wimborne. Fuller details of these tithings can be found in Hutchins "History of Dorset".
Corfe Castle [Corf] can be dated back to 955 (Hills). Domesday Book associates a castle with the land, but the village was not formally recognised as 'Corfe Castle' until the 14th Century. However, the borough of Corfe Castle had no formal charter of incorporation until Sir Christopher Hatton in the 16th Century. It is likely that the castle itself was built some time in the reign of King Edgar, and there are stories relating to the murder of King Edward the martyr by Queen Elfrida at the Castle. The castle would have been developed further during the Norman period, and used as a Royal Castle for much of the medieval period. Lands in Purbeck, including at Swanage, Studland, Langton Matravers, and elsewhere were added to the estates in this period. Eventually, the lands of Corfe Castle, along with wide ranging lands in Purbeck were sold to Sir Christopher Hatton by Queen Elizabeth in 1572. Upon taking over the lands Sir Christopher Hatton commissioned Ralph Treswell to undertake a survey of the lands, and this survey was completed between 1575 and 1586 (D-BKL/E/A/3/1/1). Treswell's surveys show the earliest images of Corfe Castle prior to its destruction in the Civil War. Upon the death of Sir Christopher Hatton, the lands passed to Sir William Hatton (alias Newport) his nephew. His death, in 1597, meant that the lands were passed to Lady Elizabeth Hatton, his wife. She married Sir Edward Coke in 1598, and though the marriage was difficult, she retained the Coke name.
John Bankes was born in Keswick in 1589, as the son of a merchant farmer. When he was 15 he entered Queen's College, Oxford, and eventually began training to become a lawyer. He was called to the Bar in 1614, and became an MP for Wootton Bassett in 1624. He invested in the wad mines of Seatoller in 1622, when he bought a half-share in the mines from John Lamplugh. The records of the mining activities can be found in D-BKL/M/A. John married Mary Hawtrey of Ruislip in 1618, and they had fourteen children. As his reputation as a lawyer grew, John was appointed Attorney-General to Prince Charles in 1631, and the Attorney-General to the King in 1634. He was also knighted in 1631. In 1635 Sir John invested in the estates of Corfe Castle and Purbeck, purchased from Mountjoy Blount. In 1636 he purchased the estates of Kingston Lacy.
Being Royalists, the Bankes' found themselves under attack during the Civil War. Sir John spent much of his time travelling with the King, and was appointed to Lord Chief Justice of the Court of Common Pleas in 1640. During the Civil War, Parliamentarians occupied large parts of Dorset, and Corfe Castle was placed under siege on two occasions. The first, in 1643 lasted six weeks, but was unsuccessful. The second, in 1645, lead by Colonel Bingham, lasted 48 days, and was ended when Parliamentarian forces entered the castle disguised as Royalists. Lady Bankes was forced to attempt a truce, which allowed her and her family to leave. There is some debate as to whether 'Brave Dame Mary' was even at Corfe Castle when it fell. The castle was slighted following a Parliamentary vote, and the rubble was used as building materials for many buildings and properties in the village.
When the monarchy was restored in 1660, the Bankes family chose to build a new house at Kingston Lacy, rather than rebuild Corfe Castle. They commissioned Sir Roger Pratt (D-BKL/F/A/1) to undertake this design work, and a new house was built, on a slightly different location to the previous manor building. It has been said that Inigo Jones contributed to this project, though there is no evidence that this was the case. The work, commissioned by Sir Ralph Bankes, had a negative impact upon the finances of the family for the next decades. Between 1686 and 1688 Lady Mary Bankes (widow of Sir Ralph Bankes) let the house to the Duke of Ormonde, and it wasn't until 1693 when the family returned, now under John Bankes the elder (D-BKL/H/D).
Through the course of the 18th Century, various works were done to the house, initially under John Bankes IV (D-BKL/H/E), and then under Henry Bankes (D-BKL/H/F). Henry was an MP, and had various high-profile friends, including William Pitt the younger, and the Duke of Wellington. Both John and Henry Bankes also managed the estates and contributed to the expansion of the land holdings. The Woodward Survey of 1773-1774 (D-BKL/E/A/1/12-13) detailed the extent of the land holdings in Purbeck (8,468 acres) and Kingston Lacy (13,614 acres). Land continued to be acquired until roughly the middle of the 19th Century (D-BKL/A).
Henry Bankes married Frances Woodley (D-BKL/H/I) in 1784, and they had six children, including William John Bankes (D-BKL/H/J). William was an adventurer, and in 1813 he set off on a Grand Tour. During his travels, he went first to Portugal and Spain (spending time in the camps of the Duke of Wellington), before travelling through France and Italy, toward Greece and Turkey. In Turkey, William set upon the idea of exploring lands in Egypt. In 1816 he travelled, along with Giovanni Finati and others, up the Nile from Cairo. The group travelled past Wadi Halfa, Abu Simnel and Philae on this journey, making notes and drawings along the way, recording hieroglyphics, ground plans of tombs and temples, and sketches of the locations.
Upon returning to Cairo, Bankes began planning a journey into Syria, to explore parts of the Holy Land. Joining with Captains Irby and Mangles, and encountering other travelers, or settlers such as Lady Hestor Stanhope, William visited places such as Mount Lebanon, Djerash, Jaffa, Lebanon, Sinai, and was among one of the first Europeans to enter the lost city of Petra.
By late 1818, Bankes had planned his second trip to Egypt, accompanied by Henry Salt, Henry Beechey, A.M. Linant de Bellefonds, and Alessandro Ricci among others. This longer voyage up the Nile saw Bankes engage Belzoni to remove the famous Philae obelisk, and return it to Kingston Lacy (in the event this took nearly a decade to achieve). The party continued to make notes, drawings and observations of the sites they found, and also excavated buried tombs or temples along the way. Eventually, Salt fell dangerously ill, and the party had to return to Cairo.
William returned home, and was the toast of society for a period. He declined to publish his own material, but did write "The Narrative of the Life and Adventures of Giovanni Finati", which many have taken to be a semi-autobiographical account of William's own travels. The collection of drawings and notes of Egypt (D-BKL/H/J/6) and the Middle East (D-BKL/H/J/7) total over 2,000 images.
In 1816, William's uncle, Sir William Wynne had died, and left Soughton Hall in Wales to William. A keen architectural scholar, Soughton Hall was a testing ground for the implementation of ideas William had seen whilst travelling (D-BKL/F/D). However, disappointed with his father's changes to Kingston Lacy, William had grander ambitions for the family home. In the 1820s, William dabbled in politics for a brief period, but spent large periods of time working on the hieroglyphics he had seen, as well as planning for the arrival of the obelisk. He also added to his architectural planning, with ambitious plans to rebuild Corfe Castle (D-BKL/H/J/8/71-74) written and drawn up in this period.
In 1833 William was arrested having been caught with a guardsman in a toilet block in a London park. William's trial (some six months later) saw him eventually freed, with the Duke of Wellington vouching for his character. This event impacted on William's political career. He eventually retired from political life in 1834.
Henry Bankes died in 1834, and named William as an executor of his will (D-BKL/H/J/11). For William though, this was the opportunity to begin his planned redevelopment of Kingston Hall. Between 1834 and 1841, William employed architects, artists and artisans to make and build his dream (D-BKL/H/J/2). He was very particular, and employed Charles Barry to help him (D-BKL/F/A/10), as well as contributing numerous drawings of his own (D-BKL/F/A/11). It was during this period the house began to be known as Kingston Lacy rather than Kingston Hall.
However, in 1841, William was arrested again, in similar circumstances to his first arrest. This time, with a record, and no Duke of Wellington to vouch for him, William fled, initially to Paris, where he stayed whilst he got his affairs in order, before travelling and settling in Venice. William didn't stay in one particular place when he arrived in Venice, and spent much time in different houses or hotels. He also travelled around the local area. Through the course of the next decade, William sent back weekly correspondence, instructions and advice on how his house should look, and work continued under the eye of George (his brother, to whom the title had passed) and more generally Anne, William's sister. This work continued until after his death in Venice in 1855.
After William's death, the eagerness for development of the Kingston Lacy estates and the house waned. George Bankes (D-BKL/H/K) had his own political career, family and other interests (including penning a work on the fall of Corfe Castle).
Through much of the next 15 years, the estate stood relatively still. Walter Ralph Bankes inherited the lands in 1869, when he was just 16 (D-BKL/H/O). Being a minor, running of the estates fell to others, including John Floyer, an uncle. Through a variety of deeds and settlements, a dispute arose which lasted much of the rest of the century between Floyer and the Bankes family (D-BKL/D/A/7). Many documents throughout the collection were used as evidence in this legal case.
By 1897, Walter had married Henrietta Jenny Fraser (also Henriette Jane), a society beauty (D-BKL/H/P). They had three children, Daphne, Viola, and Henry John Ralph. When Walter died in 1904, it fell to Henrietta to run the household, the estates, and look after her family. As H.J. Ralph was a minor, there were two groups of trustees established, one to look after the will of Walter, the other to look after the estates. These trustees, with varying levels of input from Henrietta, managed the Bankes settled estates until 1923. As a memorial to her husband, Henrietta commissioned the building of St. Stephen's Church, Pamphill. To do this, she employed Charles Ponting (D-BKL/F/A/16), a notable architect of the period to design the church.
When H.J. Ralph came of age in 1923 (D-BKL/H/Q), he took responsibility for the running of the estates, but a lot more work fell to his Land Agents, initially Major Thomas Lodder, and then, in the 1940s, Frederick Otho Rhodes. H.J. Ralph married Hilary Strickland-Constable (D-BKL/H/R) in 1935, and their children John (1937) and Mary (1940) were born soon after.
During the Second World War large portions of land, particularly in Purbeck, were requisitioned by the War Office (D-BKL/E/Q) for training and planning purposes. H.J. Ralph himself was involved in the navy during the war, but there are no records relating to his service in the collection. Little is written after the Second World War relating to the family. There is material relating to John Bankes (D-BKL/H/S), but this ends in the early 1960s. In 1966, Hilary died after a long, debilitating illness. This affected H.J. Ralph Bankes deeply, and he became something of a recluse, confining himself to a few rooms in Kingston Lacy. For reasons which are not clear from the collection, H.J. Ralph cut ties with his children, and grew closer to his housekeeper. When H.J. Ralph Bankes died in 1981, he left his children £5000 each, and his estates to the National Trust.
During the 1980s, the National Trust spent time assessing and repairing Kingston Lacy, as well as commissioning the Vernacular Building Survey (D-BKL/E/A/5) to assess the wider estate properties between 1985 and 1996. This is the latest material in the collection. Upon completion of this survey, it has been decided that any subsequent material forms another, albeit related, collection of National Trust papers.