Exhibition: Rediscovering Kingston Lacy

Kingston Lacy house in winter

The history of Kingston Lacy during the medieval period is largely unknown. This January and February the downstairs space in the house and outdoors in the front park, will showcase a new exhibition, Rediscovering Kingston Lacy.

The landscape

Undulations in the grassland in front of the present Kingston Lacy House have been surveyed by archaeologists and are the remains of tumbled walls and building foundations.

The manor accounts dated 1380-1456 survived and form part of the Bankes family archive, now stored at Dorset History Centre where some original Latin text has been translated.  When the evidence of the excavation, survey and documents are put together you can begin to imagine the thriving community that once occupied what we now see as a parkland landscape.

Medieval text discovered in Kingston Lacy house, describing the old royal manor.
Medieval text discovered in Kingston Lacy house, describing the old royal manor.

Try to imagine a large square walled enclosure containing a collection of fine medieval buildings (the Inner Court) and surrounding it a fence containing the village, working buildings and stock enclosures of Kingston (the Outer Bailey).

Several information panels have been erected on the Manor site in the parkland for you to explore. It is not possible from present knowledge to know the exact positions and functions of most of the manorial buildings. The reconstruction drawings are based on documents and architectural styles of the time. 

The Hunting Lodge

One of the chief recreations of the Lord of the manor would have been hunting.  The medieval records mention two deer parks within Kingston Lacy Manor, Holt Park and Badbury Park.  Badbury Park lay between Badbury Rings and the Manor House and consisted of an enclosure containing over 300 acres of grassland and woodland.  A document of 1348 records that deer, hares, rabbits, pheasants and partridges were hunted there.

On the Blandford Road a few hundred metres to the north-west, Lodge farm can be seen - the sole survivor of the medieval manorial complex.  It was once the hunting lodge of Badbury Park and may have been a place where the wealthy and influential visitors to Kingston Lacy would have relaxed following a day’s sport.

The Lodge and hunting lands would have been managed by a man like Henry Warren who is recorded as the park keeper in 1446. In this year he caught some poachers and brought them to Kingston Lacy Manor Court.  His job seems to have been both important and dangerous - his murder a few years later becoming the subject of a commission of inquiry instigated by the King.

Lodge Farm is a fine medieval stone building which was refurbished in 1986.  It contains many original features which enable the visitor to visualise something of the medieval grandeur of Kingston Lacy.

Archaeological excavation unearthered a metre-wide wall.
Kingston Lacy Archaeology Dig

The End of Medieval Kingston

In 1400 Kingston Lacy was a royal residence at the height of its prosperity but by 1493 it was a ruin being robbed for its stone.  A document dated 1493 describes stone and lime being sold from the old house for buildings in Wimborne Minster.

The fall of Kingston Lacy may have begun in 1444 when its lord John Beaufort committed suicide.  His young daughter Margaret became a ward of the royal court and her unhappiness at Kingston caused by her father's death may have led to her abandoning the old manor.

In 1485, following the upheavals of the "Wars of the Roses" Margaret's son became Henry VII and he gave the neighbouring manors of Kingston Lacy and Canford Magna to his mother.  She chose Canford as one of her residences, allowing the buildings of Kingston to fall into disrepair.

Kingston continued to crumble and by 1573 only the side walls of the chapel and manor house were standing. The site became an area of rough pasture until 1663 when the new mansion house was built.

Sir John Bankes' royalist loyalties during the English Civil war had resulted in the demolition of the Bankes family home at Corfe Castle in 1646.  Following the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, John's son Sir Ralph Bankes decided that the site of his new home would be at Kingston Lacy.

Since the 1660s, remains of the old house have become hidden by the construction of paths, planting of trees and creation of other park and garden features. It was only when a tree fell in the storm of January 1990 that the location of the once great medieval Kingston Lacy was rediscovered.