Exile installation in the Saloon at Kingson Lacy

Many National Trust places were home to, and shaped by, people who challenged conventional ideas of gender and sexuality. In 2017, 50 years after the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality, we explored the LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer) heritage of Kingston Lacy as part of the Prejudice and Pride programme.

You can’t mention the history of Kingston Lacy without talking extensively about the influence of William John Bankes. A huge personality and visionary, William John created much of the house you see today. 

William John, a traveller, collector and talented draughtsman with an eye for beauty, set about making dramatic changes to his home. Just seven years later he was caught with a soldier in ‘an indecent act.’ It was the second such incident and, at a time when intimate relationships between men could be punishable by death, William John had no choice but to leave the home he loved for exile in France and later Italy.

William John Bankes (1786-1855) by Sir George Hayter
Portrait of William John Bankes by Sir George Hayter
William John Bankes (1786-1855) by Sir George Hayter

Throughout the autumn of 2017 EXILE examined Bankes’ exile and his contribution to the house and its decoration from afar and also consider his extraordinary story within a broader context of intolerance and persecution of LGBTQ lives from Henry VIII to modern times. 

EXILE featured three distinct installations, linked by a series of new interpretive panels.  As visitors entered the house, they encountered ‘In Memoriam’ (pictured above), a tribute to the 51 men who were hanged under laws that criminalised same-sex acts during Bankes’ lifetime. It was a reminder of the brutality of the times and the context of his actions.

Further into the house, the second installation – ‘Displaced’ – used projection and sound to make connections between Bankes’ story and the ongoing persecution of LGBTQ people, drawing on contemporary experiences of those forced to leave their homes in the UK and abroad.

The final installation – ‘Prejudice, Persecution, Pride’ – set Bankes’ story within a global history that examined how the law has shaped – and continues to shape – LGBTQ lives. Facsimile copies of legal documents from the Parliamentary Archives were exhibited alongside a timeline that reveals familiar and surprising stories of persecution and intolerance, liberation and equality.

The installation was part of the National Trust’s ‘Prejudice & Pride’ programme which celebrated the stories of LGBTQ people at a number of its places and acknowledged the contributions they have made to history and society.

" Kingston Lacy holds a story that deserves to be known more widely – as with all those we have researched and shared through our ‘Prejudice & Pride’ programme. These stories show how deeply and widely LGBTQ heritage goes back into our shared history and how this resonates with our lives today."
- John Orna-Ornstein, Director of Curation & Experience

The programme was researched and developed by the University of Leicester’s Research Centre for Museums and Galleries (RCMG) in collaboration with the National Trust and with support from Stonewall.