Prejudice and Pride at Kingston Lacy

The Beech Avenue near Kingston Lacy, Dorset

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

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 guardsman 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.

Unable to return home, William John spent his last 14 years in Europe. He compulsively collected and commissioned great works of art, marble carvings and furniture and sent them back to Dorset. He included detailed instructions for his siblings to implement his vision for the transformation of Kingston Lacy into the Italianate palace we see today.

We are aiming to find out more about William John Bankes’ story. We are fortunate to be working with the Dorset History Centre to record and preserve his letters and illustrations. However, the story is far from complete.

If you visit Kingston Lacy this year you will begin to see more of the story emerging. As we develop our research we hope to be able to bring to life more of William John's time and his everlasting connection to the house.