The Bankes family home
When Kingston Lacy was gifted to the National Trust in 1981, it was our largest ever bequest. This jewel box of a house, fashioned into a grand Italian palazzo in the 1830s, holds one of the UK’s finest private collections of paintings. There are also magnificent sculptures, beautiful furniture, and superb artefacts brought back by the intrepid traveller, William John Bankes (1786-1855).
The Entrance Hall, Marble Staircase and Loggia
The hall, with its creamy stone and classical columns, is grand but surprisingly low key despite the ornate detailing. The drama begins when you turn the corner and see the sweeping marble staircase, with its trompe l’oeil effect ceiling, modelled on the staircase of the Palazzo Ruspoli in Rome. Pause on the half-landing to admire three massive bronze figures, the work of sculptor Marochetti (better known for the Trafalgar Square lions), that showcase the Bankes family heroes.
This intimate, book- and picture-lined room has barely changed since the 18th century. The painting on the ceiling was created for a palace in Bologna more than 400 years ago but snapped up by William John Bankes in 1840.
The Drawing Room
The pink and gold colour scheme was the work of Henrietta Bankes (c.1871-1953), and is typical of the Edwardian look. It was here that she entertained royalty and reigned as a society hostess, under the watchful gaze of her husband’s great-grandmother, Frances Woodley, painted by George Romney; and a unique collection of 50 enamel miniatures painted by Henry Bone (1755-1834).
The Dining Room
Dominated by the magnificent but unfinished The Judgement of Solomon by Sebastiano del Piombo (1485-1547), the Dining Room is filled with intricate woodwork from the elaborate boxwood doors, carved in Venice, to the walnut shutters designed by William John Bankes himself.
The Spanish Room
This extravagant and glittering ‘Picture Room’ was William John Bankes’ proudest creation, the more remarkable for having been executed while he was in exile. He bought painted ceiling panels from Venetian palaces and lined the walls with finely tooled leather. He designed the 12 door panels himself, illustrating the English seasons, and gave detailed instructions for decorating the carved shutters. The walls are hung with pictures by Velazquez and Murillo.
Created from the original double-height hall, this neo-classical room was the scene of a ‘Grand Fete’ in 1791, when 140 guests danced from 9pm to 1am. It is now filled with some of Kingston Lacy’s finest masterpieces, including paintings by Titian, Rubens, Jan Brueghel the Younger and Sir Peter Lely.
The State Bedroom
The magnificent carved walnut and holly bed was once described as ‘a mistake in both design and taste’. It was commissioned by William John Bankes but not delivered until after his death (his brother tried to cancel the contract). The adjoining bathroom wasn’t plumbed in until the early 20th century.
The Upper Floors and Attics
Upstairs you'll find bedrooms both grand and not-so-grand. One favourite is the Tented Bedrooms: decorated to look like the inside of a striped campaign tent. These rooms would have been reserved for bachelor guests. The White Bedroom was the private quarters of 26-year-old Henrietta Fraser when she married the 44-year-old sportsman Walter Bankes. It is a very feminine room, with French wallpaper and ornate white furniture.
The Servants’ Hall and Back Hall
Here you will find some of the extraordinary Egyptian artefacts William John Bankes brought back from his travels.