Sunday 17 May 2015

Kingston Lacy

You're probably getting a bit bored of me saying "I read a GREAT book about <insert National Trust property name here> and I just HAD to go there!". 

And that's a bit unfortunate, because I read a GREAT book about Kingston Lacy and I just HAD to go there. 

A Kingston Lacy Childhood is a collection of reminiscences from Viola Bankes, whose family owned the place from 1632 until 1981. It's a short book that tells of an Upstairs Downstairs world, just as Upstairs was becoming increasingly unable to sustain itself.

But in fact, the book didn't prepare me for Kingston Lacy at all. The house is incredible. But before I get onto the amazingness of the rooms, here's a bit of history:   

Kingston Lacy

  • The Bankes family began their connection with the place when John Bankes, Chief Justice to Charles I, bought the old royal estates of Kingston Lacy and Corfe Castle 
  • Corfe Castle was the family home until it was blown up during the Civil War, despite the valiant efforts of Dame Mary Bankes to defend it
  • Ralph Bankes, John's son, decided to focus on building a new house at Kingston Lacy rather than rebuild the castle
  • The original Kingston Hall was two-storey and built in red brick
  • Kingston Hall was remodelled by Henry Bankes the Younger in 1784 and then by William John Bankes from 1834, who worked with Charles Barry to transform it into a four-storey Italianate palazzo called Kingston Lacy
  • William John Bankes was caught in an "intimate situation" with a solider in a London park in 1841 and was exiled abroad
  • He continued to work on Kingston Lacy from exile, however, commissioning furniture and directing the building works
  • When Ralph Bankes gave the estate to the National Trust in 1981 it was the largest bequest in the Trust's history
The two most striking things about the house are the elaborate rooms and the artworks. I am no art expert but even I was blown away by the both the number of pictures and the atmosphere that they lend to the house. In the Drawing Room for example are 50 miniature portraits painted by Henry Bone - I've never seen anything like them. They're on enamel and they look strangely 3D. There's also a Spanish picture room that is unlike any other room I've ever seen at the National Trust.

The Kingston Lacy scone
I might not be an art expert but I AM a scone expert. I had been experiencing a severe scone drought in the run-up to my Kingston Lacy visit - a full SIX WEEKS had passed since my previous scone encounter at Stourhead (I hasten to add that this was due to me not being able to go anywhere because of flu and other hassles).

Thankfully Kingston Lacy delivered - there was a choice of large (two scones) or small cream tea (one scone). I plumped for the latter and it was very nice - fresh and tasty:

Kingston Lacy National Trust Scone

As we left Kingston Lacy I thought back to the taxi driver that had dropped us off at Stourhead a few weeks ago. He was enthusiastically extolling the virtues of Stourhead and what a great place it was, before adding that he'd once been to a place called Kingston Lacy and it was rubbish. I am normally quite sanguine about these things and reason that everyone has different opinions, but in this case he was barking mad. It's an amazing place and I recommend it.

Kingston Lacy: 5 out of 5
Scones: 4.5 out of 5
Stourhead taxi driver's taste in National Trust properties: 0 out of 5

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