Wanderer at Large: Hampshire & Dorset – Kingston Lacy

A tour guide’s all-time favourite UK places.

Sponsored by Your London Tours.

This September, Visit Britain, the marketing arm of the British tourist industry, is launching its ‘Great British Staycation Campaign’ to encourage people to holiday in the UK.

Soul City Wanderer (aka Frank Molloy) is one of the UK’s most accredited and experienced tour guides. Over three decades he has visited nearly every part of the country, touring many of the places that Great Britain and Ireland has to offer.

In a new blog series, he will list his all-time favourite five places by area (spiralling out from London*). These are personal choices, some obvious, some obscure.

This week, the area south-west of London that includes the counties of Hampshire and Dorset.

Kingston Lacy, Dorset

Kingston Lacy

Kingston Lacy is a magnificent mansion. The most complete Italianate house in UK and a relic of the Grand Tour.

The story of Kingston Lacy revolves around the architecturally-inclined Bankes family. In the 1640s, Charles I’s lawyer John Bankes bought the land and moved in with his family. In the 1670s, Ralph Bankes paid for a redesign, inspired by the Italian-style architecture of Inigo Jones. In the 1780s, Henry Bankes makes alterations to the rooms. In 1833, it was inherited by the political rake William Bankes. He had it rebuilt by Charles Barry in the Italian palazzo style. In 1841, William was arrested in London for indecency with a royal guardsman. He skipped bail and fled to Venice, leaving his brother George and his sister, Lady Falmouth, to decorate the house, enjoying it in exile by correspondence.

In the mid-20th century, the house fell into disrepair. The owner Ralph Bankes was a recluse. Luckily, in 1981 he bequeathed the house and 16,000 acres to the National Trust on his death. It is the National Trust’s most valuable bequest valued at £30m. They opened it to the public in 1986 and it was re-opened in 2007 after a proper restoration.

Interior highlights include: the Spanish Room, with its crowning glory of paintings by Valasquez and Zubaran; the impressive Saloon with marble décor by William Bankes; the Staircase in Carrera marble, flanked with 17thcentury masters; and the Balcony with three bronze Civil War era statues by Victorian royal sculptor Marochetti. They depict Charles I, John Bankes and Lady Banks, who stoutly defended the Dorset family home of Corfe Castle from a 10-week Parliamentary siege. She was allowed to keep the castle for her brave act.

The exterior is dominated by the South Terrace designed by Charles Barry. The gardens feature an original Egyptian obelisk ‘acquired’ by William Bankes from the Temple of Isis on at Philae. The inscription on the plinth was a key element in deciphering the famous Rosetta Stone, as it had an identical inscription naming the pharaoh Ptolomy. The Edwardian garden is bright and formal with an original parterre. From the same era is a garden created after London’s Japan exhibition in 1910. Recently restored, it is the biggest Japanese garden in the UK.

Red Devon cattle can be seen grazing in the fields beyond, and the surrounding woods contain over 10,000 trees including golden-bronze evergreens, beech trees and cedars planted by famous visitors. During the great storm of 1987, the cedar planted by King Edward VII in 1907 fell on the one planted by his German cousin Kaiser Wilhelm.

Kingston Lacy is a little part of Dorset that is forever Italy!

Note: All sites mentioned were operating pre-lockdown. Please check relevant websites before embarking on any potential visit. Another recommendation will appear tomorrow.

For the very best in guided private tours of the UK visit www.yourlondontours.com

*Operators in the UK tour industry often separate the areas of the country according to what touring can be achieved in a region in one day. As a London-based operator, my ‘map’ spirals outwards from the capital and is separated thus:

  1. London
  2. Northern Home Counties (Beds/Herts/Cambs)
  3. Eastern Home Counties (Essex/Suffolk)
  4. Southern Home Counties (Kent, Surrey, Sussex)
  5. Western Home Counties (Ox/Berks/Bucks)
  6. South coast (Hants/Dorset)
  7. Western England (Somerset/Gloucs/Wilts)
  8. South West England (Devon & Cornwall)
  9. Wales (north & south)
  10. Welsh Borders (Herefordshire/Shropshire/Cheshire)
  11. Western Midlands (Brum/Worcs/Warks/Staffs)
  12. Eastern Midlands (Northants/Leics/Rutland/Hunts)
  13. Northern Midlands (Notts/Derbys)
  14. East coast (Norfolk/Lincs)
  15. Yorks (all ridings)
  16. North West (Manchester/Merseyside/Lancs/Lakes/Cumbria)
  17. North East (Durham/Tyne & Wear/Northumberland)
  18. Southern Scotland (Borders/Lowlands)
  19. Northern Scotland (Highlands/Islands)
  20. Ireland (Northern/Southern)

Published by Soul City Wanderer

Soul City Wanderer is the alias of London journalist and author Frank Molloy, a writer on the city’s history and culture. Born south of the river, he has an MA in London history (Birkbeck) and lectures at various institutions including the Museum of London and the National Portrait Gallery. He is also a fully-qualified Blue Badge Guide (MITG), Westminster Guide and City of London Guide.

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