Situated near Wimborne Minster in the Dorset countryside in an incongruous site. An ‘Italian Palazzo’ which would possibly be more at home in the Veneto. Light, Italianate and airy, whilst still retaining something of England. Perhaps it is the large double-hung sash windows that dominate its facade. The house as we see it today was remodelled by William Bankes (1786-1855) after he inherited Kingston Lacy in 1834. He paid particular interest to the interior design of the rooms on the first floor. He collected pieces from Europe and Egypt. Along with his architect, Charles Barry (he of The Houses of Parliament fame) he transformed Kingston Lacy into his palace of delights.
Bankes was educated at Westminster School and then attended Trinity College, Cambridge in 1803. It was at Trinity that he became part of group of friends that included Lord Byron. Byron, in his letters and journals, described Bankes as the ‘father of all mischief’.[i] Having become heir to the estate, when his elder brother died in 1806, he was granted an income of £8,000 a year. He had the freedom and money to travel and spend. He followed Wellington’s army around Spain and Portugal. He then went onto Egypt and met Barry at Philae in 1819.[ii]
He inherited his father’s estate in 1834. He set about remodelling the house and housing what he had collected on his travels. His ambitions were curtailed by personal circumstances. In 1833 he was charged after an incident involving a guardsman in a public convenience in London. With the Duke of Wellington and others giving a positive character reference he was found not guilty. However, his public career was undermined. In 1841 a similar charge occurred, and he fled to Venice, where he continued to direct the furnishing of Kingston Lacy in exacting detail. He died in Venice on 15 April 1855 and was buried at Wimborne Minster, Dorset.[iii]
Prior to Bankes’s Kingston Lacy House there had a been a 17th C house was called Kingston Hall. It was a red brick house, designed by Roger Pratt, after 1656 for Ralph Bankes. In the latter part of the 18th C the house was remodelled by Henry Bankes, his architect being Robert Brettingham (nephew of Matthew Brettingham the Elder).[iv]
William Bankes believed that the original Kingston Hall had been designed by Inigo Jones. The model for the external face of the loggia at Kingston Lacy was based on the Italianate York Water Gate in London by the Thames (at the time also attributed to Inigo Jones) of 1626.[v] To be fair many places were attributed to Inigo Jones that weren’t by him.
It was in 1981 that Kingston Lacy was bequeathed by Ralph Bankes to the National Trust.
Examining 3 aspects of William Bankes’s ornament and collection, I have selected the bronze of Lady Mary Bankes, The Philae Obelisk and tortoise ornamentation.
A Celebration of a Civil War heroine – Lady Mary Bankes
The main entrance from the drive is on the east side of the house under a porch and into the entrance vestibule. The cool ashlar stone arch leads up a couple of steps with a fireplace as the central focus, the overmantel heralding the Bankes family arms. It is always curious as to where a family coat of arms is displayed on houses through the ages. It is not unique to be an overmantel. The arrival of the visitor left them in no doubt of the legitimacy of the family status.
Once in front of the fireplace (and having viewed the coat of arms), the visitor would be guided to the left. The righthand corridor leads to the service part of the house. Once the visitor has made the left turn, they are presented with a tunnel vault rising to a bright, half-landing loggia. The view over the south garden can be taken in. However, three life-sized bronze statues dominate the loggia. They are the work of Baron Carlo Marochetti (1805-1867) of Charles I, Lady Mary Bankes and Sir John Bankes. Marochetti created the statue of Richard the Lionheart that stands outside the Palace of Westminster.
Marochetti’s bronze sculpture of Lady Mary was created circa 1853-55. It was based on the enamel portrait miniature in the drawing room of Lady Mary by Henry Bone (1755-1834) which dates from 1821. The miniature image of Lady Mary by Bone had been derived from a miniature by John Hoskins the Elder (c.1560-1666). The bronze of Lady Mary has some similarities to the 1643-47 sculpture by Simon Guillain (1581-1658), of ‘Anne of Austria’, which is in the Musee du Louvre.[vi]
The bronze is a set of three – Lady Mary, her husband, Sir John Bankes, dressed in his robes as Lord Chief Justice, and Charles I. Lady Mary and Sir John are opposite each other and are standing. Charles I, in his riding dress, is seated on an elegant chair and the other two gaze respectfully towards him. Lady Mary holds the symbolic key of Corfe Castle in her hand, which she is proffering towards the king. Sir John tenders a paper scroll towards the king. The statue of Charles I is based on a Van Dyke image. His head is turned towards Lady Mary.
The pedestals of the three bronzes have elaborate decoration, with a design deriving from Andrea del Verrocchio’s (c. 1435-1488) tomb of Piero and Giovanni de’ Medici (tomb date – 1469-1472) in the Basilica of Saint Lorenzo in Florence. The bases of the two standing statues have coats of arms. Underneath King Charles is a relief of the imagined Siege of Corfe Castle.[vii] The pedestals conceal radiators. Bankes refers to them in his contract with Marochetti as ‘hot-water-tables.’[viii] This is an interesting source for those researching the services in country houses.
To read more about the detail of the circumstances around the creation of the bronzes and the contract, an excellent paper by Philip Ward-Jackson titled ‘Expiatory Monuments by Carlo Marochetti in Dorset and the Isle of Wight’ is worth reading (see Bibliography).
An intriguing part of the bronze of Charles I is the image beneath the statue which is a relief of Corfe Castle under siege. Lady Mary Bankes holds the symbolic key to the Castle and a sword in her other hand symbolising that it was she that held off the Parliamentarian attack in 1643. Her husband, Sir John Bankes was with the King in Oxford at the time.[xi]
This act of bravery was clearly a pride of the Bankes family. She prepared for a siege and held the Parliamentarian soldiers off from the 23 June 1643 until they departed on the 4 August 1643. Her daughter and female servants joined in the defence of the castle by dropping rocks and hot embers onto the attackers. It was another siege in 1644 that saw the castle surrender. The force went on to demolish the castle, which is why it is in a ruinous state today.[xii]
Visitors to the house would not be able to circulate through the loggia half-landing without learning of the English Civil War story of the Bankes family. If they entered the library at the top of the stairs, they would be able to view the actual keys to Corfe Castle. The keys were presented Lady Bankes after the surrender as a mark of her courage.
William Bankes did not live long enough to enjoy his loggia with the spectacular bronzes. He died in 1855 in Venice, at the time Marochetti was completing them.
The Philae Obelisk
The acquisition of the obelisk that lies incongruously in the park of this English country house, was a feat of perseverance. It dates to 150 BC, is constructed of pink granite and is 9 metres high. It was one of a pair that stood outside the Temple of Isis on the island of Philae in Aswan, southern Egypt. The second obelisk was in pieces and Bankes did acquire a piece of it to bring back to Kingston Lacy. The 3 granite steps that form the pedestal are from a solar altar – from the Temple of Maharraqa dedicated to Isis and Serapis (a Graeco-Egyptian deity) in Lower Nubia, south of Aswan.[xiii]
The obelisk, like the Rosetta Stone, had both Egyptian hieroglyphs and inscriptions in ancient Greek. It records a petition by the priests of Philae to a revision of taxes and the beneficial response by the ruler Ptolemy VIII Euergetes II, and his queens Cleopatra II and Cleopatra III. Bankes, a scholar of Ancient Greek, managed to decipher the work ‘Cleopatra’. Jean-Francois Champollion, a founding figure of Egyptology, deciphered the hieroglyphs in 1822.[xiv]
Bankes travelled around Egypt and the Near East in the years 1815-19. He discovered the obelisk and, along with the aid of the Italian adventurer, Giovanni Belzoni (1778-1823), arranged for it to be brought back to Kingston Lacy by 1821. It was not a simple mission and ended up sliding into the bed of the Nile on the first attempt to shift it. The Duke of Wellington, whom Bankes had met in Spain and Portugal during the Peninsular War (1808-1814), provided a gun carriage to transport the obelisk from London to Dorset. A plaque at the base of the obelisk commemorates that the Duke chose the location for the erection of the monument and laid the foundation stone on the 17th August 1827.[xv]
William Bankes had a liking for tortoises and the careful observer can spot them in ornament both in the house and in the garden. He reportedly had a special yard to the west of the house to keep pet tortoises.[xvi]I wasn’t aware of this quirk towards tortoise ornament when I visited Kingston Lacy in September 2020 (my senses seem to be distorted when wearing a face mask – I go deaf and blind!) and only picked up on a couple of ornaments.
Firstly, three tortoises comprise the feet of 2 gilded candelabras in the saloon. One candelabra’s stem is of a mermaid and the other of a merman. Both hold up an individual putto, which in turns holds up a cornucopia within which is a spray of ormolu (gilded brass) flowers, incorporating 5 lights. The candelabras stand in shell-headed alcoves and were fitted for electricity. At the base is a triangular plinth, which rests on the backs of the tortoises. Bankes applied the tortoiseshell veneer to the plinths as well as adding the tortoises and regilding them. The candelabras were made sometime in the 18th C.[xvii]
Bankes was also concerned about commissioning specific ornament for his garden. In the garden at the west, looking towards the obelisk are some interesting marble urns. There is a set of 4 Verona red marble urns, which are supported at their base by 4 bronze tortoises. The bulbous base of the fluted urn is carved with acanthus leaves. The carved urns were created by Bartolomeo Barrini and the bronze tortoises were cast by Baron Carlo Marochetti. They date from 1847.[xviii]
According to the guidebook there is a tortoise footstool in the saloon and tortoise ornaments scattered around the house.[xix] Next time I visit I will be hunting out the tortoises!!
[i] Elizabeth Baigent, ‘Bankes, William John (1786-1855)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Sep 2004, <https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/1290> [accessed 13 December 2020].
[ii] Baigent, ‘Bankes, William John (1786-1855)’.
[iii] Baigent, ‘Bankes, William John (1786-1855)’.
[iv] Joanna and Simon Heptinstall, Kingston Lacy (Swindon: The National Trust, 2012; repr. 2017), pp. 4-5
[v] Philip Ward-Jackson, ‘Expiatory Monuments by Carlo Marochetti in Dorset and the Isle of Wight’, Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, Vol. 53 (London: The Warburg Institute, 1990), p. 269.
[vi] Ward-Jackson, pp. 267-270.
[vii] Ward-Jackson, pp. 267-268.
[viii] Ward-Jackson, p. 280.
[ix] Ward-Jackson, p. 278.
[x] Ward-Jackson, p. 279.
[xi] Barbara Donagan, ‘Bankes [nee Hawtrey], Mary, Lady Bankes (d. 1661)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2011 <https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/1289> [accessed 13 December 2020].
[xii] Donagan, ‘Bankes [nee Hawtrey], Mary, Lady Bankes (d. 1661)’.
[xiii] Kate Bethune, ‘Philae Obelisk’, National Trust Collections, National Trust (2019) < http://www.nationaltrustcollections.org.uk/object/1257614> [accessed 13 December 2020].
[xiv] Bethune, ‘Philae Obelisk’.
[xv] Baigent, ‘Bankes, William John (1786-1855)’.
[xvi] Heptinstall, p. 20.
[xvii] ‘Untitled’, National Trust Collections < http://www.nationaltrustcollections.org.uk/object/1254543> [accessed 17 December 2020]
[xviii] ‘One of Four Verona Marble ‘Ipright Vases’, each supported by four Bronze Tortoises’, National Trust Collections < http://www.nationaltrustcollections.org.uk/object/1257624.4> [accessed 17 December 2020].
[xix] Heptinstall, p. 20.
Baigent, Elizabeth, ‘Bankes, William John (1786-1855)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Sep 2004, <https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/1290> [accessed 13 December 2020]
Bethune, Kate, ‘Philae Obelisk’, National Trust Collections, National Trust (2019) < http://www.nationaltrustcollections.org.uk/object/1257614> [accessed 13 December 2020]
Donagan, Barbara, ‘Bankes [nee Hawtrey], Mary, Lady Bankes (d. 1661)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2011 <https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/1289> [accessed 13 December 2020]
Heptinstall, Joanna and Simon, Kingston Lacy (Swindon: The National Trust, 2012; repr. 2017)
Ward-Jackson, Philip, ‘Expiatory Monuments by Carlo Marochetti in Dorset and the Isle of Wight’, Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, Vol. 53 (London: The Warburg Institute, 1990)