In 1981 Ralph Banks, the last male descendant of the family that had owned the Kingston Lacy estate
(along with the Corfe Castle estate in the Purbecks) since around 1632,
gave the whole lot to the National Trust, much to the annoyance of his sisters.
A reclusive man by nature, he had been reduced to living in just four rooms, whilst dry rot took over the rest of the house, the roof started to collapse
and the gardens became overgrown.
Since then the trust has done a tremendous job, repairing and restoring the house and gardens, which are now look almost as they did when Ralphʼs mother,
the formidable Henrietta (a widow for 49 years), ruled the roost with an iron will.
Unlike many earlier bequests that came to the trust as empty shells, Kingston Lacy still had and has all its furniture, ornaments and its important collection of paintings.
In fact, if one has a criticism, it is that the Victorian fondness for clutter is too well preserved.
The house was started as a two story red-brick hall built in the second half of the seventeenth century; the interior was remodelled in the eighteenth century,
but its current appearance largely dates to the alterations carried by the architect Charles Barry for William John Banks (1786-1855).
He clad the outside of the building in Chilmark stone, lowered the ground on three sides to create a new entrance hall in the old cellar,
and added the cupola and roof balustrade.
Whilst inside the house it was largely a question of restoration and repair, outside the trust has had to use a bit more imagination.
Although some records and photographs exist, along with the recollections of former estate workers,
the overgrown state of the garden left few clues to its original appearance.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in the Japanese Garden which in 1981 was a weed infested jungle with only three of the original plants surviving.
Still a work in progress, it is now the trustʼs largest Japanese Garden. And very nice it is too, even if it owes more to the current generation of gardeners
than it does to those employed by Henrietta Banks to create the original.
Kingston Lacy's Kitchen Gardens
The Kitchen Gardens at Kingston Lacy House have long lain derelict,
their presence only being marked by two pair of otherwise somewhat incongruous wrought iron gates almost buried in the hedgerow.
However in 2010, the National Trust came up with a scheme to restore them and turn them into community allotments,
together with growing space for their restaurant and some raised beds for less able gardeners.
They can be visited from the main gardens, but are also accessible from Abbott Street.