Corfe Castle, standing on a conical hill in gap in the chalk Purbeck Hills, commands a stunning view north over the rolling hills of Dorset, and guards access to the Isle of Purbeck to the south. Today it is a glorious ruin.
It was built by William I (The Conqueror) in the 11th century, underwent significant changes during the following two centuries, and remained a royal possession until the reign of Elizabeth. She sold it in 1572, and it was later purchased by Sir John Bankes in 1635. And it is through the Bankes family that the histories of Corfe Castle and Kingston Lacy House, some 18 miles to the north, are linked.
During the English Civil War, Lady Mary Bankes led the defence of Corfe Castle when attacked by Parliamentarian forces. Corfe was one of the last bastions of royalist support in southern England. Lady Mary was permitted to leave the castle unharmed, but it was soon demolished by the Parliamentarians (yet another castle slighted), and these have proudly dominated the landscape ever since. Corfe Castle is now owned and managed by the National Trust.
So, what is the link with Kingston Lacy House? Having been turfed out of Corfe Castle, the family moved north to their estates near Wimborne Minster and built this sumptuous country house, rather modest but very attractive on the outside. However, what an Aladdin’s Cave inside! It must be surely among the top three of all National Trust properties in terms of the treasures on display. One of the National Trust’s ‘jewels in the crown’.
Construction of Kingston Lacy House began after 1663; the family had regained its prosperity when Charles II was restored to the throne. Rather than reconstruct Corfe Castle, Sir Ralph Bankes, the eldest son, chose to construct a family home on their estates near Wimborne Minster. What is particularly interesting is that the Bankes family occupied Kingston Lacy House continually from the late 17th century until 1981, when the house and its fabulous contents were bequeathed to the National Trust.
The entrance hall and stairs are solid marble. Statues of Sir John and Lady Mary Bankes can be seen on the first floor landing (alongside one of King Charles I). There are large windows looking out over the parterre, and the stairway leads up to some magnificent (but rather gory) paintings of hunting scenes. The plaster ceiling and paintings are magnificent.
But it’s in the sitting room, the library and other salons that the magnificence of Kingston Lacy House is shown off to its ultimate best. The walls are adorned with paintings by the Old Master including Van Dyck. The ceilings are decorated in the most opulent manner.
On the top floor are the nursery rooms, but even here are opulent paintings depicting the whole family originally from Corfe Castle (including those children already deceased—with angel wings), a painting of the Circumcision of Christ, and bedrooms under the eaves painted like tents.
Even the servants’ dining hall has old paintings!
Outside there are extensive gardens and parkland—a real pleasure to explore.
There’s so much to see at Kingston Lacy House that it’s definitely worth a second visit if we are ever back in that part of Dorset. It’s a veritable feast for the eyes.
We visited both properties during our summer break in the New Forest. Our eldest grandson Callum (who is from Minnesota) told us that he wanted to see a castle during his holiday over here in England. His disappointment was evident when he first saw the ruin. “That’s not a castle,” he exclaimed. But it wasn’t long before he and his sister and two cousins, Zoë, Elvis and Felix were having a whale of a time exploring the whole site, and dressing up in medieval costumes.