Oil painting on canvas of Sir John Bankes, by Gilbert Jackson
Sir John Bankes MP PC (1589-1644) as Lord Chief Justice, aged 54

The Bankes family have lived in Dorset since the 17th century and owned land in east Dorset and Purbeck, including Studland. During this time the Bankes were often considered one of the most powerful families in England, owning both the estates of Corfe Castle and Kingston Lacy. In 1981, when Ralph Bankes died, he left the 16,000 acre estate to the National Trust.

The Bankes Archive is housed at and cared for by Dorset History Centre. The collection is stored in over 800 boxes and is made up of approximately 30,000 individual items, containing a rich collection of documents that date from the 13th century right through to the present day.

Opening up the Archive

Until 2015, the Bankes Archive had only ever been partially opened up and catalogued. The boxes of documents needed examination, cataloguing and conserving. With the aid of grants from the Heritage Lottery Fund and other generous donors, Dorset History Centre, working in partnership with the National Trust at Kingston Lacy and the Priest’s House Museum in Wimborne, is now exploring this wonderful collection and making the contents more accessible to the public.

Archives are full of stories of people, places and events. The Bankes Archive contains manorial, legal and estate records but also numerous personal documents, including letters, diaries, photographs and drawings. These documents give a fascinating insight into the lives of the Bankes family and the people who worked for them and lived on their estates. The collection also contains records of the travels and Middle Eastern explorations of William John Bankes, one of the most prominent members of the family.

What the project will do

Unlocking the Bankes Archive represents a major piece of work for Dorset History Centre. It will increase access to the collection through cataloguing and a programme of outreach activities over three years. As part of the project we will:

  • Catalogue the archive
  • Digitise content to make elements of the archive accessible online
  • Better preserve and actively conserve elements of the collection
  • Engage volunteers in a broad range of activities such as research, conservation and outreach
  • Create a touring exhibition and new displays at Kingston Lacy and Priest’s House Museum
  • Capture the oral history of people associated with the estate
  • Offer a varied events programme including talks, specialist workshops and drop-in activities
  • Develop digital resources including an interactive map that utilises GIS technology
  • Work with Walford Mill Crafts to generate creative responses to the archive’s content
  • Produce learning resources for schools
  • Work with colleges and universities to encourage Higher Education involvement with the archive

The project in the press

Recent press coverage can be found on the following websites:

Other press coverage about the Bankes Estate can be found on the following websites:

Copyright information

All archival images are provided courtesy of the National Trust.

For more information about National Trust image rights please use the following website. Further information regarding National Trust copyright is also available online.

All other photographic images produced as part of the Unlocking the Bankes Archive project are © Dorset History Centre. If you wish to use any images published on this site, please contact Dorset History Centre: archives@dorsetcouncil.gov.uk.

© Dorset History Centre 2024