Many VIP’s graced the doorstep of Kingston Lacy during the 20th century. These guests were asked to sign the visitor books, which we now hold in the Bankes Archive here at Dorset History Centre. These signatures include art critics, members of parliament, and even one of the Cambridge Five! In this blog, we will look at three visits from some of the most eminent royals of modern times.
Queen Elizabeth II
Queen Elizabeth visited Kingston Lacy on the 28th June 1958. This was a busy year for her – this visit was scheduled between a tour to the Netherlands in April and her first visit to the United States in October.
1958 was the year the Lord Chamberlain announced the of the end of the royal presentation ceremony. Established in the time of Edward VII’s reign, court presentations of young women from aristocratic families to the monarch were a rite of passage within upper-class society. The girls, known as debutantes, would be paraded in front of the monarch and had to either kiss the hand of the monarch, or accept a kiss on the hand from the monarch, depending on their status in society.
The announcement of the last debutante season provoked a record number of applications, and resulted in 1,400 girls curtseying in front of the Queen in just three days! Just ten years earlier, Lalage Hall, the eldest daughter of Viola Bankes had previously curtseyed, an event that had been skilfully engineered by her mother. But more on that later…
The visit of Princess Margaret, on the 20th July 1985, occurred only 6 months after she had been admitted to the London Clinic for an operation to have a non-malignant lung tissue removed. Margaret was a heavy smoker all her life and had been dogged by ill-health as far back as the 1970s. It is remarkable how quickly Margaret was able to continue royal engagements following surgery.
There is a fascinating link between these two sisters, Elizabeth and Margaret, and the two daughters of Viola Hall (nee Bankes) – Lalage and Fay Hall. During World War II, the Hall family were living in Ascot. The children spent an idyllic childhood away from war-torn London on the estate of Lady Grace Weigall. Lady Weigall’s husband, the controversial former governor of South Australia Sir Archibald Weigall, was a patient of their father Norman Bruce Hall, an Australian doctor. Lady Weigall offered Norman Bruce Hall a cottage on the estate.
On one occasion, the two royal princesses were staying with Lady Weigall. They wanted to go bathing in the beautiful swimming pool in the grounds. Lady Weigall thought of Lalage and Fay, and they were summoned to swim with the royal pair. Princess Margaret took a fancy to a plastic boat belonging to Fay but was not allowed to take it away with her by the accompanying servant lady-in–waiting.
Later, after the war was over, Lalage was presented to the young Queen Elizabeth at Buckingham Palace. She was dying to mention the last time they had met, playing in the swimming pool, but was too tongue-tied by the occasion!
Prince Charles visited the house 15 years after it had been bequeathed to the National Trust in 1981, and shortly after he had agreed to be President of the National Trust.
It is interesting to speculate what was going on in Charles’s mind as, at the time of this visit, he was being urged by to file for divorce from Diana, following their three year separation. Three months later, in August 1996, the prince and princess reached a final agreement.
Author: David Beardsley