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Thursday 19 December 2013

Frances Bankes's ball at Kingston Lacy 19 December 1791

Kingston Lacy from the garden
Kingston Lacy from the garden
On 19 December 1791, Frances Bankes held a ball at Kingston Hall to celebrate the completion of the alterations to the house which had been going on since her marriage to Henry in 1784. It was also Henry Bankes's birthday.

The alterations

Henry Bankes had completely remodelled Kingston Hall. The principal rooms had been enlarged and new sash windows had been installed nearly everywhere. The entrance was moved from the north side to the east side where visitors now entered under an Ionic porch. A new flight of stone stairs led from the entrance up into the centre of the newly designed house. At the top of the stairs you could turn left into the library or right into the north parlour or go straight ahead into the ballroom which had been created out of the old entrance hall.

Plan of the first floor at Kingston Hall in December 1791
Plan of the first floor at Kingston Hall in December 1791
On display at ball re-enactment (Nov 2013)
 The ball

The ballroom was lit by huge numbers of candles with a splendid chandelier hanging down in the centre. The prospect was so dazzling that one guest declared it was like Aladdin's palace. There were around 140 guests with up to 36 couples dancing. The musicians had travelled from Salisbury to play for the ball. The dancing began at 9pm and continued until 7am in the morning, only stopping for supper at 1am.

The ballroom at the re-enactment  of Frances Bankes' ball (Nov 2013)
The ballroom at the re-enactment
of Frances Bankes' ball (Nov 2013)
In a letter to her mother-in-law, Frances expressed her satisfaction:
We had a much greater number of young Men than young Ladies by which means even the ugliest women in the room were sure to dance every dance unless they preferred sitting still which kept them all in good humour.1

Throughout the evening, guests could partake of refreshments: tea, red and white wine, negus (hot sweetened wine and water) and orgeat (a cooling drink made from barley or almonds and orange flower water) and a steady supply of cakes.


Supper was served at 1am when “the Eating Room and North Parlour Doors were opened, and displayed a very handsome Supper.”2 Long tables were laid out to accommodate all one hundred and forty guests at one sitting.

Frances wrote:
We borrowed all the men servants out of livery in the neighbourhood who were particularly clever and attentive in waiting, and I really believe that not a single Creature had occasion to call twice for any one thing, which is a great deal to say in so large a Company.2
The ballroom at the re-enactment  of Frances Bankes' ball (Nov 2013)
The ballroom at the re-enactment
of Frances Bankes' ball (Nov 2013)

Dancing continued from after supper until breakfast was served around 7am. When breakfast was over, the guests staying at the Hall retired and the other guests left. By 11am, the servants had cleared up the mess and were ready to serve a second breakfast for the guests who had stayed over.

A great success

Frances Bankes was delighted with the evening. She wrote to her mother-in-law that:
I was perfectly satisfied from beginning to end, you know I am very difficult, but every Creature appeared in high good humour.1
Frances Woodley by George Romney (1780-1)
Frances Woodley by George Romney (1780-1)
In the drawing room at Kingston Lacy
A local newspaper report said:
In a word if elegant hospitality and the most attention on the part of the donors, and an assemblage of fashion and beauty seldom seen together, with the utmost good humour and satisfaction pervading the hall, have any merit in entertainments of this kind we may venture to pronounce that this never was or ever will be exceeded.3

Headshot of Rachel Knowles author with sea in background(2021)
Rachel Knowles writes faith-based Regency romance and historical non-fiction. She has been sharing her research on this blog since 2011. Rachel lives in the beautiful Georgian seaside town of Weymouth, Dorset, on the south coast of England, with her husband, Andrew.

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1. In a letter from Frances to her mother-in-law quoted in the Ring of Eight leaflet.
2. In a letter from Frances to her mother-in-law quoted in the Kingston Lacy guidebook.
3. From the Ring of Eight leaflet.

Sources used include:
The National Trust, Kingston Lacy (guidebook) (1994)
Leaflets by the Ring of Eight group for the re-enactment of Frances Bankes' ball (Nov 2013)
All photos ©


  1. Lovely post, Rachel, and perfect for this festive season. Thank you.

    1. Thank you - I'm glad you enjoyed it. What a shame we can't travel back in time and join in. :)