DORSET History Centre is working in partnership with the National Trust at Kingston Lacy and the Priest's House Museum in Wimborne on an exciting project focused on one of Dorset's largest and most significant archive collections, that of the Bankes family.

"Unlocking the Bankes Archives is a project funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund to support the discovery of an internationally significant archive," said Emma Munn, the Project and Engagement Officer of the Bankes project.

The Bankes family who have lived in Dorset since the 17th century have owned land in east Dorset and Purbeck, including Studland. During this time the Bankes were considered to be one of the most powerful families in England, owning both the estates of Corfe Castle and Kingston Lacy. When Ralph Bankes died in 1981 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 800 boxes and is made up of approximately 25,000 individual items, containing a rich collection of documents that date from the 13th century right through to the present day.

"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 is now exploring this wonderful collection and making the contents more accessible to the public," said Emma.

"The archives are full of stories of people, places and events. There are manorial, legal and estate records and numerous personal documents, including letters, diaries, photographs and drawings which 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.

"Unlocking the Bankes Archives represents a major piece of work for the Dorset History Centre and the plan is to 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 and engage volunteers in a broad range of activities such as research, conservation and outreach. We will create a touring exhibition and new displays at Kingston Lacy and the Priest's House Museum and also capture the oral history of people associated with the estate,"said Emma.

There will be a varied events programme including talks, specialist workshops and drop-in activities on offer and digital resources, including an interactive map that utilises GIS technology, will be developed. They will also be working with Walford Mill Crafts to generate creative responses to the archive's content, as well as producing learning resources for schools, and working with colleges and universities to encourage further and higher education involvement with the archive.

The project is over halfway through and great progress has been made on conserving and cataloguing the family and personal records and they have now moved on to cataloguing the estate papers. Parts of the collection have been digitised and can be viewed online on a website they have created which allows users to access the archive through mapping, placing documents and their associated stories in their geographical context.

To celebrate the work of the Bankes Archives project there will be a conference at Queen Elizabeth School in Wimborne on June 16 featuring specialist speakers alongside staff and volunteers who have been involved with the project.

To find out more about Unlocking the Bankes Archive project visit and for more information on Dorset History Centre visit