Thursday 31 January 2019

(362) Banks of Ridgebourne and Hergest Croft

Banks of Hergest Croft
The Banks family have been settled at Kington in Herefordshire for over 200 years, in which time they have been almost continually engaged in the legal profession or banking, coupled in the last century or so with a passion for garden-making on the grandest scale. The founder of the family, Richard Banks (1791-1871), originated in Kent, where his great-grandfather, William Banks, husbandman, was buried in Folkestone on 12 August 1714. Richard's father was Lawrence Banks (1762-1830) of Boys Hall, Willesborough (Kent), a substantial house belonging to the Knatchbull family of Mersham-le-Hatch, and Lawrence was certainly farming on their estate. However this part of Kent was one of the centres of the smuggling industry, which was at its height during the Napoleonic Wars, and since Boys Hall has exceptionally capacious cellars, it has been suggested that Lawrence may have derived more of his income from smuggling than from farming. His eldest son, Richard, was however trained for the other side of the legal fence, being articled to a solicitor in Maidstone who subsequently joined a London firm and took his pupil with him. He qualified in 1813 and after a brief period in London paid £2,000 for a partnership in the legal business of James Davies (1777-1856) of Kington. Davies had been in partnership with Edmund Cheese (d. 1812) - who Richard effectively replaced - and from 1808 onwards was also a partner in the Kington & Radnorshire Bank with Cheese and James Crummer (1749-1821). Once the partnership with Richard Banks was well established, Davies increasingly left the legal business to him, and concentrated his attention upon the bank. These men dominated the commercial affairs of Kington over several decades, and were bound together by marriage alliances as well as commercial ones. Richard joined this network in November 1817 when he married his partner's niece, Esther Davies (1798-1851). This was an astute move, for James Davies had no children and his intended heir - a nephew called Hugh Powel Davies - died in 1818. As a result, when James Davies died in 1856, he bequeathed his extensive property to Richard and Esther's three sons, although some of it was subject to the life interest of James' sister, Esther Crummer (d. 1858). It was with this legacy that the Banks family became landed proprietors on any scale.

Richard and Esther Banks had five children. His eldest son and heir, Richard William Banks (1819-91) inherited James Davies' interest in the Kington & Radnorshire Bank and also Ridgebourne at Kington, a house largely rebuilt by Edmund Cheese (d. 1812) which had been acquired by Davies in 1838 as a home for his widowed sister, Esther Crummer. The second son, the Rev. James Banks (1820-83), inherited James Davies' own house, Moor Court near Kington, which bore a more than passing resemblance to Ridgebourne and may also have been designed by Benjamin Wishlade, with whom James Davies had a close commercial relationship. The third son, William Lawrence Banks (1822-93) inherited Bronllys Castle in Radnorshire, and Davies' lands in Wales. 

Richard William Banks, who was articled to his father as a solicitor but gave up the law for banking after he inherited the Kington Bank, made some alterations to Ridgebourne and occupied the house following his marriage in 1858 to Rosa, the daughter of another banker, Nathaniel Hartland of Cheltenham. Rosa Banks lived on at Ridgebourne until her death in 1923, so when her son, William Hartland Banks (1867-1930) married Dorothy Alford in 1894, they built a new house, Hergest Croft, on a site within the Ridgebourne estate, and indulged their shared passion for gardening by laying out one of the great 20th century gardens around it. In 1912 they bought the Hergest Court estate to the south of their existing property, including Park Wood, just a short distance south of the existing garden. This detached portion of the property became the setting for an extensive planting of new introductions of rhodedendrons. 

When W.H. Banks died in 1930 his son and heir, Richard Alford Banks (1902-97) was in India, working in the chemical industry. Ridgebourne was let and Hergest Croft passed to his widowed mother for life, and when Dick, as he was usually known, returned to England he went to work for ICI in Cheshire, and made a home there. His mother died in 1937 and Hergest Croft was requisitioned during the Second World War and let afterwards. In 1953, however, Dick returned to Herefordshire and began reclaiming the Hergest Croft gardens from Second World War neglect, and developing them in a new direction to cater for his interest in birch and maple species. The gardens at Hergest Croft had been open to the public before the war and after reopening in the 1950s have remained open in the spring, summer and autumn every year down to the present day. In 1988, Dick handed on responsibility for the gardens to his elder son, Lawrence Banks (b. 1938), who had a career as a merchant banker in London before retiring in 1998. He not only shared a career in banking with his forebears, but also their love of gardening, and his wife Elizabeth was a professional landscape architect until her retirement in 2006, and subsequently the first female President of the Royal Horticultural Society. They now live at Ridgebourne, while the gardens at Hergest Croft are in the care of their younger son, Edward Banks (b. 1967) and his wife Julia.

Ridgebourne, Kington, Herefordshire

At the heart of the house is a modest semi-timbered building of about 1660, which appears to have comprised service accommodation, hall and parlour, and bedrooms, with attics and cellar. The carpenters' assembly marks in the roof imply that there were two floors below it. The roof with a ridge purlin and two side purlins is still more or less intact. This building was extended in the early 18th century, when it belonged to the Vaughan family of Hergest Court. 
Ridgebourne, Kington: a lithograph of the house in 1846 by W.L. Banks. Image: Hereford City Library.

At the beginning of the 19th century the property was acquired by Edmund Cheese, a solicitor and one of the partners in the Kington & Radnorshire Bank. He encased and remodelled the 17th century house in 1806-08, giving it a new front with the appearance of a fashionable villa. These works were, according to the local historian Richard Parry, carried out by John Millward of Hay-on-Wye, but the precociously Italianate design suggests that he may not have been the architect: Benjamin Wishlade and even John Nash have been suggested, although the latter seems unlikely. The remodelling gave the house a five bay front elevation, with a recessed central bay and bracketed pediments over the two bays to either side, and this elevation remains very much the same today. Inside, there is an early 19th century open-well staircase with stick balusters and a swan-neck rail, and rooms with marble chimneypieces, simple cornices, and six-panelled doors. 

When Richard Banks inherited the property in 1858 he brought in Robert William Mylne (1816-90) to make some alterations, and two years later he carried out more substantial additions to the rear service wing to the designs of Richard William Drew (c.1834-1903). There is some early panelling in the rear wing, but in view of this history it has probably been re-set. The house stands in a small early 19th century landscaped park in the style of Repton, which was no doubt laid out for Edmund Cheese around 1806-08, at the same time as the house was altered; it was certainly in existence by the time of the first Ordnance Survey 1" map in 1833.

Descent: Vaughan family... sold to Edmund Cheese (d. 1812); to son, Edmund Watkins Cheese (d. 1838); sold after his death to his partner, James Davies (1777-1856) of Moor Court; to sister, Esther Crummer (1786-1858) for life and then to his partner's son, Richard William Banks (1819-91); to widow, Rosa Banks (d. 1923) for life and then to son, William Hartland Banks (1867-1930); to son, Richard Alford Banks (1902-97); to son, Lawrence Banks (b. 1938). The house was leased out to Boyd Merriman QC (later Lord Merriman) from 1923-53.

Hergest Croft, Kington, Herefordshire

An Arts & Crafts house built for William Hartland Banks following his marriage, on land forming part of the Ridgebourne estate. The first designs were made by Richard William Drew (c.1834-1903) at the end of his career in 1895, but were altered by his former chief assistant, Hampden Pratt (1851-1920) when the house was built in 1896-98.

Hergest Croft, Kington: the garden front, 2006. Image: © Catherine Beale.

The original building is of brick and stone, with a tile-hung upper floor in the 'Old English' manner that derives from the vernacular architecture of Surrey and Sussex. On the garden front there are tile-hung gables and a timber veranda. In 1906 Pratt returned and added the porch on the north front, a conservatory at the north-west corner, and a lower studio wing to the east. 

Hergest Croft: the studio wing added in 1906 by Hampden Pratt. Image: P.J. Marriott.

The interior is designed in the same style as the exterior, with a timber arcade at the foot of the stairs and a fireplace with fine William De Morgan tiles of sailing ships. It is relaxed and undemanding architecture, and an excellent foil for the famous gardens which surround it, which were laid out by Banks and his wife Dorothy from 1896, and have been developed by successive generations of the Banks family. The layout is most formal around the house, though even here the planting is fairly lush, and it becomes more relaxed and naturalistic as one moves away from the house, until the more remote parts of the fifty acre site reflect the woodland garden principles of William Robinson. The gardens include a terraced lawn, a rose garden, two rockeries, a croquet lawn, a daisy border, a conifer avenue, an azalea garden, and a maple grove.

In 1912, Banks bought the Hergest estate to the south, and Park Wood, a short distance beyond the garden, became the setting for an extensive planting of newly-introduced rhodedendrons. The gardens fell into neglect during the Second World War, when the house was used as a residential hostel for evacuated secondary school girls. After the war it was let until in 1953 Dick Banks returned to the house and devoted his retirement to restoring and continuing the development of the gardens. Apart from the years during and after the war, the gardens have been open to the public since the 1920s, and each generation of the family has nurtured and developed them. Recent developments have been under the guiding hand of Mrs. Elizabeth Banks, a professional landscape architect who was President of the Royal Horticultural Society in 2010-13. The house and gardens have now been handed on to the next generation.

Descent: built for William Hartland Banks (1867-1930); to son, Richard Alford Banks (1902-97); to son, Lawrence Banks (b. 1938); handed on in 2009 to son, Edward Banks (b. 1967).

Banks family of Ridgebourne and Hergest Croft

Banks, Richard (1791-1871). Eldest son of Lawrence Banks (1762-1830) of Boys Hall, Willesborough (Kent) and his wife Ann, daughter of John Sladen of Ripple Court (Kent), born at Liskeard (Cornwall), 17 July 1791. Educated at St Albans Grammar School and articled to John Scudamore of Maidstone (Kent), solicitor, and later to Messrs. Dubarry and Curry of London; admitted a solicitor, 1813. He then entered the Lincoln's Inn chambers of John Hodgson, who introduced him to James Davies, the leading solicitor in Kington, and in 1814 he moved to Kington to take up a partnership with Davies, for which his father paid a premium of £2,000; he was effectively replacing Edmund Cheese, who had died in 1812. Once the partnership was well established, Davies gradually withdrew to concentrate on the Kington & Radnorshire Bank, although they remained in partnership until at least 1844. He succeeded Davies as Clerk of the Peace for Radnorshire, 1844; became joint Steward of the Crown manors in Radnorshire from 1824, and was Chairman of Kington Burial Board, 1859-71. He married, November 1817 at Kington, his partner's niece, Esther (1798-1851), daughter of Dr. William Davies of Talgarth, and had issue:
(1) Richard William Banks (1819-91) (q.v.);
(2) Rev. James Banks (later Davies) (1820-83), baptised at Kington, 30 May 1820; educated at Ludlow Grammar School, Lucton School, Repton School, Christ's College, Cambridge (matriculated 1839), St Mary's Hall, Oxford (matriculated 1841) and Lincoln College, Oxford (BA 1844; MA 1846); ordained deacon, 1845 and priest, 1846; perpetual curate of Christ Church, Forest of Dean, 1847-53; headmaster of Ludlow Grammar School, 1853-57; diocesan inspector of schools and prebendary of Hereford Cathedral, 1857-83; in 1858 he inherited Moor Court, near Kington, from his great-aunt and took the name Davies at her request; after settling at Moor Court he became a partner in his brother's bank and a JP for Herefordshire and Radnorshire; a genial and urbane man, he was a distinguished classical scholar and translator of classical works, and contributed for many years to the Saturday Review; a member of the Cambrian Archaeological Association and President of the Woolhope Club, 1873-74; married, 26 August 1847 at Dauntsey (Wilts), Frances Helen, daughter of Henry Young of Dauntsey, gent., and had issue eleven children; died 11 March 1883 and was buried at Lyonshall; will proved 7 August 1883 (estate £5,886);
(3) William Lawrence Banks (1822-93), born 15 July and baptised at Kington, 16 July 1822; educated at Ludlow Grammar School, Lucton School, and Shrewsbury School; trained as a solicitor (admitted 1848) and practised at Brecon until about 1867; appointed an Extraordinary Master in Chancery, 1849; was very active in the promotion of railways, becoming a director of several and Chairman of the Brecon & Merthyr Railway, but his judgement of which schemes to back was very poor and he lost most of his money in railway speculations; Mayor of Brecon, 1859 and 1861; JP for Breconshire and Radnorshire; a freemason from 1858; inherited Bronllys Castle (Radnors.) from his great-uncle in 1856; his greatest talent was as a landscape artist, and lithographs of some of his views were published in 1846; he shared the interest of his brothers in antiquarian matters, was a member of the Cambrian Archaeological Association (publishing in Archaeologia Cambrensis) and became a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London; after his second marriage he moved to North Wales, where he lived in several different places, and became Secretary and Treasurer of the Royal Cambrian Academy of Art; he married 1st, 5 June 1850, Jane Emily (d. 1863), daughter of David Williams of Ystrad Meurig, and had issue two sons and one daughter; married 2nd, 1867, Elizabeth Maria Richards of Ynys (Anglesey); he died at Bryn Hfryd, Conwy (Denbighs.), 28 January 1893;
(4) Esther Banks (1824-48), baptised at Kington, 24 July 1824; educated at Worcester; was always delicate and died unmarried 8 February 1848;
(5) Marianna Banks (1828-69), baptised at Kington, 5 January 1829; educated in Bath; married, 9 August 1866 at Kington, Capt. Cooper Mackinnon Naverino Dorset Fellowes (1827-1906) (who married 2nd, 8 December 1870 at Thurlestone (Devon), Louisa Constance Godfrey (1848-1921) and had issue one son and four daughters), son of Admiral Sir Thomas Fellowes; died without issue at Hazareebagh, Bengal (India), 25 November 1869; will proved 20 July 1870 (estate under £7,000).
He lived at Bridge House, Bridge St., Kington.
He died 17 January 1871; administration of his goods was granted to his eldest son, 7 July 1871 (effects under £9,000). His wife died 4 February 1852.

R.W. Banks (1819-91)
Banks, Richard William (1819-91). Eldest son of Richard Banks (1791-1871) and his wife Esther, daughter of James Davies of Ridgebourne, Kington, baptised at Kington, 23 February 1819. Educated at Ludlow Grammar School and Rugby School. Articled to his father as a solicitor, c.1836, and practised with him. In 1857, he inherited from his great-aunt the Kington Bank established by James Davies and his partners, and he ceased practise of the law and became a banker. He also had railway interests, being a director of the Kington & Eardisley Railway and later of the Leominster & Kington Railway, and was involved in the development of Llandrindod Wells (where the Ridgebourne Arms on the Builth road marks his involvement). JP for Herefordshire, Breconshire and Radnorshire and High Sheriff of Radnorshire, 1874; an Improvement Commissioner for Kington; and a member of Radnorshire County Council, 1888-91. He was a keen but self-taught amateur geologist, an interest which he had taken up "as a diversion during the intervals of business", but gradually gave it up in the 1870s as his geological friends died off and turned increasingly to archaeology, serving as Treasurer of the Cambrian Archaeological Association, 1884-91 and becoming a prolific contributor to Archaeologia Cambrensis, where he wrote series of articles on the historical records and ancient families of Wales. He married, 9 September 1858, Rosa (d. 1923), daughter of Nathaniel Hartland of The Oaklands, Charlton Kings (Glos), banker, and had issue:
(1) William Hartland Banks (1867-1930) (q.v.);
(2) Rosa Marianna Banks (1869-93), baptised at Kington, 3 January 1870; died unmarried, October 1893.
He inherited Ridgebourne after the death of his great-uncle in 1856 and purchased Howey Hall (Radnorshire). His widow lived at Ridgebourne until her death in 1923.
He died 24 June 1891; will proved 13 November 1891 (effects £50,000). His widow died in 1923; her will was proved in June 1924 (estate £18,611).

W.H. Banks (1867-1930)
Banks, William Hartland (1867-1930). Son of Richard William Banks (1819-91) and his wife Rosa Hartland, born 14 November 1867. Educated at Rugby and Trinity College, Cambridge (matriculated 1886; BA 1889; MA 1892). Banker with Davies, Banks & Co. of Kington until 1910, when he sold the business to the Metropolitan Bank of England & Wales and joined its board. JP and DL for Herefordshire and JP for Radnorshire from 1891; High Sheriff of Radnorshire, 1892; Member of Herefordshire County Council, 1910. His interests included travel, photography, gardening and plant collecting, and he and his wife were responsible for the initial design and layout of the gardens at Hergest Croft. He married, 24 November 1894, Dorothy (1866-1937; Goldsmiths Scholar at Girton College, Cambridge), daughter of Rev. Bradley Hurt Alford, vicar of St Luke, Nutford Place, London W, and had issue:
(1) Rosa Dorothea Banks (1896-1979), born 28 April 1896; educated at Cambridge; died unmarried, 15 January 1979; will proved 8 May 1979 (estate £27,098);
(2) Margaret Esther Banks (1899-1992), born 2 July 1899; died unmarried, 2 June 1992; will proved 20 November 1992 (estate £140,813);
(3) Richard Alford Banks (1902-97) (q.v.);
(4) Mary Caroline Banks (1904-2005), born 15 December 1904; died unmarried aged 100, 8 November 2005; will proved 10 May 2006;
(5) Lawrence William Banks (1908-09), born Jan-Mar 1908; died in infancy, Jan-Mar 1909.
He inherited Ridgebourne and Howey Hall (Radnorshire) from his father in 1891, built Hergest Croft in 1895-98, and laid out the gardens from 1896. In 1911 he bought the Hergest Court estate and developed Park Wood as a rhodedendron garden. Hergest Croft was left to his widow for life, with remainder to their son. Howey Hall was let from 1901 and perhaps earlier, and sold in 1920. Ridgebourne was let to Boyd Merriman (later Lord Merriman) from 1923 until about 1950.
He died 1 April 1930 and was buried at Kington; his will was proved 25 July 1930 (estate £86,442). His widow died 20 February 1937; her will was proved 23 April 1937 (estate £18,638).

Banks, Richard Alford (k/a Dick) (1902-97). Son of William Hartland Banks (1867-1930) and his wife Dorothy, daughter of Rev. Bradley Hurt Alford, born 11 July 1902. Educated at Rugby and Trinity College, Cambridge (BA). In 1926 he was sent to India to study opportunities for the exploitation of soda in industrial processes, and he later became managing director of the alkali division of ICI, and responsible for the production of polythene and its introduction to American markets. He served on the main board of ICI as a director, 1952-64; Chairman of the Industrial Training Council, 1962-64; Member of Water Resources Board, 1964-74. JP for Herefordshire, 1963-73; member of Kington Urban District Council, 1968-74 (Chairman, 1970-72) and Kington Town Council, 1974-91. Appointed CBE, 1965. From 1953 he restored and continued the development of the gardens at Hergest Croft, showing a particular interest in maples and birches (of which Hergest now has national collections); awarded Veitch Memorial Medal of Royal Horticultural Society, 1983. He married 1st, Apr-Jun 1937, Lilian Jean (k/a Jane) (1912-74), daughter of Ronald Ralph Walker of Presteigne (Radnors.), and 2nd, 1976, Rosamund Mary (b. 1922; co-founder of the florists, Purbrook & Gould), daughter of Urbane Edward Gould of London, retail and importing jeweller, and had issue:
(1.1) (William) Lawrence Banks (b. 1938) (q.v.);
(1.2) Peter Bryan David Banks (b. 1942), born Jul-Sep 1942; married, 1977, Angela Mary S. Hawkes (1944-2002);
(1.3) Margaret Alford Banks (b. 1945), born Jul-Sep 1945; married, Jul-Sep 1969, Timothy J. Le Good.
He inherited Ridgebourne and Hergest Croft on the death of his mother in 1937, but lived in Cheshire until about 1953, when he returned to Kington and restored the gardens. He handed the estate over to his son in 1988.
He died aged 94 on 26 February 1997. His first wife died 30 November 1974; her will was proved 4 March 1975 (estate £36,119). His widow was living in 2015.

Banks, (William) Lawrence (1938-2022). Son of Richard Alford Banks (1902-97) and his first wife, Jane, daughter of Ronald Ralph Walker of Presteigne (Radnors.), born 17 June 1938. Educated at Rugby and Christ Church, Oxford. Merchant banker and company director; Deputy Chairman of Robert Fleming Holdings Ltd (retired 1998). He was a Governor of Imperial College, London; Chairman of the Council of the Royal Post Graduate Medical School; Treasurer of the Royal Horticultural Society, and held numerous other public, charitable and community appointments in the heritage sector and in Herefordshire, including the Sir Joseph Banks Archive Project and the Mappa Mundi Trust. DL for Herefordshire, 2006. Appointed CBE, 1998; Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London, 2016; Honorary Fellow of the Linnean Society. He married, 1963, Elizabeth Christina (b. 1941; landscape architect (retired 2006); President of the Royal Horticultural Society, 2010-13), daughter of Leslie Swain Saunders (1896-1988) of Rockingham Castle (Northants), and had issue:
(1) Richard Michael Banks (b. 1965), born December 1965; publisher; married, 1992, Chloe Berenice Josephine Macaskie (b. 1967), and had issue one son and one daughter;
(2) Edward Joseph Banks (b. 1967), born August 1967; banker and lawyer; married, 18 July 1998, Julia Ruth Sutherland (b. 1967), and had issue one son and one daughter.
His father made over Ridgebourne and Hergest Croft to him in 1988. He in turn handed on Hergest Croft to his younger son in 2009 and now lives at Ridgebourne. His elder son inherited the estate in 2022.
He died 14 June 2022; his will was proved 11 May 2023. His widow is now living. 


J.B. Sinclair & Rev. R.W.D. Fenn (eds.), A Kington family: essays in honour of Richard Alford Banks, 1992; D. Whitehead, A survey of historic parks and gardens in Herefordshire, 2001, pp. 203-04, 322; M. Dawes & N. Selwyn, Women who made money, 2010, pp. 104-110; A. Brooks & Sir N. Pevsner, The buildings of England: Herefordshire, 2nd edn., 2012, p. 406; T. Mowl & J. Bradney, Historic gardens of Herefordshire, 2012, pp. 222-35.

Location of archives

Banks family of Ridgebourne and Hergest Croft: family papers, 19th-20th cents. [Hergest Trust Archives, Kington]

Coat of arms

Sable, a cross voided argent, between in the first and fourth quarters a fleur-de-lis and in the second and third a pheon all of the second, and on an escutcheon of pretence the arms of Alford, namely, or, on a chevron indented azure, between three roses gules, barbed and seeded proper, an open book between two fleur-de-lis argent, all within a bordure of the third.

Can you help?

  • I would be most grateful if anyone can provide photographs or portraits of people whose names appear in bold above, and who are not already illustrated, or additional genealogical and career details. 
  • As always, any additions or corrections to the account given above will be gratefully received and incorporated.

Revision and acknowledgements

This post was first published 31 January 2019 and updated 8 June 2024. I am grateful to Roland Jeffery for additional information.

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