Set in the heart of the Dorset countryside – the inspiration for many Thomas Hardy novels – Kingston Maurward’s 750 acre estate comprises a renowned land-based college, working farm & dairy, commercial equestrian centre & stables, Animal Park, formal gardens and thriving wedding and conference venue.
Its impressive main house was originally built from red brick – in the classic Palladium style that characterised the period – by Thomas Archer or John James of Greenwich between 1717 and 1720 for George Pitt, cousin of the then Prime Minister, William Pitt.
George Pitt and his wife Lora (née Grey) had lived in Kingston Maurward’s Elizabethan manor house, built by her great-great grandfather in 1597. The Grey family had owned the estate for many generations having acquired it through marriage from the Maurward family, who were the ancient Lords of the area. As George’s wealth grew, he decided that he needed a more fitting home for his family.
After George’s death in 1734, his son William inherited estate, followed by his brother John, who made many additions to the House and Garden.
John’s son William Moreton Pitt inherited the estate in 1787, at which time King George III is believed to have visited the House frequently. During one visit the king told William he disliked red brick houses, and William promptly had the entire house encased in Portland stone.
In 1836 William was succeeded by his son William Grey Pitt until 1845 when the estate was sold to Francis Martin.
Martin’s wife taught the young Thomas Hardy, first at the House and later at a school opposite the post office in Lower Bockhampton. It is thought that Knapwater House in Hardy’s novel Desperate Remedies, is in fact Kingston Maurward House.
Between 1853 James Fellowes, followed by Major Kenneth Balfour, owned the house until 1914 when it was bought by the Hanbury family.
In 1918, the Hanburys added the Portland stone chimneys, marble fireplaces in the hall, hand-painted ceilings by Italian artists, and the oak staircase.
In 1922 work on the 35 acres of formal gardens was completed within the existing framework of an eighteenth century Capability Brown style parkland setting.
After her husband died, Lady Hanbury remained at the House until it was taken over by the armed forces in 1939 for the duration of the Second World War.
During its occupation by the Royal Army Medical Corps and the US Army, the house was damaged. The park was used as a petrol storage depot for the D-day invasion, and the gardens fell into disrepair.
Lady Hanbury instigated the creation of the formal gardens and the Armistice Walk beside the lake, where eleven oak trees were planted side by side to symbolise the “eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month”, honouring the end of the first world war, and later Remembrance Day.
You may have seen the Hollywood blockbuster, The Monuments Men starring George Clooney which tells the story of the of the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives platoon during the Second World War. One of these Monuments Men, Ronald Balfour grew up at Kingston Maurward and was one of only two men who lost their lives saving fine arts and religious artefacts from the Nazis.
Born in 1904, Ronald Edmond Balfour was the eldest of six children of Kenneth Balfour, a lieutenant colonel in the Royal Dragoons and his second wife May.
Ronald studied at Cambridge, where he was a contemporary of Soviet spy Anthony Blunt and author EM Foster. In 1944, he was recruited to the Monuments, Fine Arts and Archives platoon, Balfour’s talents were finally recognised.
He was offered the chance to serve as one of the 350 Monuments Men from 13 Allied nations racing against time to save the world’s treasures from destruction by the Nazis. Read more here.
Dorset County Council bought the estate from Lady Hanbury in 1947 to create a new Farm Institute, with the first intake of 30 students arriving in October 1949 – the very start of the Kingston Maurward College you see today with over 850 full time students and many more apprentices, university level and part time learners!
The gardens were restored in keeping with photographs from the 1930s, using innovative planting within the existing framework of terraces, balustrades and steps, and were opened to the public in 1991.
Fact! Did you know that George Singer, founder and manufacturer of Singer Cars was born at Kingston Maurward in 1847? We were privileged to have great-great granddaughter Annabel and her son Georges here to unveil a commemorative plaque, accompanied by a stunning line-up of Singer cars