Polesden Lacey, once a country retreat where the elite partied, is now a National Trust property open to the public
Polesden Lacey, a National Trust property, is a British Edwardian country retreat four miles from Dorking in the Surrey countryside with views of the rolling Surrey Hills and acres of countryside. Margaret Greville bought the early 19th century house and estate in 1906 and transformed it into a mansion for weekend parties and intimate gatherings of an elite circle of friends and acquaintances. When she died in 1942, she left Polesden Lacey to National Trust requesting that the house gardens and park be open to the public. The house and grounds are beautiful and fascinating to visit. Equally interesting is the story of Margaret Greville herself. She has been described as ambitious, formidable, shrewd, kind, amusing, acerbic, and naughty.
Mrs. Greville was born Margaret Anderson in 1863. She was the daughter of Helen Anderson, who ran a boarding house in Edinburgh. Her birth certificate listed her father as William Anderson, an employee of Scottish brewer William McEwan, a man who had the same last name as her mother. It was a story concocted to make Margaret appear as the legitimate daughter of a widow. She learned later in life that her father was William McEwan, the brewer. William married her mother in 1885, after both his sister and mother were dead and could not contest what they would have considered an unsuitable match.
Margaret became heir to the McEwan fortune. In 1891, she married Ronald Greville, eldest son of Lord and Lady Greville. After her marriage, she launched herself into society life and entertained on a grand scale. Ronald died in 1908, but Margaret was known as “Mrs. Ronnie” for the rest of her life.
Mrs. Ronnie remained at Polesden Lacey after her husband’s death and entertained many high profile guests, including monarchs, maharajas, and millionaires. King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, known in later years as the Queen Mother, spent part of their honeymoon here when they were still Duke and Duchess of York. A corridor on the second level contains photographs of the many famous guests. It was fun to look through those photos.
Guests gathered and mingled in the central hall at six pm where the footman served them drinks before they went to the dining room for dinner. Dinners were elaborate affairs. Throughout the house, Mrs. Greville did everything she could to make her guests comfortable. The bedrooms had telephones and en-suite bathrooms.
Only one bedroom is currently open to the public. Up until recently, the other rooms were used as National Trust offices. Those offices have been relocated. The rooms are being restored and will be viewable in the future. Knowing that most of the contents are original Mrs. Greville possessions, we asked how these rooms would be furnished. We were told that other Greville artifacts now residing in various museums across the country will be returned to Polesden Lacey.
Mrs. Greville was an art collector and pieces of her collection can be found throughout the house. Items such as paintings by Dutch masters, Meissen procelain, Chinese and Japanese ceramics, Fabergé and Cartier carvings.
Volunteers in each room of the house are available to provide information about the room’s contents. Information about the many art pieces in the room is also found in booklets about the room. The house has museum status which means the amount of light entering is carefully monitored and must stay below certain levels to retain museum status. The cumulative effects of light over time can be damaging to museums’ collections. A fair amount of sunlight bathed the study when we entered it. A volunteer said they would be lowering blinds shortly.
The natural setting for Polesden Lacey is beautiful. There is plenty of green space. We saw families picnicing and children playing. It was late September when I visited. Most of the flowers in the large garden were past their blooming season, but there was still some colourful foliage to be found.
Polesden Lacey was used as a hospital for a while during World War I. In modern days, it has been the setting for a number of movies and television shows, including the Miss Marple mystery At Bertram’s Hotel and The Creeper episode of Midsomer Murders.
Polesden Lacey is among the top ten most visited National Trust properties. There is a restaurant that is accessible without admittance to the house. Special events occur throughout the year. For information on events, hours, and admission prices see the Polesden Lacey National Trust site.