The other week we went to visit National Trust property Polesden Lacey, the country retreat of Edwardian hostess Mrs Greville.
Margaret Greville was the illegitimate daughter of Scottish brewery magnate William McEwan. Her mother, Helen Anderson, is rumoured to have been married to an employee of McEwan’s at the time of Margaret’s birth (scandal!) but this was always glossed over. William and Helen didn’t in fact marry until the family moved to London when Margaret was 21 years old.
Margaret married the Hon. Ronald Greville, a close friend of The Prince of Wales, the future King Edward VII. The new Mrs Greville became best friends with Alice Keppel, Edward’s favourite mistress. There are photographs of weekend shooting parties at Polesden Lacey with Edward and Alice in attendance… as well as Alice’s husband!
Mr Greville died in 1908 at the tender age of 43. The couple had no children.
After her husband’s death Mrs Greville set about becoming the hostess with the mostess. She entertained royal guests from Egypt, Spain and Greece as well as our own royal family. Prince Albert (the future George VI) and his new bride Lady Elizabeth Bowes-Lyons honeymooned at Polesden Lacey. Elizabeth remarked “This is a delicious house…”.
Mrs Greville’s dinner parties were legendary. A maximum of 20 guests at any one time, she would ensure that every need was attended to. When Winston Churchill came to dinner and complained that he couldn’t see the person opposite due to all the sparkling glass and silverware she immediately had the table cleared between the two so his view was no longer obscured.
Mrs Greville died in 1942. By this time she had taken up residence in The Dorchester Hotel, refusing to leave despite the (WWII) bombings. She left her extensive jewellery collection to Queen Elizabeth (The Queen Mother), pieces of which are still worn by members of the royal family today. She bequeathed Polesden Lacey to the National Trust so that it would be opened up to the public and protected for generations to come.
All these little titbits come courtesy of our tour guide, Lorraine, who talked about Mrs Greville with the warmth and affection of a lifelong friend. Being the teacher’s pet I asked loads of questions and she never faltered. If you visit, she’s worth finding! All house tours are free but the time slots are ticketed so make sure you get booked onto one when you arrive.
The day we went was freezing so we stuck to the house and the gift shop. We’ll probably return when the weather is warmer as everybody says the gardens are gorgeous.
All in all it was a really lovely afternoon, only dampened when we returned to the car to find a 10cm scratch across the front passenger door. Bummer. Mrs Greville would have been appalled!