Our October meeting featured a talk by Ann Stoker, a volunteer at the National Trust’s Polesden Lacey. She gave an excellent introduction to the estate, the house and its most famous owner, Margaret Greville.
Mrs Greville was born Margaret Anderson, the daughter of an Edinburgh lodging house keeper. Her father was in fact William McEwan, the brewing millionaire, but his liaison with Margaret’s mother was not officially acknowledged until Margaret was 21. Nevertheless, her father was able to set her up in refined society and she married Ronnie Greville, the son of an Irish Lord, in 1891.
The Polesden Lacey estate dates back to the fourteenth century with the core of the present house being built in 1824. The McEwan money enabled the Grevilles to buy it in 1906 and an extensive remodelling was carried out. The rooms were designed with entertaining in mind, Mrs Greville taking a leading role in their decoration. Choice pieces were sought out so as to make a grand impression. Sadly, Ronnie died in 1908 but that was not going to stop Margaret, whom the King had referred to as a “born hostess”, from continuing to entertain.
Ronnie Greville had been a friend of Edward VII whose mistress, Alice Keppel, also became close to Margaret. This led to introductions to other dignitaries as well as several generations of the royal family. Margaret spent several months each year travelling, introducing herself to such as the King of Siam and South American grandees. These would then be invited to visit Polesden Lacey, adding to the exotic nature of the house parties.
The Duke and Duchess of York were frequent visitors in the inter-war years, spending part of their honeymoon at Polesden Lacey. It had originally been Mrs Greville’s intention to leave the house to them on her death. By the time she died in 1942 they were King (George VI) and Queen with little use for another country house so the property was bequeathed to the National Trust. The Royal Family did, though, get Margaret’s jewels, some of which are still being worn at official engagements today.