High So­ci­ety

This Vic­to­rian so­cialite cre­ated a home for en­ter­tain­ing roy­alty and the Po­lit­i­cal elite.

Victorian Homes - - Contents - BY SUSIE KEARLEY

This Vic­to­rian so­cialite cre­ated a home for en­ter­tain­ing roy­alty and the po­lit­i­cal elite.

She gained po­lit­i­cal in­flu­ence, be­came friends with roy­als and amassed great per­sonal wealth. Her hus­band, Ron­ald Gre­ville, was wealthy in his own right. A re­lent­less so­cialite, Dame Gre­ville loved to mix with celebri­ties. The Gre­villes bought Poles­den Lacey in 1906, and with their con­nec­tions to King Ed­ward VII, reg­u­larly en­ter­tained mem­bers of the royal fam­ily at the house. Dame Grav­ille used the central hall at Poles­den Lacey for par­ties and the dining room for in­ti­mate din­ners.

Mar­garet Gre­ville, the last res­i­dent owner of the English es­tate Poles­den Lacey, was the daugh­ter of a wealthy Scot­tish brewer.

A re­lent­less so­cialite, Dame Gre­ville loved to mix with celebri­ties.

Af­ter pur­chas­ing the es­tate, the cou­ple con­tacted ar­chi­tects Charles Mewés and Arthur Davis, who had de­signed the fa­mous Ritz Ho­tel in London. The Gre­villes com­mis­sioned the fash­ion­able ar­chi­tects to turn the house into a grand stately home, and dec­o­ra­tors White, Al­lom and Co., to add sump­tu­ous fixtures and fit­tings. Money was no ob­ject. Dame Gre­ville brought her col­lec­tion of fine art and fur­ni­ture into the house, and added all the lat­est mod­ern con­ve­niences.

The prop­erty still re­tains much of that grandeur to­day. Ron­ald died in 1908, and Mar­garet, child­less, be­queathed Poles­den Lacey to the Na­tional Trust in 1942, which re­mains open for vis­i­tors.

Be­fore the Gre­villes moved in, a se­ries of wealthy own­ers made a va­ri­ety of im­prove­ments to the house. The ear­li­est parts of the build­ing date to 1630, when An­thony Rous, an English politi­cian, built a coun­try house on the land. It was later owned by the politi­cian and play­wright, Richard Brins­ley Sheri­dan, who lived there from 1797 un­til 1816. In 1818 Joseph Bon­sor, a wealthy trades­man, bought the es­tate and com­mis­sioned ar­chi­tect Thomas Cu­bitt to de­sign and build part of the present house, which in­te­grated parts of the ear­lier prop­erty into its de­sign. In 1853, the

es­tate was sold to Sir Wal­ter Far­quhar, who ex­tended the walled gar­den. Then in 1902, it was ac­quired by Sir Clin­ton Dawkins, a busi­ness­man and civil ser­vant, who fur­ther ex­tended the house, cre­at­ing the grand prop­erty as it stands to­day. He died in De­cem­ber 1905, and Ron­ald and Mar­garet Gre­ville pur­chased it in 1906.

De­spite the sump­tu­ous sur­round­ings at Poles­den Lacey, the staff weren’t al­ways on their best be­hav­ior. Dame Grenville’s but­ler was once so ob­vi­ously in­tox­i­cated that she placed a note on his sil­ver tray read­ing, “You are drunk; leave the room at once.” The but­ler, in turn, passed it onto the guest of honor, Sir Austen Cham­ber­lain, who spent the rest of the evening in mys­ti­fied si­lence. When Dame Grenville ex­plained what had hap­pened, Sir Cham­ber­lain said it was the first time he’d been si­lenced by a drunken but­ler.

Dame Gre­ville was well known for her French cui­sine. The Daily Tele­graph in 1930 said her dishes were ‘un­sur­passed any­where.’ She em­ployed fe­male chefs, which was quite un­usual, and they used fresh pro­duce from the walled gar­den.


The central hall was de­signed by ar­chi­tect Am­brose Poyn­ter in 1903. The beau­ti­fully carved wood­work—on the same wall as the fire­place—dates to the late 17th cen­tury. It was orig­i­nally an or­na­men­tal screen from St Matthew’s Church on Fri­day Street, in London, and was de­signed to cover the wall at the back of the al­tar.

The dining room at Poles­den Lacey was much more ef­fi­cient than many other coun­try houses, where the kitchens were far away from the dining rooms. This made it dif­fi­cult to serve pip­ing hot food or chilled cham­pagne. The serv­ing room and kitchen at Poles­den Lacey, how­ever, are next to each other, which en­abled staff to de­liver the usual ten-course din­ners promptly.

Dame Gre­ville brought her col­lec­tion of fine art and fur­ni­ture to the house, and added all the lat­est mod­ern con­ve­niences.

The dining room at Poles­den Lacey was much more ef­fi­cient than in many other coun­try houses.

The French neo-clas­si­cal room has red silk damask wall cov­er­ings. The oval table is ar­ranged to seat eight peo­ple, while a larger table could seat up to 20 peo­ple at din­ner par­ties. Made of Ir­ish linen, each of the table­cloths took a year to weave. The por­traits are from such artists as Henry Rae­burn, Peter Lely, Thomas Lawrence and Joshua Reynolds. The por­trait on the left de­picted Mar­garet Gre­ville’s father, and was her fa­vorite.


The pic­ture cor­ri­dor dis­plays some of Dame Gre­ville’s best paint­ings. The Ja­cobean oak pan­el­ing came from an ar­chi­tec­tural sal­vage and was adapted to fit the gallery. The bar­rel-vaulted ceil­ing de­picts a de­sign copied from the long gallery at Chastle­ton in Ox­ford­shire.

Dame Gre­ville liked the style of French in­te­ri­ors, so she asked Mewés and Davis to de­sign the li­brary in a French style too. This was one of Dame Gre­ville’s fa­vorite rooms. She liked the warm col­ors and the 17th-cen­tury white Chinese Kangxi porce­lain and Ja­panese Imari she dis­played there. The fur­ni­ture is 17th and 18th cen­tury English, French and Ital­ian, and most of the pieces were re­uphol­stered with con­tem­po­rary needle­work dur­ing the Ed­war­dian pe­riod.

Dame Gre­ville wasn’t a big reader, how­ever. The books in the li­brary were there pri­mar­ily to amuse and im­press her guests. The por­trait above the fire­place, which shows a boy with sheep, dates to the 17th cen­tury and was painted by Ael­bert Cuyp, who was just 19 years old at the time. Dur­ing this pe­riod in his­tory, both boys and girls wore skirts.

The study stood next door to the li­brary, which Mewés and Davis de­signed as a pri­vate room for Dame Gre­ville. She had mo­bil­ity prob­lems to­wards the end of her life, and re­cur­rent bron­chi­tis made it dif­fi­cult for her to live nor­mally. She had to use a wheel­chair to get around and spent more time in this room as she grew older.

Slid­ing mir­rors pull across the win­dows, cre­at­ing a snug room where women could share their deep­est se­crets. Dame Gre­ville of­ten in­ter­viewed her “guest of honor” in this room af­ter din­ner, while the other guests chat­ted in the sa­loon.


The sa­loon was the grand­est room in the house, where Dame Gre­ville dis­played fine art­work and porce­lain. She had 18th-cen­tury carved pan­els moved from an Ital­ian palace to the sa­loon. Red bro­cade lines the walls and the floors are her­ring­bone par­quet with Per­sian rugs.

The French-ital­ian theme con­tin­ues with paint­ings around the ceil­ing, de­pict­ing scenes from the Old Tes­ta­ment. The fur­ni­ture is mostly French from the era of Louis XV or XVI. In­side the glass cab­i­nets rest Chinese vases, bowls, snuff bottles and fig­urines. Dame Gre­ville had a col­lec­tion of carved an­i­mals by Faberge and Cartier and of­ten pointed them out to her house guests with com­ments such as, “Lord so-and-so gave me this as a thank you gift,” drop­ping a not-so-sub­tle hint that she’d like more such trin­kets.

Dame Gre­ville held par­ties in the sa­loon dur­ing As­cot Week and at Christ­mas. She em­ployed co­me­di­ans and singers to en­ter­tain the guests af­ter din­ner.

The tea room con­tains French Ro­coco fur­ni­ture from Dame Gre­ville’s London home. Up­hol­stered in ta­pes­try, the small

wild­wood so­fas date to the 1780s. They were nick­named têteà-têtes be­cause they were con­ducive to in­ti­mate con­ver­sa­tions (“tête-à-tête” means “head to head” in French). The room was de­signed by Méwes and Davis to take ad­van­tage of the fan­tas­tic views over the gar­den. The 18th cen­tury land­scape paint­ings on the walls may be Flem­ish or Dutch in ori­gin.

Up to 20 peo­ple would con­gre­gate for tea in this room, in­clud­ing Queen Mary, who was a reg­u­lar vis­i­tor. She al­ways tele­phoned ahead to an­nounce her in­ten­tion to visit for tea in the af­ter­noon. On one oc­ca­sion, Dame Gre­ville was so wor­ried that her red car­pets were get­ting a bit thin in places that she rushed to London, re­turn­ing with 20 an­te­lope skins, which cov­ered the of­fen­sive ar­eas.

The bil­liard room was de­signed by Am­brose Poyn­ter in 1903 and im­proved by Dame Gre­ville. This room, the ad­join­ing smok­ing room and the gun room all have a mas­cu­line feel. Men would re­tire here to talk about busi­ness, pol­i­tics and sports. They lis­tened to the ra­dio, played card games and shared sto­ries. This was one of King Ed­ward VII’S fa­vorite rooms.

A view of the East front of Poles­den Lacey, Sur­rey, England. The grounds once con­tained a golf course, cro­quet lawn and some­times hosted game-bird shoot­ing par­ties.

Above: The sil­ver tea set on the right is part of Dame Gre­ville’s ex­ten­sive col­lec­tion of sil­ver­ware.

op­po­site: No­tice the Ro­man cof­fin on the left side of the pho­to­graph. This sar­coph­a­gus dates to 3 AD and the carvings of wild an­i­mals sug­gest that its oc­cu­pant had an African back­ground. When Dame Gre­ville lived in the house, the sar­coph­a­gus had an oak lid, on which she placed beau­ti­ful bou­quets of flow­ers.

The central hall was de­signed to make an impact be­cause it was the first room peo­ple en­tered when they vis­ited Poles­den Lacey. The 17th-cen­tury "rere­dos" around the fire­place was sim­ply there to im­press vis­i­tors.

Dame Gre­ville liked to col­lect sil­ver, in­clud­ing sil­ver tankards. Each guest had sil­ver cut­lery and Winston Churchill, when he dined there, fa­mously com­plained that the sil­ver glit­tered so much, he couldn’t see the other guests prop­erly. Dame Gre­ville tol

The sa­loon was the most op­u­lent room in the house. The por­trait of Dame Gre­ville, on the right, dates to 1889 when she was 26 years old. It was painted by the high so­ci­ety artist, Her­man Sch­miechen.

The 19th-cen­tury writ­ing table is ma­hogany. Dame Grenville ar­ranged her so­cial life from this desk. The pho­to­graphs are her fa­vorite pic­tures of friends and rel­a­tives.

Above: This bil­liard table was made by Bur­roughs and Watts, and sur­rounded by comfy chairs for spec­ta­tors.

op­po­site: On the desk stand two black and gold lac­quered tea can­is­ters, given to Dame Gre­ville by Queen Mary in 1919. A por­trait of Queen Ena of Spain re­flects the friend­ship they shared. Dame Gre­ville also had a rare 18th-cen­tury porce­lain set, seen in the mir­ror’s re­flec­tion. Poles­den Lacey is just 25 miles out­side London, and open to vis­i­tors. For more in­for­ma­tion, visit na­tion­al­trust.org.uk/ poles­den-lacey.

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