Polesden Lacey, a marvellous country house in a wonderful setting was very much Mrs Margaret Greville’s second home, her main house was in Charles Street in Mayfair. Before she bought the property she had leased Reigate Priory to host parties for the rich and famous and in particular those from the Marlborough House set around Bertie, the future King Edward VII.
As soon as Mrs Greville bought Polesden Lacey in 1906 she promptly went about setting it up as the majestic house we know today in order to extend her position as one of the leading hostesses of her day to hold extravagant parties for royalty, politicians, foreign dignitaries and other brilliant personalities.
However she also looked after herself in these surroundings. Where was she herself to live and relax with a house filled with guests? An odd maharajah might be the ideal addition to her circle of upper class friends but might also be the most boring of company. She definitely needed her own accommodation where she could be on her own, entertain the particular guests whose company she really did enjoy and could run the house.
The one major structural alteration she made to Polesden Lacey was the addition of the front left wing (as you face the house front). Before this had been added the library was the last room of the house with an east facing window at its centre in the position where the study door now stands. The new wing matched the existing right wing which housed the kitchen area (itself slightly altered).
This new wing added several rooms to the house and gave Mrs Greville a private wing for herself. It consisted downstairs of a study and upstairs a boudoir (or drawing room) and bedrooms. There was a toilet both upstairs and downstairs and outside the study there was a door to the main drive. An electric lift was installed (outside the study) as a staircase to the upstairs rooms would not have fitted well into the restricted space.
With the house empty Mrs Greville had the freedom to use all the rooms of the house but when entertaining she could shut the study/library door and contain guests to the library and other rooms while she herself could enjoy the peace and solitude of the study and the rest of her private apartments. If she wanted to go out she could use her private outside door to the drive without walking through the house.
We can only surmise who were the favoured guests invited into her study and boudoir upstairs. Presumably Bole the butler met Mrs Greville there to plan arrangements for the house and guests. Others we can imagine would be Queen Mary and Princess Eugenie who had married Alfonso, the Spanish King and to whom she had a particular friendship (she left her £25,000 in her will). Almost certainly the Queen Mother often sat with Mrs Greville in the private wing probably sampling her best gin in the boudoir. Osbert Sitwell and Beverley Nicolls as brilliant conversationists would have been amongst her favourites. We can imagine it was in these private rooms that Mrs Greville exercised her acerbic wit against some of her high society but tedious guests.
Today’s visitors see the library with the study doors wide open. Normally the doors would have been shut showing just the mirrored panels. The study behind the doors was the first of the private rooms from which Mrs Greville ran the house and invited only her special guests.