Mrs Greville’s Boudoir

portrait2For years the visitors to Polesden Lacey have heard the story of the extra wing that Mrs Greville built on to the house in 1906 to provide the study downstairs as her ‘private apartment’ with its washroom off in one corner and the ‘mysterious lift’ in another going up to her bedroom – how she could cut herself off from her guests with her own outside door to the courtyard so she could slip unnoticed in and out of the house.  And upstairs was her bedroom……..  Even the door to her lift for so long remained closed.  For years the upstairs was not available to see, it was part of the romantic story of the house with its many bedrooms closed to the public even though kings and queens had occupied its rooms with tales never to be revealed locked within the walls.

corridorendopenliftBut now, at last, at the top of the majestic main staircase Mrs Greville’s own bedroom is open to the public, unfurnished, but left to the imagination how it would have looked, what furnishings it had and what went on inside its walls.  From the windows there is the delightful view over the North Downs and Ranmore.  En suite is the bathroom and toilet with its ‘thunderer’ unit just as it was in her day.

But – one moment – the bedroom isn’t above the study, it’s above the library.  What is it that visitors have been told over the years?  It never did quite make sense that in this large house Mrs Greville had only two private rooms, the study, quite a formal room and her bedroom.  The study itself isn’t so big.

ceiling2The solution is simple but introduces an important room so long closed off – upstairs past her bedroom at the end of the corridor is a handsome door just past the lift with its metal sliding doors. Behind the door is a revelation – the magnificent missing room!  It is officially Mrs Greville’s Boudoir – a room more or less the shape of the study below – no small size, brightly lit with a large bay window and another looking out over the entrance to the house.  It is slightly narrower than the study below as behind its south wall is the toilet and bathroom which is entered from her bedroom.

The ceiling is magnificent decorative plaster work and the walls are wood panelled just like the downstairs of the house.  But how could anybody have done that to the walls – the wonderful oak panelling has been painted over with a cream emulsion – what would Mrs Greville’s have said to that!  There is a large fireplace in the south wall with the hearth and surround taken away and again painted thoughtlessly with the same emulsion.  How could anybody paint over a room like that!  How sad that such a room could have been spoilt in this way.

corner00Perhaps the room had been hidden for so long to allow Mrs Greville’s ghost to walk noiselessly about but certainly Mrs Greville’s ghost it contains.  This was one of her main private rooms.  What is a boudoir?  It is sometimes referred to as a dressing room but the other main purpose of a boudoir is as a private drawing room.  This surely was the room in which she could relax.  Her house was forever full of kings, queens, princes, statesmen and great of the day but many were dull, boring and full of themselves.  Some were good company but many had little more than their dignity and title.  However Mrs Greville as the supreme hostess knew that dignitaries had their place – they were what the best hostess in the country had to have in the house to give her the standing she enjoyed in the social ladder.  She herself was still in her forties in 1910, now no husband but endless wealth and life before her.

Seeing the room, the private apartments of Mrs Greville make sense as never before.  She was no longer contained to a formal study and bedroom – she now had a private drawing room to relax and be the personality she was.  The room now is bare of furniture but this has the advantage that imagination can create the furnishings.  Was it richly carpeted with luxurious furnishings and comfortable seating?  The imagination can place the chairs, tables, cabinets and pictures on the walls. We can only hope that one day Mrs Greville’s ghost will appear to show us exactly how she lived and what friends she entertained in the room.  Robert Horne, the politician, was one of her regular guests to her parties.  Was he a frequent visitor to her boudoir?  Mrs Greville would have delighted in putting right the finances of the country with the Chancellor of the Exchequer and he always had an eye for the women.  Perhaps she enjoyed the entertaining conversation with Osbert Sitwell in this room.  Did the Queen Mother come here to drink tea with Mrs Greville.  We shall never know – but this gives intrigue to the room and to the character of Mrs Greville.

It is one of the most important rooms in the house – a room in which the spirit of Mrs Greville lives and it tells so much more of the fascinating story of Mrs Greville.

Martin Warwick

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