It is not always realised how the house at Polesden Lacey is only just over a hundred years old. At the turn of the 19th century a very different house stood there owned by Sir Walter Farquhar but he died in 1900 and in 1902 the estate was sold by his son to Sir Clinton Dawkins. Sir Clinton described his new house as ‘ugly and inconvenient’ and appointed Ambrose Poynter to redesign and rebuild it.
The building that stood there at that time had been designed by Thomas Cubitt and built some 80 years previously. The illustration shows the house with its colonnade of 10 pillars and on either side of the colonnade just two recessed windows. The ordinance survey maps of that era show the ground plan of the house as a ‘square’ building with an extension at the back. There was no courtyard in the middle, just a conventional square shape.
The redesign, demolition and rebuilding of the new house took place between 1903 to 1905 but Sir Clinton Dawkins was fated never to enjoy it with his death in the year of its completion. In 1906 the estate was bought by Mr and Mrs Greville and between 1906 and 1908 the house was extensively prepared for their use. By that time Mrs Greville was already established as a leading hostess of the day and had been using Reigate Priory as an out of town venue to which Edward VII had often been the principal guest.
The photo shows the house as it was bought by Mr and Mrs Greville in 1906. Notice in particular the two wings either side of the main entrance. On the left there is a flat wall and on the right the wing has only a small bay window. Here the two main structural alterations to the house were made by Mrs Greville to bring it to the house as of today. On the left was built a wing to provide a ‘private apartment’ for Mrs Greville with its own door to the outside and a room downstairs (know called the ‘Study’) with its own cloakroom and a lift to a private bedroom for Mrs Greville upstairs. The right wing was extended to match the shape of the new wing.
The interior of what had been a fairly plain house was transformed by wood panelling and ornamentation to the ceilings, an extravagant ‘Gold Room’ fit for maharajahs, panels from an Italian Palace, a Reredos from a Wren London Church in the Hall and much in addition making up the present house. Completing the house was again not good for the new owner – Ronald Greville himself died in 1908.
It is interesting to compare the overall architectural design of the current house with the house designed by Cubitt and to do this a comparison needs to be made between the picture of the house as it was and one of the present day. The same colonnade and two recessed windows either side of it remain but there are vast extensions either side. In addition above the colonnade at roof level there is a balustrade and pediment.
When we take a view from the east side the extent of the differences can be seen. In the old house there is a portico and above it just three windows form the upper floor. On either side of the portico are two dummy windows. Servants’ quarters can be seen at the rear of the house. The present day view is very considerably different with a long east side with entrance hall and two wings dominated by a clock tower. There is no similarity between the two views, the east side is a completely new structure. In fact the columns of the portico now stand at the end of the long terrace in the grounds.
What is the commonality between the old house and the present day house? Certainly the colonnade to the south remains and the two recessed windows either side. But the house was smaller by a major amount. The current house is built round a courtyard with a massive increase in depth.
The floor plan of the current house shows a superimposed outline of the original house demonstrating the extent of the demolition and reconstruction of the two houses. It would seem that the whole house apart from the south facing colonnade and its immediate wall is a total redesign and reconstruction. Presumably the colonnade and its immediate south wall were absorbed into the redesign. We therefore have a Cubitt colonnade but very much a Poynter designed house. Every room is different. The most likely room to survive from the old house is the saloon or ‘gold room’ but the surviving photo of that room shows a totally different arrangement of the windows. The only perhaps sign of the old house is in the Billiards Room where there are slightly jutting out supporting walls for a ceiling beam. Could this mark the original north wall of the old house?
The house of today in reality dates only to just after the turn of the twentieth century. It was reconstructed to be a far larger and grander house but still to retain something of the charming Cubitt design with its fine colonnade overlooking Ranmore and the magnificent North Downs.