A Royal Read : Open Book afternoons

A fortnight ago we held our 2nd open book afternoon of the year, don’t worry if you missed it because the good news is we have two more to come, the dates of which are at the bottom of this blog.

This time we looked at Mrs Greville’s connection to the Royal family and aristocracy. with a number of beautiful books taken from the shelves of the library and the study.

The first book was a stunning little prayer book. This small prayer book apart from being beautifully bound, doesn’t strike you as overly different from other prayer books you might expect to find in any library. However this small book was used by Mrs Greville at the Coronation of Edward VII, a regular visitor to Polesden Lacey. The book of common prayer had two additional pages added too it for the order of service for the coronation of Edward VII. I like the idea that Mrs G held on to this little book – keeping it as a memento of the day – safely tucked away in her study. She also kept her ticket for lunch after the ceremony and a number of newspaper cuttings from the day.

We have often talked about Mrs Greville’s relationship with Queen Mary, and in the past we have displayed the many gifts that were given to Mrs G by Mary throughout their friendship. Mrs Greville once told Beverley Nicholls that Queen Mary was a lovely woman but that she often dropped by with “such short notice”. You can just imagine the servants running around desperately trying to get everything ready for a royal visit. In 1937 Queen Mary gave Mrs Greville issue number 1494 of the limited edition ‘The Book of the Queens Dolls House’ by Benson and Weaver. The two volumes describe the dolls houses built for Queen Mary by architect Sir Edwin Lutyens and its miniature library. The Library had tiny books created by famous authors of the day.  The Dolls Houses were completed in 1924 and the books published the same year. The book is inscribed With “For Mrs Greville, from Mary R, Christmas 1937”.

The Queens Dolls Houses inscription

The inscription inside the Dolls Houses book

Finally we had our star attraction – a book we often show visitors because it is just such a facinating insight into the lavish parties held by the aristocracy

The Duchess of Devonshire Diamond Jubilee Costume Ball photograph album is full to the brim of moncrome plates of some of the guests dressed up for the social event of the season. Held to celebrate the 60th year of Queen Victoria’s reign the party was held at the Duke and Duchess’s London Home (which sadly no longer exists) Devonshire House. The Duchess asked her guests to come dressed as Court members from throughout the centuries both mythical and temporal . Mrs Greville chose to dress as Mary Seaton, a Scottish courtier and lady in waiting to Mary Queen of Scots. Many fashion houses of the day were employed by the aristocracy to create lavish costumes to be worn only once at the event. The Photographer Lafayette was on hand on the day to photograph each of the guests, and it is these photographs that fill the album. What makes this book even more special to us at Polesden is that it appears that Mrs G had many of her visitors to the house sign their photographs. You can easily imagine them sitting the the library relaxing after an afternoon of golf or tennis and reminiscing about what a wonderful event it had been.

Mrs Greville as Mary Seaton

Mrs Greville as Mary Seaton


Mrs Greville’s own costume photograph (as above) from this ball can be seen on display on the desk in the corner of the library at Polesden Lacey.

We always love showing visitors the books that we have at Polesden and open book afternoons are a great opportunity to come along and that a more in depth look at the library. We focus on themes for each event – with 3- 4 books out each time, but we will also happily show you any book you might wish to see. Our specially trained book conservation assistants will be happy to remove it from the shelf to show you.

Our next two afternoons will be:

Thursday 3rd September 2015 12.30-16.30pm

Thursday 15th October 2015 12.30-16.30pm

We look forward to seeing you there.


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