The core of any country house has to be the army of servants busily scurrying around often unseen, making sure that everything is in order and the house runs like clockwork. Here at Polesden Lacey we are hoping to introduce the visitor to more of the untold stories of the guests and servants who were here during Mrs Greville’s time.
I am lucky enough, in my role as Assistant House Steward here, to be involved in cataloguing the servants’ stories and have interviewed a number of families whose relatives worked at Polesden Lacey during Mrs Greville’s time. I have been busily collating all our reminiscences and family histories/stories and helping to bring our property to life through the lives of the staff worked and lived here at Polesden Lacey. It also helps that I am extremely fascinated by social history and the lives of people in domestic service in the English country house.
Here at Polesden Lacey Mrs Greville employed 70 staff to run and maintain the house and gardens here (not including the staff she employed at her London home in Charles Street, Mayfair). Some staff did, however, travel between the two properties if Mrs Greville needed them to. In some cases wives and families of the staff on the estate were brought in to help with preparations for parties.
Mrs Greville hosted many Friday to Monday parties here at Polesden Lacey and entertained on a lavish scale with every need catered for every guest so that they could enjoy a stress free and relaxed time here. In order to achieve this level of luxury she would have consulted the senior staff of the household, notably the Butler, Housekeeper and Chef, before each party to ensure that menus, supplies, guest lists etc were in tip-top order and only the finest of wines and food were served to her guests.
Let me introduce you therefore, to the servants who made all this possible.
The House Steward was Mr Francis Bole, a title often reserved for noble households but who performs many of the same roles as the Head Butler (Mr Moss). Mr Bole is referred by diarists as Mrs Greville’s Head Butler but in her will he is clearly referred to as her Steward. It is of course entirely possible that he began his career as her butler and progressed to the title of Steward. He travelled extensively with Mrs Greville and she certainly considered him her right hand man. In her will Mr Bole was left a legacy of £1000 and an annuity of £500 per annum during his life, together with the modern silver. Proof of her admiration and friendship to him and
Mr Bole was ultimately responsible for the hiring and firing of staff, the ordering of food and supplies, in charge of the valuables when the household moved and expected to be able to mingle with all levels of society with the greatest of discretion. Mr Bole was married in 1908 and had a family, a relatively unusual situation for a butler but perhaps slightly more common for a steward. The photo below shows Mr Bole sitting at his desk in the Steward’s room looking over the accounts, menus and cellar records to ensure the smooth running of the household.
The Housekeeper was Miss Diana Davidson who worked here during the 1920’s and 30’s. She was in charge of the hiring and firing of the female staff, the provisioning and stock control in the stores of the household and she would also have been in charge of the spring clean, managed the housemaids and would have taken charge of the linen and china stores. The linen stores were located at different points on each level of the House. Visitors to Polesden Lacey can now see the linen store located on ground level.
As you can see from the photo below, Diana was very young to hold such a senior position but she was considered exceptional by Mrs Greville and probably came highly recommended. In 1935 Diana married Jesse Hewins the Under Gardener when she was 39 and they moved away from Polesden to begin a new married life together.
The Chef was Monsieur Delachaume and as his name suggests, he was French. In Edwardian times having a French chef was considered the very best of high class society and an important personality in any household. We do not know exactly which years Monsieur Delachaume worked at Polesden Lacey but he is mentioned as proposing a toast at the Servant Ball in 1910. He was a person of considerable status and would have been an artist in his own right, creating specialist dishes. For example “Oeufs Duc de York” for the Duke of York. Mrs Greville was renowned for her excellent French cuisine which was described in the Daily Telegraph in 1930 as “unsurpassed anywhere”.
Visitors to the dining room here at Polesden Lacey will see that the room was designed to be highly efficient with a jib door leading to the Servery and beyond to the kitchen ensuring that Monsieur Delachaume’s creations arrived piping hot, while the champagne remained chilled. Remember, typically at this time, a ten course meal would be served, along with excellent wines and champagnes which all needed to be served at their very best for taste and excellence! In later years we know that Mrs Greville only employed female cooks, which was again unusual for the time. The photograph below shows Monsieur Delachaume with the kitchen maids in the kitchen here at Polesden Lacey in the early 1900’s. Unfortunately little remains of the kitchen as much of the contents were removed after Mrs Greville’s death in 1942. It is now a textile store.
Mrs Greville also employed a French lady’s maid called Adeline Liron who was responsible for looking after her and making sure that she was dressed and looked immaculate which was no mean feat as ladies in high society would be expected to change their outfits on average six times a day. Other duties included assisting Mrs Greville with all personal requirements, accompanying her on visits to other houses and overseas trips but above all to keep her trust and confidence. Through the years Adeline became more of a companion to Mrs Greville and they became close friends. New lady’s maids were employed to tend to Mrs Greville and Adeline became a trusted friend.
Beverley Nicholls the author and playwright and close friend of Mrs Greville wrote in his diaries ‘Sweet and Twenties’ in 1928
“Though she loved power, she was not really a snob. This was proved by her relationship with her personal maid, whom she always called ‘The Archduchess’ The title was apt; the Archduchess, who was deeply devoted to her mistress, had a natural distinction. One day I walked into the ground floor of the Café Royal and saw Maggie, in a plain black dress, sitting in a corner dining with the Archduchess. There was nothing incongruous or embarrassing about it. Why should there be? The two women were not only mistress and maid, they were best friends.”
The photograph below shows Mrs Greville and Adeline Liron on one of her overseas trips to Japan. As you can see they look like great travelling companions and are dressed very similar. Following Mrs Greville’s death in 1942 Adeline continued to live at Polesden Lacey until her death in 1959. In Mrs Greville’s will Adeline was left a legacy of £50 per month with an additional £100 per annum as long as she cared for the dogs. Personal effects were also left to her – two strings of pearls, trinkets and jewellery that were under £100 each. The rest of the jewellery was left to the Queen’s mother.
As well as the Senior household staff Mrs Greville employed several housemaids and butlers to take orders and ensure that the house was run as efficiently as possible. The maids had a hierarchy of their own with a head housemaid, second housemaid, still room maids, scullery maids, tweenies etc. This photograph below shows one of the housemaids, Sybil Hallet who joined the staff in 1921 as a second housemaid. Sybil was at Polesden Lacey at the time of the Duke and Duchess of York’s honeymoon and she became friendly with the Duchess’ maid who allowed her to see one of the royal trousseau nightdresses. She subsequently copied the style for her own trousseau. Sybil married a Mr Newman who worked in the Post Office in Great Bookham, so he often took telegrams up to Polesden Lacey and met Sybil there!
With such a team of devoted staff it was no wonder that Mrs Greville was able to entertain at Polesden Lacey and lavish such warmth and luxury to her guests. This was a lady who commanded respect but also gave so much kindness to her staff and their families. Through my understanding of the stories from families who I have been lucky enough to listen to and record over the years, I hope to continue to bring their untold stories to life through new interpretation and exhibitions planned for Polesden Lacey over the coming months. Make sure you come and see us throughout December for our Christmas event where you will be able to see some of the servants’ rooms never before seen by the public and learn more about these amazing people who helped make Polesden Lacey such a warm and friendly place to stay, unwind and be well looked after in pure luxury.