One of the most amazing things about working in a historic house is discovering the stories behind the property and particularly discovering more about the lives of those who have passed through its doors. Over recent weeks the house team have been busy doing conservation cleaning, supervising filming, completing pest management checks, environmental readings and working in our store rooms. Sometimes while we are working hard to look after the objects in the collection it can be easy to forget the people and history behind them.
As we have been looking ahead at stories we hope to tell in the coming years I have had to chance to once again explore Mrs Greville’s story. I thought it would be a wonderful idea to share some of this with you. Many of you will know Mrs Greville’s story well – but for many it may be completely new. Below i have written a brief account of Mrs Greville – but there is so much more to learn by visiting Polesden Lacey.
Mrs Greville was born in Marylebone, London on the 20 December 1863. Margaret Helen Anderson as she was then, was the only child of Helen Anderson. The exact nature of her birth and indeed her legitimacy are questionable but the puzzle can be pieced together. On her birth certificate her father is listed as a William Murray Anderson, but in fact Mrs Greville’s Father was William McEwan.
Her mother was a domestic Servant in Edinburgh and her father a Brewer and MP for Edinburgh. We are not sure how these two met but its clear that William McEwan was in fact Margaret’s Father and not the William Anderson listed on the birth Certificate, a name added to give the child some sort of legitimacy.
It seems that throughout her young life, William McEwan helped to pay for young Maggie and kept in touch, many years later in November 1885 Helen Anderson married William McEwan.
Now the daughter of a wealthy brewer, Maggie needed a suitable husband. The Honorable Ronnie Greville, 1st born son of the 2nd Baron Greville, was on the look out for a wealthy bride and Maggie needed a title. It was a match made in heaven and the pair were married on the 25th April 1891.
The pair moved into a palatial town house in Charles Street, Mayfair, with William and Helen a few doors down the same road. Her marriage was the beginning to her entrance into society and she was presented to court for the first time by the Duchess of Montrose (Ronnie’s Grandmother) in 1892. A popular and vivacious woman, Maggie quickly became popular in society circles and developed a close friendship with Alice Kepple , Edward VII’s mistress. It wasn’t long before Maggie was the society Hostess, entertaining the King. She and Ronnie even rented a stunning property in Surrey, Reigate Priory, for weekend house parties.
In 1906 with money given to her by her Father William MsEwan, Maggie purchased Polesden lacey from Sir Clinton Dawkins estate. Not fully content with the house she hired architects Mewes and Davis, fresh from the Ritz hotel, to renovate and refresh Polesden Lacey. Sadly Ronnie died before the house was finished, passing away from pneumonia following an operation on his throat.
Maggie soldiered on and hosted her first house party at Polesden Lacey in June 1909. The Guest of honour was King Edward VII.
Mrs Greville never re married after Ronnie died, but with the death of her Father in 1913 she inherited his great fortune, making her a very wealthy woman in her own right. If she wasn’t in London at Charles Street or entertaining at Polesden Lacey is was often travelling the globe – following royalty or exploring the empire and beyond. Maggie continued to host weekend house parties at Polesden Lacey, entertaining royalty, aristocrats, politicians and the rich and famous for the rest of her life.
During WWII she took refuge, like many other wealthy people, in the Dorchester Hotel. She wanted to be amongst the action and of course close to the Royal Family who had also decided to stay in London for the duration of the war. It was here that she died aged 78.
There is so much more to say about Mrs Greville – a character and all round interesting woman. Our Tours are a fantastic way to learn more about them. These will run every weekday from 11-12. and over the Winter period (excluding December) we will be running tours on weekends only between 11 and 3.