As I write this my hands are thawing after a stint on the front door welcoming visitors into the house on a chilly New Years Day. Room guiding isn’t my usual role but it is one that i thoroughly enjoy, especially when visitors are so fascinated by the house and you get to tell them all about its fascinating history. One of the questions that Room Guides often get asked the most is:
“How old is the house?”
As I answered that same question for the 4th time this morning, I thought to myself, wouldn’t that make an interesting blog post?
The age of the house is always a somewhat interesting question to answer because, as with any building, there are many layers to the history of the building. If you could peel back the layers you would be able to see many years worth of alterations by different owners of Polesden Lacey.
Only small bits of information can be pieced together from sales records, maps and census’s but it means we are able to build a timeline of Polesden’s past owners. In 1086 there is a record of an 150 acre farm on this site in the Doomsday book which belonged to a Saxon named Oswald La Leigh of Effingham, then in 1220 the Polesden Family become owners of the farm, a local family of farmers from West-Humble. Over the next 200 years the farm at Polesden is passed on again to another Farmer William de Crofte before becoming uninhabited after its owner passed away during the Black Death.
Eventually in 1387 the family of John Lacy move in and this is the first time they the name Lacy appears at may well be the origin of “Polesden Lacey”. Polesden continued life as a farm under various owners until the 1600’s.
In 1630 we finally see the first mansion house being built on the estate by Anthony Rous, a nobleman who unfortunately died before being able to finish building, leaving his son to complete the mansion. His family lived in the house until 1722 when the mansion is sold to Politician Arthur Moore who later sold the mansion to his Brother, who in turn left the mansion to his nephew William.
In 1747 the estate is bought by Francis Geary, Captain in the Royal Navy (later an Admiral and Baronet) who added to the estate, purchasing 1900 acres of Surrey and Sussex. He also redeveloped the Gardens and terraces at Polesden. Upon his death in 1797 the house was bought by Richard Brinsley Sheridan. The Sales particulars for Polesden describe the mansion at this time as “an ancient by firm and substantial building with a regular front, judiciously placed in the center of the estate, upon a dry beautiful and healthy spot.” After his death Joseph Bonsor, a London stationer and bookseller, buys Polesden Lacey in 1818, increasing the size of the estate to include Ranmore Common.
In 1821 we start to see a bit of the building that we might recognise today. In 1821-3 Bonsor commissions Thomas Cubitt to rebuild the mansion in the Neo-classical style. Bonsor’s son Joseph succeeds him in 1835. The south front of the house is the only part of this original building remaining, but you can still see the Neoclassical columns today which look out over the south lawn.
The Mansion is extended again in 1853 by Sir Walter Farquhar. In 1902 Polesden is bought again by Sir Clinton Dawkins, a civil servant and banker. He employs Ambrose Poynter to rebuild the house, keeping only the south front of the house which today includes the Library, Saloon and Tea room. Sadly Clinton Dawkins died before he could enjoy his new house and the mansion and estate was then purchased in 1906 by Maggie Greville. The rest as we say is History.
Maggie of course put her own stamp on things and employed architects to re furbish the interiors of the house and also had extensions added to the front of the house but perhaps that is best left for another blog post – a whole other story.