How often have your stayed in a hotel or holiday home and signed the visitors book before you leave? Or possibly visited an interesting place and left your name in a book before your go? Visitors books are often kept to keep a record of those who passed through, to record your thoughts from a much enjoyed visit or hostesses might of used it to show off to other party guests.
Maggie Greville kept a visitors book at Polesden Lacey from day one. The “collector of kings” got all of her illustrious guests to sign the book. The visitors book contains a list of famous names still recognisable today and it remains a wealth of information which helps us to tell the story of Mrs Greville and her guests.
In 2015 we were able to use the visitors book to discover the list of officers that stayed at Polesden Lacey to convalesce in 1915 and 1916. The names in this book are the only list that we are aware of that showed who spent time at the convalescent home. Using this list our research team were then able to delve into military records, war graves and family papers in order to find out what happened to those brave soldiers. Research wasn’t easy and in some cases drew a complete blank. Step one, as we found out has been quite difficult! Take a look at the below image. Some signatures are clear as day and were easy to pick out, others however took a little more work to decipher.
When the team first started to decipher the names on the list, inevitably some were deciphered wrong, and some names have been a complete mystery. Luckily we are able to look in other places to try to match up names. One of our Research Volunteers has recently started working on deciphering names from 1918 onwards. While going through the list he quickly realised that many names he could only pick out their first or second name. He was then able to use some of the pages which have already been deciphered to search for the first name which quickly showed him that the mystery visitor had been before – but last time he had signed his name much more neatly. When its not quite that easy we also have Mrs Greville’s parties book to refer to. Avid blog readers will remember that we used the parties book to find out who had come to Polesden Lacey for Christmas dinner 1935.
The Parties book list all of the parties at Polesden Lacey from 1926 – 1940 and has provided a huge amount of information for us. Each page lists the party and its guests – if it was for a particular event such as Ascot or Christmas that’s listed too. Its a wonderful insight into the weekend house parties and luncheons held by Mrs Greville. In some instances there are also menus listed too, information that our chefs here at Polesden have been using the create new dishes. We have been able to cross reference the names in this book with those in the visitors book, the much neater single hand of the parties book is often much much easier to read.
The project to fully transcribe the visitors book continues, but we are lucky enough to have a fully digitized copy to work from. The document itself is safely put away over the winter for safe keeping. The book will be on display again as part of the Society Soldiers exhibition from March 25 – August 31. As the project continues we hope to be able to share more of the information with you. Keep you eyes peeled for further updates.