As a child growing up in 90s Britain, my interests were fairly mainstream – listening to S Club 7, reading Harry Potter, watching SMTV Live (anyone else remember this?) and going horse riding. Thanks to my dad, I also grew up with some not so normal past times – listening to male voice choirs, going to (endless!) steam railways, and visiting National Trust sites. I was the epitome of cool…
Sadly, having hit my mid-20s (very nearly and very begrudgingly), it seems that I am taking after my dad. Because last week Ben and I made a trip to a National Trust house. And we actually really enjoyed it! As I get older I am taking more of an interest in homeware and domestic life (thank you Pinterest and homeware magazines….). And as much as I probably should still be going out and getting trashed at weekends and stumbling home from clubs at 3am, to be honest a day rambling in the countryside often holds far more sway for me. Although I could never do it all the time, I am hankering for an evening in with Ben with a Chinese takeaway and a Netflix marathon! (I’m thinking of starting The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. Has anyone seen it? Thoughts?)
Anyway, back on track. Ben chose Polesden Lacey, a gorgeous Edwardian house not far from Box Hill, in the Surrey Hills. We took the trip down Wednesday afternoon, and from the moment we stepped out of the car I was transported back to my childhood. Heavy layers, walking boots and an obligation to visit the tearoom, stat!
Polesden Lacey is the glamorous country home of Edwardian socialite Margaret Greville. Born to an inauspicious start in Scotland, she inherited a great fortune from her father, the owner of a brewery. Marriage to the Hon. Ronald Henry Fulke Greville soon followed (or Ronnie – eldest son of a baron, no less!), and in 1906 they made Polesden Lacey their holiday home away from home. They paid £80,000 for the privilege (if only we could all buy country mansions for so little these days!). Following a redesign by the architects behind the Ritz, the house was thrown open to lavish weekend house parties, where guests could escape from the hectic whirl of London living and indulge in good food, good drink and good company. Think The Great Gatsby meets Downton Abbey! Everyone from the upper echelons of society were welcome – even Edward VII, Queen Victoria’s son and King of England, visited here with his wife, his mistress and her husband. If the walls could talk, we would not doubt hear some scandalous tales!
Margaret Greville sounds like the sort of woman that would make your life far more exciting for knowing her. Her steely ambition drove her into the highest social circles, and when she died she left all of her expensive jewellery to Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother. Friends in high places indeed! Yet Margaret Greville is also famous for saying that “I would rather be a beeress than a peeress”. A woman after many hearts!
Because we are eternally on the drag, Ben and I arrived with only a few hours to look around, but it turned out to be enough. The National Trust only took the house over in 1942, when Mrs Greville left it to them in her will. Sadly a lot of the original furniture was sold on, so the renovations are still ongoing now to try and restore the house to its former glory. However, nothing can take away from the gorgeous view that greets you when you wander down the gravel drive to the front of the house. The butter-coloured house, set against the rolling green hills under a wide open sky, is one of the most beautiful sites I witnessed. I fell for it completely and utterly before even walking through the front door!
Polesden Lacey also opened its doors to wounded soldiers during the First World War. One of the rooms has a small exhibition dedicated to the fact. I couldn’t imagine anywhere more peaceful to recover, and the struggle they must have had to leave the safety of Surrey and return to the battlefields. This list of names below shows the name of every soldier who was sent to Polesden Lacey to recuperate during the war. The ones with the poppies next to them died on the battlefield.
With that rather sobering finale, we took a break in the landscaped gardens. Sadly, being March, the roses are all currently in hiding until the warmer months. However, there was some lovely spring blossom putting on a show!
We then made a compuslory stop off at the tea room, before heading back into the grounds for a final mooch around. Now don’t be put off by the gloomy lighting around the house – I know with the clouds and shadows it looks rather imposing, like something out of a Victorian gothic novel! But it truly is a gorgeous place.
And, while we were there, we couldn’t resist pratting around in the children’s playground. As you do! I think Ben justified it as us “doing the National Trust, ironically”. Whatever makes you feel better, dear…
With our goodbyes said to Polesden Lacey, we made one final stop off on our way home, to Box Hill. Ben and our mutual friend Nathan (the ever loyal Frostblade, my staunch supporter and commenter on this blog!) had cycled to Box Hill from Hampton Court the week before. Ben thought I might like to see the view. And he was very right!
All in all we had a gorgeous afternoon at Polesden Lacey, and if you’re in that part of the world I would highly recommend you stop by for a little trip back in time. Gaze out across the lawn and imagine the sound of croquet mallets clicking and pimms glasses clinking on a perfect English summer’s day.