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!
(Ronnie is the rather dapper-looking man in the moustache, who unfortunately also looks like a slightly suave Dr Crippen. Can you also spot King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother?)
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!
When a house looks like this, who couldn’t love it? And the inside looks pretty stunning too. Come take a little tour with me back to the height of Edwardian design…
Funky wallpaper, isn’t it? It looks to me a bit like a more pastoral take on the Wild West print that Cath Kidston had in a few years ago.
The above photos were all from upstairs, particularly the rather grand bathroom. But the downstairs was even more opulent…
A dining room laid for a formal dinner entertaining the royal family…
Predictably, the library was one of my favourite rooms, and I could have happily curled up in that cosy, mustard-coloured armchair for an afternoon of reading by the fire.
The gold room was insane. Gleaming like a Gringotts vault, it had such a warm glow, and reminded me a little of the ballroom at Brighton Pavilion.
I got a bit obsessed with this chandelier. One of the stewards recommended that I lie on the floor to get a good photo. I resisted, but I haven’t ruled it out in future!
A particularly epic urn. I imagine it storing a vat of cocktails, or masses of ice studded with bottles of champagne! Have some…phish!
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!
And somebody decided to photobomb my sun dial photo…
Though you can’t deny it adds something!
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.
We got very lucky, and happened upon that mythical ‘Golden Hour’, so sought after by photographers, when everything is bathed in a gorgeous glow and adds an automatic softness.
You can’t tell so well from this one, but these photos of us posing with this awesome carved bench shows it better.
…Oh so sexy.
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.
Have you been to any (or, as I have, many) National Trust properties? I’m sure we can swap notes! Do you have any you can recommend to me?