Keeping house for Mrs Greville

This section of the page features an image gallery, so if you're using a screen reader you may wish to jump to the main content.

In 1942 wealthy Edwardian hostess Mrs Greville made one of the largest bequests the National Trust had yet seen. Previously Maggie Greville had stated her intention to leave the house to the royal family. After hearing of the bequest to the National Trust Queen Elizabeth (later the Queen Mother) commented that such a house and collection would be ‘a very difficult place to upkeep’ and that ‘perhaps it is just as well, things being as they are.’

Waging war against dust, dirt, damp and light

Today we care for over 5,000 items from Mrs Greville’s original bequest. Objects from both her London and her country home are on display at her country mansion, Polesden Lacey. Polesden’s house team wage a daily battle against wear and tear, dirt, dust, light and humidity in order to preserve the collection for future generations.

The collection includes nationally important paintings by Raeburn, Laurence and De Hooch, fabulous European and Oriental ceramics, silver, objets d’art and miniatures. The property team are supported by a range of national experts who can advise on the care of particular objects.

Conservation in action

In Mrs Greville’s day the house would only be opened up for Friday to Monday house parties. Today we have over 110,000 visitors to the house every year. As we open up the house for more of the year, visitors increasingly catch a glimpse of our conservation work happening during open hours. You may see us analysing the types of bug that are eating our collection, polishing the silver or doing the dusting. Our team are always happy to chat about the work they are doing, and may give you a few tips for your own home.

We spend over £20,000 every year on preventative and remedial conservation to the objects in the house. It is always better if we can prevent damage happening through limiting the light and changes to humidity that can affect objects, but inevitably materials decay and there is always something in the collection that needs a little TLC. Last year, for example, three of our lacquer cabinets in the dining room were consolidated by furniture conservators. This year we hope to send three of our Dutch master paintings for urgent conservation work.