Polesden Lacey's first exhibition: Beyond the Bequest

A segment from a maiolica plate depicting two men talking in front of a temple.

Margaret Greville lived in the lap of luxury having been supported by and subsequently inheriting her beer baron father’s considerable fortune. Accustomed in every way to the very best that her father’s money could buy, Maggie, as she was known within the highest social circles, knew how to spend.

Personal stuff

Over the course of a lifetime, we each accumulate the sort of ‘stuff’ that reflects the life we’ve lived – jewellery from a special occasion, pictures and ornaments that took our fancy, gifts from loved ones, a car, some perfume, a hairbrush, linen, the crockery, the kitchen sink and, of course, a house to put it all in.

But what if your friends were royalty? What if your jewellery box was crammed full with diamonds and kept in a safe? What if the pictures on your walls actually comprised a world-class art collection?

What if your country house was Polesden Lacey and, if that weren’t enough, you also had a London house with a cellar stocked with 142 bottles of Bollinger champagne?

Mrs Greville left behind many treasures
Maggie Greville laughs on the south terrace of Polesden Lacey house
Mrs Greville left behind many treasures

No heirs, no spares

Maggie died on 15 September 1942, leaving no heirs behind. Speculation was rife about who would inherit her considerable worldly goods and most people expected that she would leave it all to her friends, King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, our late Queen Mother.

But to everyone’s surprise, Maggie left Polesden Lacey and all her ‘stuff’ to the National Trust. 

It was expected that the king and queen would inherit Polesden Lacey
The Duke and Duchess of York chatting
It was expected that the king and queen would inherit Polesden Lacey

From a collection of over 7500 items, including fine art, diamond encrusted bookmarks, and a sarcophagus, House and Collections Manager Jonathan Marsh has selected 37 items of particular interest for Polesden’s winter exhibition Beyond the Bequest: treasuring an extraordinary collection. 

Items of significant meaning

Discover Maggie’s life story as told by the items that meant something to her, from personal treasures to disposable luxuries. The following examples offer a preview into this fascinating exhibition.

1)    'The Introduction' by Gerard ter Borch

This captivating painting was purchased by Maggie's father in 1896 for £3000 and eventually became part of her extensive painting collection at Polesden Lacey alongside masterpieces by other famous names, such as Raeburn and Teniers.

 Although things seem respectable, the lady's expression of uncertainty and officer's bold confidence suggest that there may be some illicit intentions afoot.

Maggie had hundreds of paintings in her collection
Painting of
Maggie had hundreds of paintings in her collection

2)    The tea set

This tea set, designed by architect and interior designer Eric Bagge, was a gift to Maggie from her cousin Robert Younger, Baron Blanesburgh. Afternoon tea was arguably the most important appointment on Polesden’s daily schedule, making the tea set quite a thoughtful gift. 

Tea at Polesden Lacey was served every day at 5pm sharp
A Sevres tea set on a side table
Tea at Polesden Lacey was served every day at 5pm sharp

Maggie eventually gave the tea set to one of her maids and, while we’re not sure what prompted this generous gift, it points to an amicable relationship between employee and mistress.

3)    The Greville tiara

Maggie had originally planned to leave Polesden Lacey to the king and queen. But when she changed her mind and left the house to the National Trust she cushioned the blow by leaving over 40 pieces of jewellery to Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, including the Boucheron ‘Greville’ diamond tiara.

Maggie left many of her jewels to the royal family
Maggie Greville's diamond tiara on a velvet cushion
Maggie left many of her jewels to the royal family

This exceptionally generous bequest was a deeply personal gesture honouring the friendship that existed between Maggie, King George VI and the Queen Mother. The couple had in fact honeymooned at Polesden in 1923, 19 years before Maggie’s death.

Beyond the Bequest: treasuring and extraordinary collection will run from 5 January until 30 March. For the first time, the house at Polesden Lacey will be open every day this winter. Normal admission applies.

Mrs Greville speaks with some guests with a Facebook logo in the corner of the picture

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