Maggie Greville, the last owner of Polesden Lacey

A black and white photo of Maggie Greville sitting on the south terrace at Polesden Lacey

Dame Margaret Greville, known as Maggie to her friends, was the inimitable owner of Polesden Lacey from 1906 – 1942. It was here where she entertained royalty, politicians and countless celebrities at lavish weekend parties. From a quiet childhood in Scotland, she became one of the early 20th Century’s most powerful socialites.

Quiet beginnings 

Margaret Helen Anderson was born in London on 20 December 1863; her natural parents were Helen Anderson and William McEwan, a successful brewer. However, Maggie’s birth certificate states that her parents are Helen Anderson and William Murray Anderson. 

William Murray Anderson was in fact an employee at William McEwan’s Edinburgh brewery. To save Helen’s reputation, and provide the baby with legitimacy, it is believed that McEwan sent Helen and William Anderson to London to have the baby. As they had the same surname, no one would question whether they were actually man and wife when they registered Maggie’s birth. 

In early spring 1864, William Anderson returned to Edinburgh, his job at the brewery and his complicit wife; Helen and Maggie followed a couple of months later.

William McEwan and Helen eventually married when Maggie was 21, and although there were always rumours about Maggie’s true parentage, McEwan was referred to as her step-father. By the time of the marriage, McEwan was a well-respected businessman and Liberal MP, and the family lived in Mayfair.
 

Maggie and Ronnie

Maggie married Captain Ronald ‘Ronnie’ Greville, heir to a baronetcy and a member of the Marlborough house set, the social circle around the future King Edward VII, in 1891.

It was a mutually beneficial match; through her ‘step-father’, Maggie brought money to the marriage ‘she had the sense to meet and marry a man who as a member of a good family who I think was not rich at all but quite poor, and I suppose with him as a background she was able to get into Society’ (People and Places by S.E.D. Fortescue)

The ideal husband: well connected
A sepia portrait of Ronnie Greville wearing a hat
The ideal husband: well connected

Society hostess

Maggie and Ronnie lived in Mayfair, and when Ronnie retired as MP for East Bradford in 1906, they bought Polesden Lacey as their weekend retreat. The couple commissioned architects Mewès and Davis, famous for remodelling the Ritz Hotel in London, to entirely renovate the house. Sadly, Ronnie died in April 1908, a year before renovations were completed. 

Maggie hosted her first house party at Polesden in June 1909, marking her return to society; the guest of honour was none other than King Edward VII. She continued to host the great and good of the day for the next 30 years – including Winston Churchill, Beverly Nichols and Queen Ena of Spain.

A summer party on the south lawn at Polesden Lacey
A black and white photo of a party on the south lawn at Polesden Lacey
A summer party on the south lawn at Polesden Lacey

Not only was Maggie a popular hostess, but she also had a great knowledge of business and politics. She was a board member at McEwan’s brewery and was said to have great influence over many politicians of the time. 

Maggie passed away at the Dorchester Hotel on 15 September 1942, leaving Polesden Lacey to the National Trust ‘for the largest number of people to have enjoyment thereof’.