Mrs Greville's Visitors Book

Two volunteer examine books to create a condition report

How often have you stayed in a hotel or holiday home and signed the visitors book before you leave? Or possibly visited an interesting place and left your name in a book before your go?

Visitors books are often used to keep a record of those who passed through, to record their thoughts from a much enjoyed visit. Party hosts might have used it to show off to other guests.
Maggie Greville kept a visitors book at Polesden Lacey from day one.

the Visitors book at Polesden Lacey
A red leather visitors book with gold detailing
the Visitors book at Polesden Lacey

The “collector of kings” got all of her illustrious guests to sign the book. It contains a list of famous names still recognisable today and it remains a source of information which helps us to tell the story of Mrs Greville and her guests.

Polesden Lacey and the Great War

In 2015 we were able to use the visitors book to discover the list of officers that stayed at Polesden Lacey to convalesce during the Great War in 1915 and 1916. The names in this book are the only list that we are aware of that showed who spent time at the convalescent home.

Using this list our research team was then able to delve into military records, war graves and family papers in order to find out what happened to those brave soldiers. Research wasn’t easy and in some cases drew a complete blank.

Deciphering Officers' Signatures

Our initial attempts, as we found out, have been quite difficult! Take a look at the image below. Some signatures are very clear and were easy to pick out whilst others, however, took a little more work to decipher.

Can you determine the names of these visitors?
Varying quality of signatures in visitors book
Can you determine the names of these visitors?

When the team first started to analyse the names on the list, inevitably some were deciphered incorrectly, and some names have been a complete mystery. Luckily we are able to look in other places to try to match up names.

One of our research volunteers has recently started working on translating names from 1918 onwards. While going through the list he quickly realised that for many names he could only pick out their first or second name. He was then able to use some of the pages which had already been deciphered to search for the first name which quickly showed him that the mystery visitor had been before when he had signed his name much more neatly.

Mrs Greville's Parties Book

When it’s not quite that easy we also have Mrs Greville’s parties book to reference. We had previously used the parties book to find out who had come to Polesden Lacey for Christmas dinner 1935.

The parties book lists all of the parties held at Polesden Lacey from 1926 – 1940 and has provided a huge amount of information. Each page lists the party and its guests – if it was for a particular event, such as Ascot or Christmas, that’s listed too. It’s a wonderful insight into the weekend house parties and luncheons held by Mrs Greville.

What was on the menu in 1932?
A handwritten guest list and menu from Polesden Lacey
What was on the menu in 1932?

In some instances there are also menus listed, information that our chefs here at Polesden have been using to create new dishes. We have been able to cross reference the names in this book with those in the visitors book. The neater signature in the parties book is often far easier to read.

Keeping the Visitors Book Safe

The project to fully transcribe the visitors book continues, but we are lucky enough to have a fully digitized copy to work from. The document itself has been put away over the winter for safe keeping. The book will be on display again as part of the Society Soldiers exhibition from March 25 – August 31. As the project continues we hope to be able to share more of the information with you. Watch this space for further updates.