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Margaret Greville, the last owner of Polesden Lacey

A full-length portrait of Margaret McEwan, The Hon. Mrs Ronald Greville (1863-1942) as a young woman, by Emile-Auguste Carolus-Duran, turned slightly to the left, gazing at the spectator, and wearing a large black feathered hat and a deep pink velvet coat.
A painting of Margaret McEwan, The Hon. Mrs Ronald Greville | © National Trust Images / John Hammond

Learn about the life of super-rich socialite Dame Margaret Greville, the last private owner of Polesden Lacey. From the early 1900's until 1942 Polesden was her weekend retreat and the place where she entertained royalty, politicians and celebrities at lavish weekend parties.

Margaret Greville's birth

Margaret Helen Anderson was born in London on 20 December 1863. Her birth certificate states that her parents are Helen Anderson and William Murray Anderson. However her father was in fact William McEwan, the successful brewer.

Preserving a reputation

William Murray Anderson was actually an employee at William McEwan’s Edinburgh brewery. To save Helen’s reputation, and to 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 Margaret’s birth.

The marriage of Margaret's parents

William McEwan and Helen eventually married when Margaret was 21 and, although there were always rumours about Margaret's true parentage, McEwan was referred to as Margaret's stepfather. By the time of their marriage, McEwan was a well respected businessman and liberal MP, and the family lived in Mayfair.

Mrs Greville and Ronnie

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

It was a mutually beneficial match; through her ‘stepfather’, Margaret brought money to the marriage.

'...she had the sense to meet and marry a man who was 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

Society hostess

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

Margaret hosted her first house party at Polesden over a year later in June 1909, marking her return to Society. The guest of honour was none other than King Edward VII.

An influential figure

Margaret continued to host the great and good of the day for the next 30 years, including Winston Churchill, Charlie Chaplin and Queen Ena of Spain.

Not only was Margaret a popular hostess, 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.

The Duke and Duchess of York, later King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, while on their honeymoon at Polesden Lacey, Surrey
The Duke and Duchess of York, later King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, while on their honeymoon at Polesden Lacey | © National Trust/ Richard Holttum

A royal honeymoon at Polesden Lacey

The future King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother spent the first part of their 1923 honeymoon relaxing at Mrs Greville's house.

On the evening of the wedding day, the Duke and Duchess travelled by train from Waterloo to Bookham. They were met by cheering crowds, who lined the route to Polesden Lacey. Once they had arrived, the Duchess sent a telegram to her mother, saying, ‘Arrived safely deliciously peaceful here hope you are not all too tired love Elizabeth.’

The couple's relaxing retreat

The newlyweds had the entire estate to themselves, as Mrs Greville was staying at her London house. It is believed they used the Royal Suite or the King’s Suite, the suite of rooms that Mrs Greville designed specifically for the use of King Edward VII (the Duke’s grandfather).

The couple spent a week at Polesden – archive photographs show them playing golf, wandering around the gardens and relaxing on the south terrace – before travelling on to Glamis Castle in Scotland.

Legacy to the National Trust

Margaret 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.’

To find out more about Mrs Greville, watch our short film: Introduction to Mrs Greville.

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