Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Christmas with Maggie

"So shrewd, so kind, so amusingly unkind, so sharp, such fun, so naughty."
"Maggie Greville? I would sooner have an open sewer in my drawing room."

Maggie Greville was one of the most celebrated Edwardian society hostesses but, as the above comments reveal, opinions were sharply divided over her character. She was the illegitimate daughter of a Scottish brewery millionaire, William McEwan, and a lodging house keeper, Helen Anderson, but many years after her birth, the pair married. Maggie remained very close to her father who lived with her in his latter years. He left her his fortune, the equivalent of £65 million pounds in today's terms.

In addition to her London house, Maggie owned a beautiful mansion in Surrey, England, by the name of Polesden Lacey. Under her reign, Polesden became a mecca for high society. Lucky guests enjoyed weekends filled with entertainment, sparkling conversation and delicious food in surroundings that rivalled a luxury hotel.

Marriage to the aristocratic Ronnie Greville launched Maggie on her meteoric rise in society. She was an inveterate snob and collected the rich and famous with ruthless efficiency. (She once remarked she was only interested in rich people.) Visitors would find themselves hobnobbing with prime ministers, maharajahs, film stars or even King Edward VII himself accompanied by his mistress Alice Keppel. At Polesden the first two rules were, "Have fun" and "Anything goes"; but the third was even more important - if you wanted to be asked again, you had to remember that, just as in Vegas, what happened at Polesden Lacey, stayed at Polesden Lacey.

Maggie's taste in interior decoration could be over the top, but the marvellous collection of paintings, furniture, ceramics and textiles in the house testify to her good eye for lovely things. The house is shown off with particular magnificence at Christmas when its present owner, the National Trust, decorates in style as Maggie would have done, even using household record books to recreate the Christmas dinner for a particular year with the table set with silver and crystal along with place cards giving the names of the fortunate guests.
On her death in 1942, Maggie left all her fabulous jewellery, including a diamond necklace which was reputed to have belonged to Marie Antoinette, to the Queen Mother and it all remains in the Royal Family. One notable item is the beautiful tiara often worn by the Duchess of Cornwall.
If you're ever in Surrey, why not go and see Polesden for yourself? Meanwhile, I hope you enjoy these few pictures of the ultimate Edwardian Christmas. 

Guess which one is the butler who was too fond of finishing the port

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