Nestled in the stunning Surrey Hills is Polesden Lacey – a magnificent Edwardian estate that’s seen its far share of high society gatherings. The National Trust is in the middle of restoring 18 of the house’s 200 rooms never seen by the public before. The Unseen Spaces at Polesden Lacey take you behind the scenes and give you an insight into the work being done to preserve some of our national treasures.
Stepping back in time at Polesden Lacey
We visited this lavish listed building and its grounds during a weekend break in Surrey. There’s been a house on the site since the 14th Century but the current stately home dates from the 19th Century.
Up until 1942 it was home to Dame Margret Greville, an Edwardian society hostess, who threw magnificent parties for her London friends. Among them were King Edward VII, and the Duke and Duchess of York. Later King George V and Queen Elizabeth (the Queen Mother).
Today the house is one of the Trust’s most popular properties, with stunning works of art, furniture and all the finery of an Edwardian party house on display. There are also extensive grounds, formal gardens, a cafe and play park.
Exploring Unseen Spaces at Polesden Lacey
The house gives a real taste of how the other half lived. Every room has something that catches the eye from grand chandeliers to ornate gold plaster work. You can also see glimpses of Mrs Grenville’s royal connections. The Duke and Duchess of York spent their honeymoon at the house and Mrs Grenville left much of her estate to the Queen Mother. There are replicas of some of the world class jewel on display.
One of my favourite things about our visit was the ‘Rules and Roller Skates’ exhibits and ‘Unseen Spaces’ tour. The National Trust has embraced the interest in TV shows like Downton Abbey and are offering visitors a glimpse beyond the deep pile carpets and family portraits.
The exhibits give insight into the lives of the’s estate’s domestic staff with contemporary accounts of life below stairs. One of the stories that stands out is how the staff used to race down the halls on roller skates. This obviously happened when Mrs Grenville was not in residence. You can also walk through areas where the servants would have lived and worked. These are some of the spaces only recently opened to the public. The ‘Unseen Spaces’ are still a work in progress and quite bare at the moment. The intention is to collect period items to restore rooms to how they might have originally looked.
Entertaining children at Polesden Lacey
As National Trust aficionados the Tin Box girls are now adept at seeking out the dressing up boxes that invariably form part of the experience for younger members. They were not disappointed and had two opportunities to dress up. First as a member of the elite and then as a servant. I think they preferred the servants role but this probably had more to do with the period ironing boards and irons which they could play with.
After visiting the house it was time for one tot to blow off some steam and the other to take a nap. So we headed out in the grounds towards the play park, Squirrel’s Corner. On the way we passed the outdoor theatre, a flattened area with surrounding grass slope to give staged seating. Regular events are held here through the summer, most recently performances of The Tempest.
Squirrel’s Corner was a big hit with giant chalk boards and a low level obstacle course to clamber around. Tin Box Tot did several circuits before running around in the fallen leaves. On our way back towards the house we found a bird hide with lots of feeders to ensure plenty spotting opportunities.
Tips for visiting Polesden Lacey
- The car park is free for members. There’s a pay and display machine for non members. The postcode is KT23 4PZ.
- There are multiple coffee and food outlets both in the visitors centre and in the gardens. If the first one looks busy, keep going and you’ll find somewhere else for refreshments. Even better, bring a picnic to have in the grounds.
- Don’t forget to pick up some binoculars from the visitors centre for bird spotting.
- Mrs Greville was a keen dog owner and four-legged friends are still allowed in the estate grounds today. There are plenty of footpaths to follow and on the second Tuesday of every month there’s an organised dog walk.
Which part of visiting stately homes do you enjoy most? The ornate living rooms of the lords and ladies or the servants’ quarters?
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