A Happy House: the spell woven by a brewer’s daughter


The rain thrummed against the windscreen as I sat on the M25 London orbital motorway. It was not the day to visit a National Trust property renowned for its beautiful gardens.

I permitted myself a long sigh as the windscreen wipers gesticulated wildly back and forth. Carol on the BBC Weather forecast had not mentioned a drop fo rain. Tuesday, she said it was to come. It’s Friday, I informed the clouds glumly. Go away.

They did not heed me and as I drove I reminded myself of my iron strategy for happiness. One day a week, however hatstand it seems, get in the car and go to a haunt. It might be a museum, or a house, or a town but anything, anything , to stop you thinking about work and rebalance you.

I shall, I shall, I intoned like Thomas The Tank Engine as I penetrated the deeper recesses of Surrey, and drove finally, amid stair-rod rain, into the car park.

I had no umbrella. Carol had said sun.

So, inventively, I hopped under each conker tree’s spreading canopy until I reached the gatehouse. Then it was but a  sprint to the ticket office and I was bewailing Carol The Weather Lady with the National Trust ticket office girl.

“They never mentioned a word of this rain!” I exclaimed, and she nodded and her eyes widened and we discussed the whole sorry debacle with animation.

I got my ticket and started the long wet walk to the house. And a voice said:”Are you going up to the house? Would you like to share my umbrella?”

The heavenly angels sung and I said yes, please, and we began ambling along in the lush green and the Summer rain. And as we ambled, we talked. I said I had driven for nearly an hour to get here; and it transpired my rescuers had come much further, from Worthing by the sea. But it’s worth it, they said. It’s a lovely house.

They filled me in on snippets of history as the great drops fell, and we arrived at the portico in fine fooling.

It is very dark inside Polesden Lacey. This is because, though it is relatively modern – it had its heyday at the beginning of the 20th century, hosting weekend parties for the rich, the royal and the famous – it is stuffed with the artefacts bought by the lady who breathed endearingly theatrical life into it. The daughter of a very prosperous brewer indeed, at 28 Margaret Anderson married very well: Ronald Henry Fulke Greville. Money would never have been an object.

She was a party girl who never had children, but left us an astonishing bauble to make us happy. A friend of Queen Mary, the Queen Mother honeymooned at Polesden Lacey, and on her death, Margaret left her all her jewels, including a stunning diamond necklace of Marie Antoinette’s.

I ambled into the dining room and tuned into a guide’s conversation. “This,” she was confiding, gesturing at an elaborate covered bowl decorated with porcelain food, “reputedly belonged to Catherine The Great.”

Every room was filled with lovely things which made one happy just to look at them. China dogs, sparkling lavish chandeliers, august oil paintings. One just had to smile.

And smile the people did, as they pottered round inspecting the contents of the house like Lobelia Sackville Baggins and her clan. “This shows, ” expostulated one woman enthusiastically and with vigour,”that if you want anything enough you can create it. What an extraordinary woman.”

From the young, perfectly groomed man with the cut glass accent, explaining the decor to his attentive mother to the retired couples who had driven here for a Friday off; everyone had their reason for being here. But they weren’t passively drifting. They were gloriously  happy, caught up in the story of a brewer’s daughter who became one of the most lavish society hostesses of her time.

The place is a recipe – even on a rainy day – for happiness.

Written in response to Side View’s theme: Happiness, the details of which you can find here


16 thoughts on “A Happy House: the spell woven by a brewer’s daughter

  1. I’m glad you toughed it out. I love your philosophy: “One day a week, however hatstand it seems, get in the car and go to a haunt.” This is one I plan to adopt. During my break, I spend far too much time in doors. So off I’ll go, Kate.

    I also love how you ended the post and the photos – delightful.

  2. Wonderful house. I am very taken by the painting of the lady in the fur hat and coat and by that wonderful gallery with red curtains and Chinese urns. Beautiful place to visit. Bloody weather forecasters.

  3. Fabulous amounts of money and a life-time supply of beer… hmm, it doesn’t smell like depression. Love the word use of hatstand.

  4. I always love it when you tour these gems and share, Kate. It’s so great of them to let you take pictures inside the house. Many of them do not. It does look like a happy place, even in the rain.

  5. I had no idea there was such a thing as yellow wysteria. I’ve always thought purple, like the one I once had, was the only color.

    And I must adopt your “iron strategy for happiness.” It sounds like exactly what I need to do.

  6. It sounds like it was well worth the trip Kate. What an amazing array of artefacts. I would love to own a chandelier like the one you photographed.

  7. How I enjoy these chance moments that blossom in spite of the rain where we meet someone(s) new who add to our experience. Good for you, Kate, for braving the rain – and for taking this outings. I love that you share them with us here. Oh, how I would love this house.

  8. i’d love to sit in that room with a view on such a rainy day…your pictures are always so inviting, as if I must step inside. (as an aside, is that first photo a sink or a commode? terribly perplexed!)

  9. Catching up …
    Your journeys certainly produce lots of interest, rain or no rain!
    One would have thought that living in England, one would ALWAYS have raingear available. I do, there. And mostly need it.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s