William McEwan (1827-1913), born and bred in Alloa in Scotland, founded the Fountain Brewery in Edinburgh in 1856 and, as McEwan’s beer became famous (as it still is today), he became a wealthy man and moved into politics. He built up a fine art collection, many works from which he donated to the National Gallery of Scotland and he funded the fine ceremonial hall at Edinburgh University, which, named the McEwan Hall, has recently, along with its organ, had a major refurbishment.
McEwan’s last home was Polesden Lacey in Surrey, which he bought for his daughter Margaret Greville and her husband, who remodelled it as a weekend retreat and a place for entertainment, including guests from royalty and the top echelons of English society. The architects were Charles Mewès and Arthur Davis, who were also the architects for London’s Ritz Hotel. Sadly, Ronald Greville died in 1908, but Margaret continued to entertain in style at her country home.
Much of William’s art collection is still there, including several works by Scottish artists such as Sir Henry Raeburn – with more such works on display than at Tate Britain which is supposed to represent all of British art, while several portraits of William and Margaret can be found throughout the house.
Today, owned by the National Trust, the interiors are as they were when the family lived there, almost as if they have just popped out for a moment or two, including a whisky decanter and Cuban cigars ready for after dinner. It was champagne or cocktails before dinner, of course! The entrance hall was, as with other rooms, designed to impress and contains a wonderful timber altarpiece saved from a Christopher Wren church which had been demolished.
The views across the Surrey landscape are stunning and there is a splendid series of formal gardens, just coming into bloom in spring.
The house is also famous as hosting the future King George VI and Queen Mary for part of their honeymoon in 1923.