Greywalls - a family history by Colonel John Weaver
Greywalls was designed in 1901 for the Hon. Alfred Lyttelton by Sir Edwin Lutyens, Architect of New Delhi, the Cenotaph in Whitehall and the British Embassy in Washington.
In origin the house was comparatively small ending on the West side at the main gable to the left of the front door, over which may be seen the motto of the Lyttelton family. The garden was designed by Gertrude Jekyll, who collaborated with Lutyens in many of his country houses. The house had indeed been built as a ‘holiday home’ by a keen golfer who wanted to be within a mashie niblick shot of the 18th green at Muirfleld.
Mr. William James bought Greywalls in 1905 and, finding that the house was not big enough for his family, had the lodges at the gate built on in 1908 to accommodate staff and asked Sir Robert Lorimer, the leading Scottish Architect, to build on the ‘Nursery’ wing to the West in 1911.
Consequently Greywalls is now not only the single remaining Lutyens house in Scotland but also the only house to my knowledge which can boast examples of the work of the 2 leading architects of their day.
As a friend of Mrs Willy James’s, King Edward VII stayed at Greywalls several times and there is a nice anecdote, probably apochryphal, told about him here. He was playing cards, late at night in what is now the bar, and took his lady partner to task for her play. She replied to him ‘ To tell you the truth, Sir, Jam so tired that I can t tell the difference between a king and a knave!”
The only remaining memorial here to His Late Majesty is the staff accommodation hidden in the garden which, because it used to be, is still called the Kings Loo.
The James ’s never lived in Greywalls after the first war and the house was let to various people. North Berwick was very fashionable at that time and many houses were let to summer visitors. Amongst those who took it was the then Lord Derby. He used to complain that he could not sit more than eight people in the dining room (which is now the small dining room). But, as he had a footman behind each chair, space was bound to be restricted.
And talking of footmen. the buildings now known as North and South Lodge, near the front gate, were in those days footmens bothies. The two rooms in each had a partition down the centre, giving accommodation for eight manservants. They were lit by gas and had no sanitation other than a basin and cold tap in the porch. But when one considers that Greywalls originally had only one bathroom, perhaps this is not so surprising
In 1924 Lt. Col. Sir James Horlick, my father-in-law, bought the house and he and his family used it as their summer holiday house until the beginning of World War Two. Then it was requisitioned as a place for rest and relaxation for the fighter pilots at Drem airfield, two miles away. Wild parties were the order of the day in the sunken garden at the back of the house. Many were invited and enormous quantities of alcohol were consumed for who knew which of the pilots would be there tomorrow? Later in the war it was derequisitioned and let to Polish forces, who converted it into a hospital and finally a maternity hospital. There were rows of nappies hanging along the edge of Muirfield golf course!
During the war the house had come into my wifes possession and by 1947 we were wondering what on earth to do with it. It was essential to give it some useful purpose as well as using it as our home. So the idea of Greywalls as an hotel was born. At a time of rationing and scarcity it was not easy to get the necessary alterations done and to find the thousand and one bits of equipment required. We were, for instance, given sufficient coupons to buy seventeen sheets to start an hotel with - one for each guest bed and none for the staff. But in the end everything was ready and Greywalls opened on the 1st April, 1948.
There have been many alterations and additions to the house since then. One dreadful day in 1952 we squeezed 46 people into the (now small) dining room. It was painfully obvious that the room was far too small for our growing business. The new dining room was built the following winter. Bathrooms were added as opportunity offered, particularly after the disastrous fire of 1969, until every room capable of containing a bathroom had one. And finally the new wing, consisting of a sitting room and five double bedrooms and bathrooms was completed in time for the 1972 season. It was built in what used to be the grass tennis court and has created a sheltered little enclave which we have called Martins garden after our elder son.
In planning these additions we have done our utmost to preserve the character of the original Lutyens design by continuing to use Rattlebags stone from a local quarry worked by monks, and tiles made specially in Holland. Indeed Lutyens when he was staying with my father-in-law (in those days there were flowers beds on the front lawns) remarked “What are these flowers beds doing drawing the eye off the beautiful lines of my favourite house?” They were grassed in at once and have remained so!
We still regard Grevwalls as ‘home’ and try to impart the atmosphere of a private house to our guests, many of whom have become good friends over the years. Some have been eccentric: there was the man whose bed had to be lined up exactly North and South because the magnetic flow improved his golf : and there was the man who flung open his bedroom door with a roar, hurled his hot water bottle down the passage and shouted that he would rather sleep with the devil.
Other guests have reminded us of the past : there was the elderly American who came to tea with his wife and daughter. He told me that, as a young Irish builder’s labourer, he had taken part in the building of the house and had been captivated by Mrs. Lyttelton’s charm and gaiety : and there was the delightful man who had ended his career as butler in the British Embassy in Washington, having started as a footman at Greywalls in my father - in - law’s day.
Many other incidents and comments over the years have brought home to us the affection felt by so many people for this beautiful house and reflect our desire that it should continue to give such pleasure.
Colonel John Weaver
My parents handed on the house to Ros and myself in 1977 and we have tried to maintain the atmosphere the same as it has always been. This has not been easy since my father ‘was’ the place. He sadly died in 1993 - but he has left his memorial here - Greywalls.
We too have our share of anecdotes - many to do with the leading golfers staying with us for the various Open Championships held at Muirfleld. One of my favourites, though, concerns Robert Bruce (descended from THE Bruce) who was Lord Lieutenant of Shetland. Because they used not to be able to receive the BBC2 television service in the Shetland Islands, the Bruces used to come and stay at Greywalls for the Wimbledon tennis fortnight in June - to be able to watch the full championship on TV.’
We keep re-decorating, improving the amenities in the bedrooms, and working in the garden - where the two tortoises I had as a child are still ambling around. We have turned the King’s Loo into a lovely bedroom “in” the rose garden. But the spirit of the house is and will remain the same. We love it and hope you do too.