At some time prior to 1754, the Lodge began life as a humble cottage of one room, occupied by a molecatcher whose sole duty was to reduce the peril presented to huntsmen by molehills.
This cottage was enlarged to form a dwelling with four principal rooms and renamed Hill Lodge. The occupant, John Trage, a gamekeeper, let rooms to Elizabeth, Countess of Pembroke, who became very fond of the Lodge and begged King George III to grant it to her.
The King granted her request and another lodge was built for Trage in 1787, at a cost to the King of some £294. It is, of course, entirely coincidental that the Countess was “one of the great beauties of the age”. Between 1788 and 1796, Sir John Soane and Henry Holland extended the building, on behalf of the Countess of Pembroke, to form the entire Georgian wing and part of the North wing.
After the death of the Countess here on 26th May 1831, at the grand age of 93, William IV granted the Lodge to the Earl of Erroll, husband of one of his daughters. Between 1831 and 1846 the Earl completed most of the remainder of the North wing. The Countess of Dunmore lived here during 1846.
In 1847, Queen Victoria granted the Lodge to Lord John Russell, the Prime Minister, who conducted much Government business from here. This was one of the heydays with visitors including Queen Victoria and the Prince Consort, Palmerston, Gladstone, Garibaldi, Thackeray, Dickens, Browning, Tennyson, Landseer and Lewis Carroll. Lord John was much taken with the Lodge – “an asset that could hardly be equalled, certainly not surpassed in England."
Earl Russell died here on 28th May 1878, aged 85. It seems that the Lodge induces longevity but that late May is a time to be abroad! His widow, Dowager Countess Russell, was succeeded by her daughter Lady Agatha Russell, who left a memorial, still standing in the Rose Garden, “Pembroke Lodge 1847-1902 In loving memory of my Father and Mother, Lord and Lady Russell and of our supremely happy home at Pembroke Lodge.”
Bertrand Russell, the philosopher and mathematician, spent his early years here between 1876 and 1894.
He “grew accustomed to wide horizons and an unimpeded view of the sunset” and remarked “I have never since been able to live happily without both.”
Georgina Countess of Dudley took occupation in 1903 and made further alterations including the decorative friezes in the ground floor of the Georgian Wing, the mahogany doors and floor.
A wealthy industrialist, John Scott Oliver, took up residence in 1929 and also carried out many alterations, mostly in the North wing. He suffered large financial losses in the recession and put the Lodge on the market in 1938.
Before the Lodge could be sold it was requisitioned by the Phantom Squad, GCHQ Liaison Regiment, for its regimental headquarters. This was a fascinating time, as the Squad’s role was to position motorcycle riders equipped with radios at front lines to relay the precise situation to the commanders of all Allied units in the vicinity.
Field Marshal Montgomery described the Squad as “indispensable”. Nonetheless, much insensitive alteration was carried out to the Lodge and the cottage suffered two direct hits from bombs in 1942 and 1944.
Members of the Squad went on to become Privy Councillors, Law Lords, Judges, MPs, a Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police and actors, including one David Niven who remarked in a letter, the original of which is now held at the Lodge “These were wonderful days which I would not have missed for anything”.
Sadly, after the War, the Ministry of Works implemented a rudimentary scheme to convert the North wing and first floor of the Georgian wing into flats for Park staff, with the ground floor of the Georgian wing becoming a cafeteria.
Until recently, there has been much uncertainty as to the future of the Lodge. Many of you will recall the long, but thankfully successful, battle some 12 years ago to keep the Lodge open to the public.
The most striking facet that endures throughout the centuries is the remarkable affection for the Lodge of every occupant and this facet is still very much alive. There are few days when I do not meet a new person who has special affection for this unique building.