Houses are homes first and foremost, which means they are as much about the people who live in them as they are bricks and mortar. And then there are the people who come and visit.
Yeldersley Hall in Derbyshire is an unassuming, Georgian mansion built in 1800 for Edmund Evans, whose family owned a mill. The house then passed onto new owners, the Wright family. Francis Wright was the director of an ironworks, Butterley Company, which helped build the terminal shed at St Pancras Station in London among many other lasting features in England. One of his descendants (which includes the current Duchess of York), Henry Fitzherbert Wright, was a county cricket player and a MP and served in parliament during the First World War. He had a daughter, Muriel.
Muriel Wright liked to play polo and ski, and was a successful model of outdoor wear, including beachwear. During a skiing trip in Austria in 1935, the twenty-one year old met the author, Ian Fleming and became somewhat infatuated with him for the next nine years. He called her Mu, or Moo Moo. Fleming visited Yeldersley Hall several times, but it seems her family weren’t so keen on him. Fleming tired of Muriel, and had affairs with other women, including his future wife. Muriel’s brother, who’d been at Eton with Fleming, was especially offended by Fleming’s behaviour, and turned up at his house with a horse whip. Fleming had already escaped by taking Muriel to Brighton.
Sadly, Muriel died in a bombing raid in London in 1944. Dressed in her nightclothes, she had been struck on the head by masonry flying into her flat. The rest of the property was undamaged and her body was discovered because of her whimpering dog. Fleming identified her body, and was supposedly racked with guilt at the way he’d treated her. His biographer was less flattering, implying that the only way for Fleming to feel anything was to get killed, which seems to be the case for James Bond’s girls. Fleming recreated Muriel in a different way – his female characters, who were beautiful, athletic, young and generally died in unfortunate ways. Fleming described Muriel, as ‘too good to be true.’ Bond didn’t seem able to hang on to them either.
Yeldersley Hall could so easily have been a setting for one of Fleming’s books. Maybe Muriel was the inspiration for the Bond girl, who knows. It has been the home to industrialists, politicians, an eccentric inventor, and remains a private home. What its walls know is as secret as OO7.
“Beautifully written mystery weaves a spell around the house and the people connected to it.” Goodreads reviewer
Pre-order The Women of Heachley Hall – release date 4 May.