St Barbe Museum is hosting an exhibition on Dennis Wheatley
HE WAS the famous Hampshire author whose stylish thrillers and satanic tales made him one of Britain’s best-selling writers.
Dennis Wheatley’s books included The Devil Rides Out, which was hailed by fellow novelist James Hilton as “the best thing of its kind since Dracula.”
His stories of Gregory Sallust would have been one of the main inspirations of Ian Fleming’s James Bond.
Wheatley lived in Lymington for 23 years and is probably best known in the town for building wavy walls next to his home in Church Lane.
Today, the St Barbe Museum and Art Gallery is hosting an online exhibition on the famous author, nicknamed the prince of thriller writers.
Wheatley visited Lymington in 1944 and settled there the following year. His home, Grove Place, was a Georgian mansion that had three bathrooms, four reception rooms and six bedrooms.
Wheatley spent £ 1,100 to repair the property – a significant sum in the 1940s – and set out to restore the garden as well.
Describing the moment he first saw it, he said: “The lawn was a field of hay and the rest of the garden a jungle.”
When not working or traveling, Wheatley pursued his masonry hobby, building a multitude of walls, arched entrances and a sunken garden.
In 1961, he published a book called Saturdays with Bricks. It was partly a DIY guide to masonry, but also autobiographical and describing his experiences as a soldier in France during WWI.
Thanks to his celebrity status, he was invited to be president of the 1968 New Forest Show.
He and his wife Joan visited various stalls and judged the products. They also hosted a big lunch, presented around 70 cups and presided over tea for several hundred people.
Wheatley, who also owned an apartment in London, left Lymington the same year after claiming staff and tax issues made it too expensive to maintain two houses.
He had to move a lot of belongings from Lymington to London, including 3,000 bottles of wine and 4,000 pounds.
The house’s sale catalog reflected the considerable time and effort he had put into restoring the garden, describing it as “beautifully maintained, with well-landscaped lawns and rockeries”.
He added: “There are many beautiful flowering trees, including lilacs, cherries, magnolias and double peaches.”
The catalog also drew attention to a rose garden, a well-stocked vegetable garden and a summer house with a Regency roof.
But Grove Place was bought by Hoburn Investments for £ 29,000 and was demolished in 1969 to make way for 18 Neo-Georgian houses.
During his brilliant literary career, Wheatley wrote 65 books, including 56 novels, some of which made good use of the eerie landscapes of the New Forest. He died in London in 1977 at the age of 80.
To view the exhibit, go online and visit stbarbe-museum.org.uk.