A couple of years ago, as I stripped lining paper from the walls of the former dining room, and soon-to-be lounge of our wedding venue, some odd pencil marks were revealed for the first time in decades. What were these mysterious lines, dates and initials I had discovered?
It turned out to be an old family height chart with a story to tell…
…a story which linked our house to James Bond and royalty!
The clearest marks on the height chart are dated January 1918 and September 1918, towards the end of the First World War. Captain Henry Fitzherbert Wright, who had seen service with the Royal Artillery, was living at Yeldersley Hall with his wife and eight children. I found it fascinating to imagine this simple family ritual, measuring how the kids are growing up, against the backdrop of the momentous world events taking place at that time. I investigated some more…
The first character to be revealed in the story was ‘M.J.W’ – Muriel Joyce Wright – 7th child of the family – who was only eight years old when her height was recorded in September 1918. Eighteen years later, she met Ian Fleming in Kitzbuhel, Austria and a romance began.
Muriel was beautiful, outdoorsy and lively with distinctive blonde hair that earned her the nickname ‘honeytop’. She skied expertly, loved horses and hunting and was one of the leading female polo players in Britain. Although from a good family, and reputedly with no need to work, she had a side-line as a model of sportswear and, scandalously, swimsuits.
Ian Fleming visited Yeldersley Hall on several occasions to visit his lover. He found ‘Mu’, as he called her, very attractive and she was devoted to him. Fleming failed to commit however and began to treat her badly. Muriel’s family could see this happening and her brother, Fitzherbert, even went to Ian’s flat with a horsewhip to deal with the cad. It all came to an end in an air raid in 1944. A piece of masonry flew in through a window of her flat in Belgravia and struck her on the head. She was killed outright in dramatic fashion.
Beautiful, simple and doomed – she certainly seems to have had all the attributes of one of the females from Fleming’s later novels. Fleming’s biographers all conclude that Muriel Wright was the inspiration behind the likes of Vesper Lynd (Casino Royale) and the Countess Teresa di Vicenzo (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service). Yeldersley Hall can, rightly, claim to be the home of the original Bond girl.
The horse whipping brother, Fitzherbert Wright – who appears as ‘F.W’ on the height chart – has another tale to tell. The family’s eldest son married well and produced offspring who did the same. In due course, our ‘F.W’ became grandfather to Sarah Ferguson and thereby provided Yeldersley Hall with a royal connection. Sarah married Prince Andrew, the Queen’s son on 23 July 1986 at Westminster Abbey and took the title Her Royal Highness the Duchess of York.
I’m sure that our height chart has other mysteries to be solved – only time will tell. I have already discovered that ‘MSW’ (Margaret Stella Wright) married a Prince from Georgia, that ‘SCW’ (Stephen Camplyon Wright) ended WW2 in the infamous Colditz Castle and that each sibling is a descendant of William the Conqueror. There’s more to unearth from our height chart, I suspect!