Saturday, 15 March 2014

Did Ian Fleming base Goldfinger's house on Joyce Grove?

Joyce Grove in Nettlebed, Oxfordshire, was the home of Ian Fleming's grandparents, Robert and Kate Fleming. Nettlebed isn't too far away from me, and so I thought I'd drive there to see if I could get view of the house, now a hospice run by the Sue Ryder charity. As it happened, the charity was hosting a public flea market or table-top sale in its grounds, and so I was able to freely wander about the grounds and take a good look at the outside of the house that Ian Fleming visited during his childhood.

The front gate and drive of Joyce Grove

The original late 17th-century house of Joyce Grove was demolished by Robert Fleming when he acquired the estate in 1903, and a new Gothic-style mansion was erected in its place by the following year. In later years, the young Ian Fleming would visit, and for a time after the death of his father, Valentine, he and his brothers had the run of a wing of the house during weekends. Robert died in 1933, and the estate passed to his widow Kate. On her death in 1937, the estate went to Robert's surviving sons. The house was then given to St Mary's Hospital, Paddington, and subsequently became a nursing home, a role that it continues today.

The house of Joyce Grove
From the outside, the house bears little obvious sign of once being occupied by the Flemings. Apparently the family motto, 'Let the deed shaw', is inscribed on the wall, but I couldn't see it. However, I did spot the legend, 'R.1904.F' (RF = Robert Fleming), which is carved into the stone above a window looking out to the terrace.

Robert Fleming built Joyce Grove in 1904
As with many of his experiences, Ian Fleming's time at Joyce Grove seeped into the James Bond novels, albeit in a small way. In The Spy Who Loved Me, Vivienne Michel's first boyfriend, Derek, gives a false Nettlebed address to the cinema manager, who had caught him and Vivienne in flagrante in the auditorium (chapter 3).

When I saw the house, though, I was reminded of another Bond novel – Goldfinger. Ian Fleming describes Goldfinger's house, The Grange, as “a heavy, ugly, turn-of-the-century mansion”, with a drive bordered by “high Victorian evergreens” that led to a “gravel sweep” in front of the house.” Fleming also mentions an adjoining factory where the “stabling and garages would normally be” (chapter 10). The details aren't an exact match – The Grange has a “glass-encased portico” which Joyce Grove lacks – but Fleming could otherwise be describing the house he knew as a child. Today I walked down the evergreen-bordered drive which terminated in front of the imposing (I wouldn't necessarily say ugly) turn-of-the-century mansion. The stables and garages were there too.

View from the terrace
I can't be certain that Fleming had Joyce Grove in mind when he described Goldfinger's house, but it is not impossible. In any case, I enjoyed visiting (in a more leisurely way than I had anticipated) a place of Fleming history.

Lycett, A, 1995 Ian Fleming: The man behind James Bond, Turner

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