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North East England – WENDY MOORE – True life crime

  • Submitted: 11th June 2014

Tomorrow is the start of the World Cup. So that means lots of football, drinking and noise. What is the perfect anecdote to all of this? Why a lovely cuppa and a cake with a local author – sitting in the tranquil gardens and land of Gibside – a national trust park and property in Gateshead, North East England.

But we have never had a cuppa with Wendy Moore herself! So, well, we were not going to turn down the chance to chat in the lovely woodland gardens, and literally walk in the footsteps of the true life family she wrote about in Wedlock – walk in the grounds of Gibside where the characters of her story were the real life Bowes family who once lived here. The National Trust sell the book on site so there’s no excuse to go there and booktrail!

Wedlock the book on sale at Gibside where it is set

Wedlock the book on sale at Gibside where it is set (c) the booktrail

Wedlock – set in fictional and real terms at Gibside 

If you want to get to know the real story behind Gibside, the stunning Georgian gem in the North East, then forget the official guidebooks and websites and pick up a copy of Wedlock by Wendy Moore. This book brings the place to life – it’s riveting, fascinating story and a strange insight into life in the 1700s.

Wedlock is about the life of the Bowes family – a notable family in the North East and Mary Eleanor Bowes in particular. Her story is so beyond belief that it almost defies it. And this of course makes for a very interesting background story to any visit to Gibside.

In 1760, at the age of only 11 years, Mary ‘s rich businessman father died, leaving her his sole heiress with an estimated net worth of millions. She married at 18 – the 9th Earl of Strathmore (heir of Scotland’s Glamis Castle of Macbeth fame) but he died so Mary, a rich  and single heiress was left all alone. There was someone who would take advantage of this situation however and do more damage than anyone could have imagined.

This someone was Andrew Robinson Stoney – a charming and psychopathic man. He once defended Mary’s honour in a duel and on his supposed death bed, asked her to marry him. She said yes, he dramatically recovered, and so the sad story of Wedlock really begins.
Hi Wendy! Oh I see you’ve ordered some local sponge cake  – they make it here you know. Isn’t it nice? It’s very apt that you’ve chosen to have your cuppa and a cake right here as afterall what better way to talk aout and experience your book. it is quite literally being amongst the pages of your book.

Wendy smiles and offers the booktrailer a slice of cake so there is a tea pause whilst I take a bite and savour a taste of tea as well. We have posh and rather ornate tea cups it has to be said. All that is missing is our taffeta dresses otherwise I would really feel like one of the people in the book –

wendy moore (c) amazon

wendy moore (c) amazon

The setting of Gibside is a stunning one. What is your link to the area if any?

I love Gibside and am very impressed by all the work the NT is doing to restore and revive the estate. It’s marvellous that whereas once it was the realm of one rich family, now it can be enjoyed by so many. I don’t have a personal link with the north-east but my husband is from Newcastle and I’ve always enjoyed visiting the region.

What captivated you about writing about a true life tale set in such a significant area?

I was drawn to writing the story of Mary Eleanor Bowes simply because it was such a startling, shocking and scarcely credible story. It’s a marvellous narrative to unfold because she triumphs against such odds. I think the story has great resonance for us today when women in the western world enjoy much greater rights although there are still many disadvantages. I was thrilled to find that there were abundant archives to give life to the story in Durham County Record Office and also at Glamis Castle.

The story tells us so much about the fate of women and marital abuse. What do you admire about Mary Eleanor Bowes?

Mary Eleanor was not the most admirable woman in her youth. She was vain, imperious and a distant mother – like so many of the rich and aristocratic people of her time. But through her suffering in her second marriage she came to realise the importance of loyalty, justice and service to others and appreciated the importance of her children. I think she was incredible to find such inner strength – physically and mentally – to triumph over her brutish husband.

Imagine you were invited to a dinner with the Bowes family when Gibside was in its glory days. Which other historical figures would you like to invite and why?

That’s a good question! There were so many fascinating and eccentric people in Georgian times. I would love to meet John Hunter, the 18th- century surgeon who was the subject of my first book, The Knife Man, and a friend of Mary Eleanor’s. It would be marvellous to meet writers of the period, including David Garrick, Samuel Johnson, Fanny Burney, Maria Edgeworth and Mary Wollstonecraft.

Which parts of the Gibside estate did you enjoy visiting the most?

I usually visit Gibside at least once a year when I give a talk on Mary Eleanor Bowes. I simply love walking in the calm and beautiful grounds. This year for the first time I discovered the river walk and came upon the house, Gibside Hall, from the back. It looks very eerie from that angle. It’s always a treat to visit the Greenhouse – now called the Orangery – and imagine how it would have looked when it was filled with Mary Eleanor’s exotic plant collection.

Thanks Wendy. It’s always good to hear what the authors think about their stories and why they chose to write it. I can definitely see why you would do so here. Its amazing what you find out about places and thank you for bringing this story alive via your book. It really deserves to be heard!

Now Wendy has a book out at the moment How To Create the Perfect Wife – and yes the story is as strange as it sounds – there are men who want and try to create the perfect wife. Unbelievable – so as this football season starts…..take heart that yours is just a football fanatic and not an ‘heir to a sizeable fortune and a student of law at Middle Temple called Thomas Day’ who decides to create his perfect woman.

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Twitter: @wendymoore99



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