Yesterday would have been the 110th birthday of Georgette Heyer (1902-1974), one of Britain’s – and undoubtedly Wimbledon’s - most successful women novelists, who was born in her parents’ bedroom at No 103 Woodside on 16 August 1902.

A worldwide library favourite for over 90 years, her Regency period romances and more modern detective thrillers have been continuously borrowed, rebound, reprinted and re-editioned ever since her first novel, Black Moth, was published in 1921 when she was just 19. Her book sales were still exceeding a million between 2003 and 2010.

Georgette’s early life was spent mainly in Wimbledon where she was educated at home. Her father, George Heyer, taught French at King’s College School, just up the hill from Woodside. The family moved to Putney in 1911 but returned to No 119 Ridgway in 1913.

For a short period they moved to Paris but returned early after the start of the First World War. When her father enlisted for the army, Georgette went to Oakhill Academy at No 9 Ridgway Place. It was her first school at the age of 13.

The family soon moved home again to No 19 Homefield Road and after a spell living in Bognor, returned in 1918 to No 11 in the same street. Finishing at Oakhill, she transferred to The Study, Wimbledon’s most prestigious school for girls.

Her father returned from the war in 1919 and soon afterwards Georgette became part of a literary circle which set her on the way to a professional future.

By the time the family moved to Weybridge in 1920 she was writing her first novel which had already been accepted by a publisher, Constable, and earned reviews on both sides of the Atlantic.

Her second work, The Great Roxhythe, was published by Hutchinson in 1922 and then in the US. By 1923 when her third novel was published by Mills & Boon – she subsequently moved on to other publishers - the family was back in Wimbledon once again, this time at No 5 Ridgway Place, two doors away from her old school (It is now No 67).

Just two months after her father’s sudden death in 1925 she married George Ronald Rougier, a mining engineer, at St Mary’s, the parish church, and the couple moved to Kensington and then overseas.

Her mother sold the Wimbledon house and the family’s local links came to an end. Georgette spent the rest of her life elsewhere but never forgot her Wimbledon origins. Her novels Pastel and Behold, Here’s Poison are both clearly set there without saying so.

She has been credited with personally establishing the genre of historical romance and had to contend with cases of plagiarism during her career. Her real speciality was the Regency period and she was meticulous in her descriptions of life at that time in the early 19th century. But she also wrote about other historical periods such as the 17th century and the time of William the Conqueror.

By 1926, when her novel These Old Shades was published, she was so successful that it sold 190,000 copies without any newspaper coverage, reviews, or advertising as a result of the General Strike.

From 1932 onwards, she produced one romantic novel and one thriller every year. Ronald often provided basic outlines for the thriller plots while she developed the characters and dialogue.

She was still writing at the time of her death from lung cancer in July 1974 when 48 of her novels were still in print and her last book, My Lord John, appeared posthumously.

She always avoided personal publicity and shunned all interviews during her lifetime, telling a friend: “My private life concerns no one but myself and my family.”

A decade after her death, writer Jane Aiken Hodge produced a biography about her entitled The Private World of Georgette Heyer.

However in the 21st century, the Australian writer Jennifer Kloester, a devoted fan, spent ten years researching Georgette Heyer’s life in detail, culminating in the biography Georgette Heyer, Biography of a Bestseller which was published last year.

Supported by the Wimbledon Society, it was launched at the 2011 Wimbledon Bookfest and Kloester gave an inspired lecture on the novelist.

The Wimbledon Society is working with the Wimbledon Guardian to ensure that you, the readers, can share the fascinating discoveries that continue to emerge about our local heritage.

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