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 Gregory Sallust stories are said to have been one of the main inspirations for Ian Fleming's James Bond.

Wheatley lived in Lymington for 23 years and is probably best known in the town for building wavy walls beside his home in Church Lane.

Now St Barbe Museum and Art Gallery is staging an online exhibition about the celebrated author, who was dubbed the Prince of Thriller Writers.

Wheatley visited Lymington in 1944 and moved there the following year. His house, Grove Place, was a Georgian mansion that boasted three bathrooms, four reception rooms and six bedrooms.

Wheatley spent £1,100 on repairing the property - a large sum in the 1940s - and also set about restoring the garden.

Describing the moment he first saw it he said: "The lawn was a hayfield and the rest of the garden a jungle."

When not working or travelling Wheatley pursued his hobby of bricklaying, building a host 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 bricklaying but was also autobiographical and described his experiences as a soldier in France during the First World War.

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 as well as judging produce. They also hosted a large luncheon, presented about 70 cups and presided over a tea for several hundred people.

Wheatley, who also owned a flat in London, left Lymington the same year after claiming staffing issues and taxation were making it too expensive to maintain two homes.

He had to move a large number of possessions from Lymington to London, including 3,000 bottles of wine and 4,000 books.

The house-sale catalogue reflected the huge amount of time and effort he had put into restoring the garden, describing it as "beautifully kept, with well laid-out lawns and rockeries".

It added: "There are many superb flowering trees, including lilacs, cherries, magnolias and double peaches."

The catalogue also drew attention to a rose garden, a well-stocked kitchen 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 homes.

During his glittering literary career Wheatley wrote 65 books including 56 novels, some of which made good use of eerie landscapes in the New Forest. He died in London in 1977 aged 80.

To see the exhibition go online and visit stbarbe-museum.org.uk.