A Day With Agatha Christie at Greenway: Getting There
I am so excited to be visiting Greenway House, the holiday home of Agatha Christie. It is the first private residence of the famous author to be opened to the public. Greenway House is situated on a 278 acre estate on the Dart River in Devon. I will be dividing the posts into several sections since there is so much to talk about and it is all so very interesting! Now let’s get on the tour bus, so to speak!
Agatha Mary Clarissa Miller was born September 15, 1890 into a wealthy, upper middle-class family in Ashfield, Torquay, Devon. Agatha described her childhood as “very happy”, but that her childhood was over when her father died when she was eleven. She was surrounded by strong and independent women, (her mother and her grandmother especially) believing her mother was a psychic with the ability of second sight. She described her grandmother and her cronies as “always expecting the worst of everyone and everything, and were, with almost frightening accuracy, usually proved right.” Her mother insisted that Agatha be educated at home, so her parents were responsible for teaching her to read (which she loved) and write, and basic arithmetic, which she also enjoyed. In 1905 she was sent to Paris to further her education, but returned in 1910 when her mother was ill. They decided to go to Egypt, (a popular tourist destination for wealthy Brits at that time) to spend time in a warmer climate, and stayed three months at the Gezirah Palace Hotel, attending social functions with her mother. They were on the prowl for a husband for Agatha!
Upon return to England Agatha met Archibald Christie at a dance given by Lord and Lady Clifford at Ugbrooke, near Torquay. Archie was born in India, the son of a judge in the Indian Civil Service. By 1913 he was an army officer in the Royal Flying Corps. The couple married on Christmas Eve in 1914, while Archie was home on leave.
Agatha involved herself in the war effort, joining the Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) in 1914, and assisted with wounded soldiers at a hospital in Torquay as an unpaid VAD nurse. She was responsible for aiding the doctors and maintaining morale; she performed 3,400 hours of unpaid work between October 1914 and December 1916. She qualified as an “apothecaries’ assistant” (or dispenser) in 1917 and, as a dispenser, she earned £16 a year until the end of her service in September 1918. In her spare time she wrote.
She was initially unsuccessful at getting her work published, but in 1920 The Bodley Head press published her novel The Mysterious Affair at Styles, featuring the character of Hercule Poirot. This launched her literary career.
Agatha Christie created several series’ characters during her writing career, but her best known was Hercule Poirot. Christie, was a fan of detective novels, having enjoyed Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s early Sherlock Holmes stories. In her detective novel, Poirot was a former Belgian policeman noted for his twirly large magnificent moustaches and egg-shaped head. Christie’s inspiration for this stemmed from real Belgian refugees who were living in Torquay. He appeared in 33 novels, one theatrical play, and more than 50 short stories He first appeared in The Mysterious Affair at Styles (1920) and last appeared in Curtain: Poirot’s Last Case (1975) which famously features his death. While her fans loved Hercule Poirot, Agatha Christie herself was increasingly fed up with her creation. Late in her career, she described him as “an egocentric creep.”
In 1926, Archie Christie wanted to marry his mistress, Nancy Neele, and asked Agatha for a divorce. Agatha, totally overwrought, left her home and then abandoned her car at a chalk quarry, before disappearing for ten days. There has been a lot of speculation as to what exactly went on during this time. It has been suggested that Agatha disappeared to embarrass her husband, and call him out on the divorce, (mistress and all) or that it had possibly been a publicity stunt to promote her next book. However, when she was found at the Old Swan Hotel in Harrogate having registered under a false name, two doctors diagnosed her as suffering from amnesia and a depressed state from literary overwork, her mother’s death earlier that year and her husband’s infidelity. Agatha never spoke of the incident again.
A quote from Agatha; “I have sometimes been wildly, despairingly, acutely miserable, racked with sorrow, but through it all I still know quite certainly that just to be alive is a grand thing.”
Life goes on………. and Miss (Jane) Marple was introduced in the short stories called The Thirteen Problems in 1927 and was based on Christie’s grandmother and her cronies.
In 1930 Agatha married Sir Max Mallowen, (14 years her junior) having met him during an archaeological dig. Her travels with him contributed backgrounds for several of her novels set in the Middle East.
Agatha Quote; An archaelogist is the best husband a women can have. The older she gets the more interested he is in her.
In 1938, Agatha Christie, now independently wealthy from her writing, returned to Torbay and purchased a Georgian Manor, named Greenway. Greenway would be the setting for several of her books.
She also wrote six romances under the name Mary Westmacott, but she is best known for the 66 detective novels and 14 short story collections that she wrote under her own name, most of which revolve around the investigative work of such characters as Hercule Poirot, and Jane Marple.
Agatha Quote; I specialize in murders of quiet, domestic interest.
She returned to Greenway again and again in her fiction, setting many of her classic murder mysteries at the beach, cove and island. Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple both ventured to Torbay to solve heinous crimes. While Greenway was never Agatha’s primary residence, it was for a generation the family holiday retreat—where the family gathered for Christmas and Easter, and where she spent her summers. In 1950 Christie turned the house over to her daughter Rosalind Christie Hicks and in 2000 Greenway was transferred to The National Trust. Today, Greenway is restored and furnished as Christie and Max Mallowen would have known it in the 1950s.
Christie Mysteries Set Locally
- Peril at End House
- Sleeping Murder
- The ABC Murders
- The Body in the Library
- And Then There Were None
- Evil Under the Sun
- Dead Man’s Folly
Greenway is not easy to get to. The preferred and recommended method of arrival is by boat—passenger ferry from Torbay, Dartmouth, or across the river from Dittisham. Any way you arrive at the quay, it is a 400-yard climb up hill to the house and gardens. This is not a trip for those with limited mobility.
Now that we have had a little background on Agatha let’s continue to make our way to Greenway! Take a good look at that narrow country lane! It is the Green Way, aptly named! Arriving by car and getting closer to our destination, we first meandered through a neighborhood of Galmpton and then came upon this mile or so of narrow lane to Greenway. See that little extra pavement to the right in the photo? That is how much room you have to pull over if another car or bus approaches! Add to that the idiots that do not read the details of visiting Greenway. You MUST reserve a parking space that is available in 3 hour increments at Greenway House. If you don’t have a permit, pre- arranged, you will be turning your car around and heading home! Now some think it is OK to just park your car in this tiny strip and walk on to Greenway! Now how do the cars pull over when another car approaches???? This is an adventure all in itself. Once you reach the parking lot there is another extended hike up to the house. Golf carts are available to pick you up, but you must register for assistance and the wait can be lengthy as there are over 900 visitors a day.
But, we got here, Leon (the car) was all in one piece and I had my reservation to park, so what’s another walk? The house itself is surrounded by walled gardens, orchards and woodland gardens, so the walk was pleasant.
The stables and other out buildings have been converted to a gift shop and an eatery, so you can stop and enjoy this area before going on up to the house. What a beautiful view of the river and grounds from the front of the house!
There are lawn chairs to sit and enjoy this view either before or after visiting the house.
Let’s go in! See you tomorrow!