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I waited a long time to visit Greenway, Agatha Christie’s holiday home in Dartmouth, Devon. It might seem a strange destination to have in your mind as a place to visit, particularly over decades, but it was more what it represented to me than the actual place.
As far back as I can remember, my Mum loved reading detective fiction. She always had her nose in a book, especially those of women detective fiction writers like Ngaio Marsh, Dorothy L. Sayers, P. D. James, Ruth Rendell, and, of course, Agatha Christie.
My Mum experienced a great deal of illness during her life and reading was always an escape. I think the Golden Age of Detective Fiction appealed to her, because there was very little violence in the books, and the actual act of the crime itself was almost inconsequential. These books were about place, character, the puzzle, and most importantly, good winning out over evil in the end. If you forget about the actual murder (fictional, of course) it’s almost reassuring. Order is always restored.
I was an only child and because of my Mum’s ill-health we spent a lot of time together and a lot of time in front of the TV. We both loved watching detective films. Holmes and Watson, Poirot, Adam Dalgliesh, and every iteration of Miss Marple through the years, from Margaret Rutherford to Joan Hickson. I still watch those TV programs and films now. It’s a little safety net for me. When I am feeling really crappy and scared about the future, they transport me to a time of safety.
First Seeing Greenway
From the age of 11, I grew up in Devon, and I first glimpsed Greenway when I was probably in my late teens, when my Mum, Dad and I went on a guided boat trip down the River Dart in Devon, UK. The tour guide was outlining various places of interest when he pointed high on the bank and said that the far distant cream house had been the Summer home of Agatha Christie.
I remember thinking at the time how great it would be to explore the house and gardens with my Mum and to see if Agatha’s life was quite as mysterious as her books. Well, that dream was a long way off, as the house was a private home at the time, passing as it had to Christie’s only daughter, Rosalind. However, in the year 2000, Greenway was generously gifted to the National Trust, and the stage was set for its opening to the public. After a £5.4 million restoration the house was eventually ready in 2009 and on the first day that it was open to the public, over 400 people came through its doors, such is the level of interest people continue to have in the aptly named ‘Queen of Crime’.
My Visit to Greenway
I didn’t get to visit Greenway until the late Summer of 2010, but it was definitely everything I had hoped it would be. The day was wet and heavy rains darkened the skies, but even this did not dampen the excitement I felt as I at last walked through the gate of the house, set deep in the Devon hillside. The house was gifted to the National Trust because Rosalind didn’t want it to be in any way gimmicky with, for example, Poirot or Miss Marple themed rooms. Rather, she wanted the spirit of her Mother to shine through and for people to see the reality of her life, and in this, the National Trust have excelled.
Agatha Christie’s second husband was the archaeologist Max Mallowan, and she was known locally as Mrs Mallowan. Agatha had a lifelong fascination with travel and history, this can be seen reflected in many of her novels, and the household artefacts from her and her husband’s life together. There are also items on display relating to her writing and a huge number of different collector’s pieces, Agatha being someone who loved to surround herself with cherished items. You can see furniture Agatha brought back from her travels, silverware, her dresses, a beautiful piano, and photographs of her family.
The rooms at Greenway have a feel to them where you can imagine the inhabitants might just have dropped their newspaper on the sofa, and walked into another room. This lived-in quality has been further enhanced by allowing visitors to sit in the armchairs in one room, an opportunity that doesn’t come by very often in museums or stately homes. At the time of my visit we ate a traditional lunch, served in the house’s kitchen. Many of the recipes on offer reflected what would have been on the dining table in Agatha’s day.
Learn More About Agatha Christie
To learn more about Agatha’s life there are two books that I would recommend. The first is Agatha Christie’s Autobiography, because I always like to hear of a person’s life in their own voice, and with Agatha being such an engaging author, this was never going to disappoint.
The second book is Laura Thompson’s Agatha Christie: An English Mystery, which examines Agatha’s life in depth, including her childhood, her relationship with her two husbands and with her daughter Rosalind. It also explores Agatha’s widely publicized and mysterious disappearance in 1926, and the likelihood of how this could have come about, which all makes for a fascinating read.
A recent addition to the Agatha Christie biographical bookshelf is Lucy Worsley’s Agatha Christie: A Very Elusive Woman, and I have to say I am very much looking forward to reading this.
If you want to learn more about Greenway itself, then look no further than Agatha Christie At Home by Hilary Macaskill. This includes many stunning pictures of the house, the surrounding Devon countryside, as well as personal photos of Agatha and her family.
To experience Greenway without having to travel to Devon, there is always Christie’s fiction. I came away from my visit with a copy of Dead Man’s Folly, a Poirot tale which is set in a house based on Greenway, even down to the little boat deck. Dead Man’s Folly starring David Suchet was filmed at Greenway and the boat house plays a prominent part. In this book, you can experience Greenway through Poirot’s eyes and solve the case of a very real murder mystery, and no, the butler didn’t do it.
I would have loved to have gone to Greenway with my Mum, but she and my Dad both passed away in 2008, the year before the house was open to the public. I know she would have been fascinated by the visit, and being there, I think, brought her a little closer to me.
Hopefully, one day I will return.
You can find out more about Greenway, Agatha Christie’s home on the National Trust website. If you are in the area, I would encourage you to visit, as the house and gardens are stunning. Are you an Agatha Christie fan? Share your favourite book, or the actor you love best as Marple or Poirot, below.