I've been wanting to visit the Lake District for years,…
Lady Rosamund Painswick: There’s nothing like an English summer, is there?
Dowager Countess: Except an English winter.
Agatha Christie loved English summers. So much that she bought Greenway, a holiday home in the 1930s, close to her hometown to spend summers with friends and family. They played games in the garden, had fun and picnics.
This May I was lucky enough to visit Greenway, Agatha’s holiday home in Devon. Being a huge Poirot fan, stepping into Agatha’s house and garden was a very special moment.
When Agatha Christie’s grandson gifted Greenway to the National Trust in 2000, he said his mother, Agatha’s daughter Rosalind didn’t want Greenway to become a ‘Christie theme park.’
The National Trust did a cracking job: there’s no sign of Agatha themed park, but you can sense Agatha everywhere on the estate: in the gardens, in the house and rooms. The way objects are displayed and things are highlighted, her personality, life and work comes through.
Although the estate was owned by many families over the centuries (six to be precise), the walls, furniture, collections and books ooze Agatha.
Before moving on to the house, there are a few details about Agatha I’d like to share without being exhaustive.
Agatha Christie’s personality
Agatha was born in the seaside town of Torquay in Devon and she grew up here, on the English Riviera. She was educated at home, which might have added to her shy personality. Her parents sent her to Paris, where she studied music and wanted to become an opera singer or pianist. Because of her reserved and shy personality, this dream never came true.
During the Great War, she worked as a nurse in the hospital in Torquay, where she also became a qualified pharmacy assistant. She used her knowledge of chemistry later on in her stories as well.
Beside her second husband, archeologist Max Mallowman, she became interested in history. Her husband said, ’Don’t you realise that at this moment you know more about pre-historic pottery than almost any woman in England?’
Agatha Christie was very talented: from music to history and from chemistry to writing. On top of this, she was a funny person; I think. On their first trip to Mesopotamia when their car broke down, Agatha suggested sleeping in the shade of the car whilst waiting for help to arrive. This appealed to Max Mallowman big time, who thought at this point that Agatha was a very agreeable woman.
Agatha Christie’s Greenway and the first years
Agatha knew Greenway and the surrounding area. No wonder she was instantly interested in buying it when the property came to the market in 1938.
The house was modernised and an architect friend suggested using pastel colours for the interior to make the house more homely.
However, Agatha and her family could spend more time at Greenway after the Second World War only. Greenway was home to child evacuees and later used by the U.S. Navy. This was when the frieze was painted by Lieutenant Marshall Lee in the Library. When Agatha got the house back in 1945, she thought it was now part of the house’s history and therefore she kept it.
Enjoying time at Greenway
Agatha spent summers, her birthday and Christmas at Greenway. Apart from family, they entertained friends and neighbours as well. When on the estate beside a butler and a housekeeper, they employed a cook.
Because of Agatha’s shyness, she only played the piano in the Drawing Room when she thought nobody was around. They played croquet, golf and tennis, had tea and a picnic in the boathouse whilst enjoying the views of the River Dart.
The boathouse as well as the Battery, the facade of the house and the River Dart are featured in the Poirot episode Dead Man’s Folly.
Looking around in the house, you get a good flavour of Agatha’s personality. The different collections from bottles to tea cups, from silver to books, the piano, the study with the typewriter all give an insight into her life.
For me, the cutest detail was the cork on the forked tongue of a cobra door stop, which she put there to stop her tights being stung by it.
Another interesting detail was the cream jug on the dining table. She was a teetotaller and only drank cream.
Greenway is not only interesting because of the house, but also because of its garden. The garden at Greenway is a spring garden, so it’s worth visiting in the spring when all the Magnolia trees, hydrangeas, azaleas and bluebells are in bloom.
Perhaps the two most striking parts of the garden are the Fernery, with a Victorian fountain in the middle. The pet cemetery got its place here as well. The other interesting feature is the mid-19th century peach house.
As I was walking around in the garden, I understood why Agatha said Greenway was ‘the loveliest place on Earth’. The gorgeous views on the River Dart that have a seaside and a river vibe to it as well, the ambience of the place, the tranquillity, the beautiful gardens and homely house blow one away.
I hope it has blown away you too.
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