I first glimpsed Greenway as a child, when I was taken 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 home of Agatha Christie.
I loved detective stories when I was young, still do, and I remember thinking how great it would be to explore the house and gardens 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 Agatha’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’.
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 very wet and heavy rains darkened the skies, but even this did not dampen the excitement I felt at last walking through the gate, 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 was married to the archaeologist Max Mallowan, and was indeed 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 thus the house has many artefacts from her and her husband’s life together. There are also of course 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 beautiful items. You can see furniture Agatha brought back from her travels, silverware, her dresses, a beautiful piano and of course 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 for a second, and walked into another room. This lived-in quality has been further enhanced by allowing visitors to actually sit in the armchairs in one of the rooms, an opportunity that doesn’t come by very often in museums or stately homes. You can also be served a traditional lunch, in the house’s kitchen, many of the recipes reflecting what would have been on the dining table in Agatha’s day.
To learn more about Agatha’s life there are two books which I would recommend. The first is Agatha Christie’s Autobiography(Amazon UK/USA), 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 (Amazon UK/USA), 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.
If you want to learn more about Greenway itself, then look no further than Agatha Christie At Home (Amazon UK/USA) 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. In this 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.