Ever since the National Trust announced that it was opening Greenway, I have been plotting a visit. Who could resist a glimpse of the home that inspired Agatha Christie, the Queen of Crime ?
The famous Torquay girl, author of Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple, was known locally by her married name Mrs Mallowan. When Agatha was a child, her mother used to point out Greenway as the best house on the River Dart. And it is, without doubt, an absolutely gorgeous house, with its wonderful Georgian proportions, and a perfect vista across the River.
As a child, I never read Enid Blyton’s The Famous Five, I read Agatha. My absolute favourite character was Hercule Poirot, his logic, his little grey cells that inspired his genius!
More than the Hercule’s genius though, although I loved trying to guess who dunnit, I adored the era in which her books were set, the glamorous society that she described, while her clever murders were being committed. Her own mysterious disappearance that sparked a national search. Digs in Mesopotamia, of which she had first hand knowledge, having accompanied her second husband, the Oxford professor of archaeology Max Mallowan.
When Greenway came up for sale, Agatha could not resist, and in 1936 bought it for the princely sum of £6000
But war was looming, and in October 1942, the Admiralty requisitioned Greenway for accommodation for officers of an American Flotilla. An artist amongst the American officers painted a blue and white frieze in the library to capture their war time journey. Rumour has it that when the American dance music that drifted out of the windows across Greenway’s garden stopped, the locals took cover. In the lead up to the D-Day landings, this area of the coast was hiding a secret. Troops were massing in Southern England for the assault on the Normandy beaches.
Just before Agatha returned to the house, the commander asked if she wanted the pictures to be painted over – Agatha’s rapid reply was no.
And, thank goodness Agatha thought that, as the frieze in the library captures a unique moment in time. A recording of Agatha’s grandson is played, and as you listen to his description of spending time with his grandmother at Greenway, his recollections of Agatha’s occupation in that room, reading the papers first thing in the morning, you find yourself transported back to that era that surrounded the war. The library is by far the most atmospheric room in an amazingly atmospheric house. Sitting down on the sofa opposite the beautiful fire, boxes of old fashioned chocolates are on the table, surrounded by family photographs, this is the room where you feel as if you are quite frankly, trespassing, intruding in a very private home. But that is how her daughter, Rosalind, wanted it. Not some mausoleum or theme park for her books, but an insight into Agatha’s home, and her life while she continued to write at a prolific rate.
Agatha Christie described Greenway as “The loveliest place in the world”
Sitting in the chairs perfectly placed just outside the front door, the sun is high in the cobalt blue sky, light sparkling and glinting off the river dart. The first beautiful flush of summer blossom is in the trees, and with the wild flowers on the steep path to the river dart, this is a quintessential vista of British summer time. The rustling of the trees in the warm gentle breeze, it’s hard to disagree with Agatha Christie description of Greenway as “the loveliest place in al the world”.
Although the library is the most atmospheric, it is the drawing room that holds the ghosts
Music was always being played at Greenway. Agatha was an accomplished pianist and opera singer, although too painfully shy to display her talent, she would play in secret when she thought no one was listening. Rachmaninovs piano concerto No 2 is playing as you enter this room, apparently a favourite piece of her husband Max’s and with this evocative melody, the emotional ghosts of the past flood in.
It is a military style operation to see Greenway. It has limited days when it is open, with restrictions on cars and numbers able to view the house at one time, as it is relatively small, but it is so worth a visit!
Tea with Mary Kate adored having lunch in the kitchen at the back of the house. It was just lovely – traditional salads, smoked fish, and puddings with custard, all of which I am sure Agatha would approve. Of course, finished off with a lovely cup of tea. Very much, Greenway still feels like a home. One wonderful story is when Agatha apparently asked after her looks just before popping to see “Liz Bud”, which later, the maid found out was Agatha visiting Queen Elizabeth II.
Greenway provides a magical glimpse into the life of Agatha Christie, and captures a fleeting portrait of a unique moment in British society. A time of bravery, of sorrow, of pride, of imagination, when Britain stood alone. It was just how I had imagined it would be – the loveliest place in the world.