Visit Agatha Christie’s Greenway Estate


By Carl Larsen

You could call Agatha Christie’s Greenway Estate the scene of the crime – well, many crimes, that is.

Recognized as the world’s best-selling author, Christie has spent much of her career writing these haunting mysteries at her Greenway retreat overlooking the River Dart, a few miles from Torquay, where she was born in 1890 on the coast southern England. She lived in Greenway with her second husband, prominent Middle Eastern archaeologist Max Mallowan, who was 14 years younger.

Surveying the lush gardens, river views and two-story house, it’s no mystery why they bought the property in 1938, even as clouds of war loomed on the horizon. It would have been a crime not to, especially at the bargain price offered.

“The most beautiful place in the world – it takes my breath away,” Christie said of her writer’s retreat nestled upriver in the coastal town of Dartmouth.

The couple enjoyed the estate as a summer and vacation home until their deaths, Christie in 1976 and Mallowan in 1978. Christie’s daughter, Rosalind (from her first marriage to Archibald Christie) and her husband, Anthony Hicks, lived here until 2004, when the 237 acre estate was donated to Britain’s National Trust, which embarked on a program of conservation and cataloging of the artefacts in the house and grounds.

The Georgian style house was built at the end of the 18th century. The trust opened the residence to visitors in 2009, having first opened the beautiful gardens. In season, displays of dahlias, hydrangeas and camellias line the garden paths, where paths lead to a fruit-bearing peach house.

Strolling around the grounds, dedicated Christie readers can figure out that the estate is the location of two of his murder mysteries. Inside, the decor today is what the house would have looked like in the mid-1950s, when Christie was at the height of his career.

Entering through the front door, one has the impression that the house is always occupied. A treasure trove of family photos, art, and memorabilia from international travels greets visitors. Comfortable sofas and chairs invite sitting, though disapproving guides would quickly say no.

Agatha Christie gave presentations of her mysteries to guests in the cozy drawing room at Greenway, her home on the south coast of England. (Photo courtesy of Sharon Whitley Larsen)
Family heirlooms, with a portrait of Agatha Christie in the background, adorn Greenway, the author's home on England's south coast.  (Photo courtesy of Carl H. Larsen)
Family heirlooms, with a portrait of Agatha Christie in the background, adorn Greenway, the author’s home on England’s south coast. (Photo courtesy of Carl H. Larsen)

In all, there are over 12,000 items in the collection, also reflecting Mallowan’s career, from prehistoric artefacts to mid-century paperbacks and a comprehensive set of Christie’s first edition novels.

You don’t have to look far to find a tantalizing clue to Christie’s past. There on the wall is a portrait of George Washington, a surprise in what is otherwise a very British home. Washington looms large because Christie’s father, who died when she was 11, was American. Her mother was British. Yet Christie’s American roots were never far away.

Shy throughout her life, Christie’s early education ended at home, where she became an accomplished pianist and opera singer. A job as a pharmacist’s assistant during World War I proved useful, giving her knowledge of the poisons used to write her evil twists.

For Americans, one of the biggest surprises in the house is in the library, where a frieze lines the upper wall. It depicts the naval action of the US Coast Guard’s 10th Flotilla during World War II. The library was then a dining hall used by the American army, which had taken over the estate during the war. The couple, meanwhile, had to abandon their summer residence until the end of the war.

Memories in the dining room include the lavish dinners celebrated here to mark Christie’s 60th, 70th and 80th birthdays. Curators combing the house found in a cupboard the award given to Christie in 1971, proclaiming her Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire. (For his work, Mallowan had similar recognition.)

Today, years after her death, Christie’s popularity still seems strong. A recent headline from The Wall Street Journal reads: “Young people discover hot new writer – Agatha Christie”.

Two new books examine her life, one about her mysterious disappearance during her breakup with her first husband, ‘The Christie Affair’, by Nina de Gramont, and another, ‘Agatha Christie: A Very Elusive Woman’, by historian Lucy Worsley. And his work remains popular on stage, including ‘The Mousetrap’ in London, the longest-running play of all time. This autumn, a traveling company will take ‘The Mousetrap’ to towns across Britain to celebrate its 70th anniversary.

Clues abound as a visit to Greenway opens the door to the life of one of the world’s greatest authors and the magnificent field that influenced his writing. The essence of Greenway was captured by his grandson, Mathew Pritchard: “For a little boy it was heaven: lots of space, lots of attention from a lovely little family and the river with all the pleasure boats going up and down. It was the English countryside at its best.

When you go

Run by Britain’s National Trust, Agatha Christie’s Greenway estate offers a cafe, toilets, second-hand shop and bookstore, plus extensive walking trails. In season, ferries run to Greenway from nearby Dartmouth. To schedule a visit, see and type “Greenway” under “Where do you want to go?”


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