Prepare To Be Entranced By Agatha Christie’s Dream House
On a placid river bank in Devon, tucked away from inquisitive eyes, stands a Georgian mansion once owned by Agatha Christie.
Greenway House was a “dream house” and “the loveliest place in the world” according to Christie. It was a place where ‘The Queen of Crime” could retreat from the public eye and surround herself with family and friends.
Devon itself had a special place in her heart because it was where she was born. She maintained a house there throughout her life although she and her husband also had a home in Berkshire.
She often used her characters to extol the beauty of the region. ‘Devon is so beautiful, those hills and the red cliffs,’ Vera Claythorne says in And Then There Were None.
And the county’s hills, islands and coves inspired the characters and locations of many of her novels. Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple both ventured to the area around Torquay (the town of Christie’s birth) to solve heinous crimes.
Greenway itself featured prominently in the 1956 murder mystery Dead Man’s Folly. In the book it is described as a small, white, one-storey building set back from the road with a small railed garden round it. The internal layout is that of Greenway as are the paths that wander through woodland and gardens down to the riverside quay.
The book’s description is so close to the reality that Greenway was used as the setting of the 2013 television adaptation of Dead Man’s Folly, with David Suchet in his last performance as Poirot.
A Bargain Home That Lasted A Lifetime
Agatha Christie bought Greenway in 1938 when she noticed it was up for sale. In her autobiography she described it as ‘a house that my mother had always said, and I had thought also, was the most perfect of the various properties on the Dart.’
She and her husband, the noted archaeologist, Max Mallowen, went to view the property. It was as idyllic as she remembered from her childhood. The couple were astounded to learn the asking price of £6,000 was so low.
They drove away excited by their visit. She records she told her husband: ’It’s incredibly cheap,’ I said. ‘It’s got 33 acres, it doesn’t look in bad condition either, wants decorating, that’s all.’
Greenway was never Agatha’s primary residence, it was the family holiday retreat—a place where the family gathered for Christmas and Easter, and where she spent her summers. Locally she was always known as Mrs Mallowen .
In 1940, while Mallowan was working for the Anglo-Turkish Relief Committee in London, Agatha Christie used Greenway as her base. The danger presented by German air attacks did not deter her from her work. She wrote to her agent Edmund Cork: ‘A great deal of air activity here – bombs all round are whistling down!’
War Disrupts the Peaceful Retreat
The Christies had to move out in 1943, when the house was requisitioned for use as officers’ quarters for the US navy. In January 1944 a flotilla of twenty four landing crafts together with their commanders and support staff, arrived in the River Dart from the USA. More than 50 captains and members of the planning team stayed in the house until just before D-Day.
When they were allowed back into their home after the end of the war it was to find two additions to the property. Agatha Christie was deeply unhappy about the 14 lavatories she had been left and went into battle with the Admiralty to get them removed.
The second addition was much more welcome. The library in the house was as a recreation and ‘mess room’ by the officers. During their six-month stay a landing craft captain who was a graphic artist, painted a frieze on the walls, depicting places visited by the flotilla in the 11 months it took them to reach Greenway.
The Admiralty offered to paint it over, but Christie refused, saying that it would be a historic memorial and she was delighted to keep it in her house. She enjoyed the ‘slightly glorified exaggeration of the woods of Greenway” and a representation of a pin-up girl in the nude “which I have always supposed to represent the hopes at journey’s end when the war was over.’
Agatha Christie at Home
In 1959 Greenway was made over to Christie’s daughter, Rosalind, who moved to live at the estate with her husband in 1968. After Christie’s death in 1976, Rosalind took on the role of safeguarding her mother’s work and reputation. The family donated the house to the National Trust in 2000 giving fans of the writer the chance to walk in her footsteps.
I visited Greenway in 2018. The National Trust has done a fabulous job in preserving the spirit of the place (working closely with her grandson). As you walk through each room there are signs everywhere of how the Mallowen family spent their time at Greenway.
There are dominoes and card games laid out in front of the fire in the drawing room which also boasts a Steinway Piano. The hallway is festooned with picnic baskets and walking sticks and of course the library is walled with bookcases.
Agatha and her husband seem to have been great collectors. There are little silverware items on a bedside table, lots of china in display cabinets and – the most wonderful assembly of lacquered and wooden boxes. Every room looks as if the family has just left and will return in a few moments.
It’s a delight to wander through the house but if you decide to make your own trip there, do make time to take in the gardens. I was there in the midst of a very hot summer’s day but if you go in spring you’ll apparently find a magnificent display of rhododendron and camellias. If ever there was a good reason for me to pay a return visit, this would be it.
This is part of a series in which I look at the homes that provided shelter, solace and inspiration for some of history’s greatest literary talents. If you’ve made a literary pilgrimage do leave a comment to describe your experience.
23 thoughts on “Prepare To Be Entranced By Agatha Christie’s Dream House”
I love visits to author’s homes. I did not know about this one, thank you for the peek inside — if I ever get to visit England again it would be lovely to see!
Well worth a trip to Devon just to see this house….
Looks wonderful! I will definitely have to put this on my to-visit list, which is ever growing! 🙂
I should start to make a similar list since I haven’t visited that many as yet
I watched Dead Man’s Folly quite recently without realising it was Greenway in the location. I believe you can make a trip to the house involving a steam train and then an old bus. Off the top of my head I can’t remember where the journey begins but it would make for an atmospheric arrival. I must go before too long!
You can indeed get there via a train – we were tempted but then found it was quite a walk from the station and it was a very very hot few days so we opted for the car.
That’s helpful, Karen, thank you. I’ll have to choose my day to visit carefully.
Wonderful post! I’d love to visit sometime, so must add it to my travel bucket list.
It was on my list for a few years – there’s another fantastic National Trust house not too far away, in the arts and crafts style
Gratifying to hear she treasured the frieze by the captain. 33 acres for 6 grand! The first place that comes to mind as an author’s house near here is Daphne du Maurier’s near Fowey; she used it as the basis for Manderley in Rebecca. It’s not open to the public, but one can see it from the distance on the coastal path. If I can digress from houses – I was also able to follow in the footsteps of characters in her lesser known (1969) novel, The House on the Strand. The title is a loose translation of the Cornish village name Tywardreath – where I happened to be living when I first moved to Cornwall. It’s a bonkers time-travel fantasy in which the modern times protagonist transports himself back to the same location in the middle ages. But he’s present in both zones at the same time, as it were. So one scene that stands out in my memory is when he is walking along a valley and is almost hit by a train; the trail he’s walking along in the medieval past is now the railway track and tunnel just outside of present-day Par station. Silly, but great fun.
I take it you didn’t know of the association when you landed up at Tywardreath?
It looks just beautiful. It’s a place that’s on my bucket list – imagine being able to live there and with those gardens! 😀
If you do make it, ignore the suggestions to go by train or boat – it involves a long walk from the quayside. Easier to go by road. Well worth making a special trip to Devon.
A wonderful post! It was fascinating to learn such personal things about Agatha Christie. In Australia we are a bit laissez-faire about our authors and their abodes.
What about Willa Cather’s home – does it still exist?
You threw me there. Yes, it does still exist but on North Cedar Street in Red Cloud, Nebraska USA.
Her summer home on Grand Manon Island off the coast of Atlantic Canada can now be rented for holidays. I came so close to planning a trip. It may still happen 😊
I’m not surprised I confused you with that question! I meant to ask about Miles Franklin! So sorry for sending you off on a deviation
Not a problem. Yes, author Miles Franklin childhood home Brindabella Homestead in New South Wales still exists but has been much altered and was up for sale a few years ago. A working farm, it is not open to the public, and I doubt there is a heritage listing. Strange really, when she became a literary icon.
I bet the farmers get a bit tired of people turning up hoping to see the home of their favourite author
Very true 🙂
This is lovely. I so well remember the house in Dead Man’s Folly, I never knew it was her own place. I can just imagine her wandering about the house and plotting the set up of the book.
It must have been fun to try and weave into the plot all the rooms and paths she was so familiar with