In 1938, Agatha Christie and her second husband, the archaeologist Max Mallowan, bought their beloved holiday home, Greenway, in South Devon. Surrounded by woodland, and with views over the River Dart, the house was described by Christie as ‘the loveliest place in the world.’ While Christie seldom wrote at Greenway, she edited her manuscripts here, and read her unfinished works to her family and friends. During her lifetime, Christie published more than 80 crime novels, as well as books of short stories and plays. In the centenary year of the publication of her first novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, discover how Greenway shaped her life and works.
Throughout her life, Christie had an affinity for Devon. Born in Torquay in 1890, Christie spent her early years in Ashfield, a Victorian villa on the northern edge of the town. Following the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, Christie signed up to become a trainee nurse in a temporary Red Cross hospital established in the town. Her duties involved tending the wounded, helping with operations and cleaning up after amputations.
During this time, she trained to become an apothecary’s assistant – an experience that kickstarted her writing career. While studying theoretical and practical chemistry with a local pharmacist, Christie came up with the idea to write a detective story, which drew on her scientific training. This story became The Mysterious Affair at Styles, which centres around Emily Inglethorp’s death from strychnine poisoning. Christie’s knowledge of poisons and over-the-counter drugs informed the plots of her future works, which depict villains using a range of toxins to murder their victims.
Life at Greenway
By the time Christie purchased Greenway, she was an established novelist. Her acclaimed work Death on the Nile had been published the previous year, in 1937, and Murder on the Orient Express had received favourable reviews, following its publication in 1934. Together with friends and family, Christie spent many Christmases and summers at Greenway, and passed the time relaxing by the River Dart, and playing croquet and clock golf.
The estate provided Christie with creative inspiration. Her 1956 work, Dead Man’s Folly, is based closely on Greenway, and incorporates many details about the house’s layout, grounds and its Boathouse – the scene of the novel’s crime. Today, visitors to Greenway can retrace Christie’s footsteps – and those of her characters – and walk along woodland paths, take in views of the Dart Estuary and stroll around walled gardens, complete with a restored peach house and vinery.
Filled with more than 12,000 items, from childhood possessions to ceramics, Greenway offers a glimpse into Christie’s private life. Christie and her husband, Max Mallowan were avid collectors, and the house contains several items found on his archaeological digs. During the 1950s, she travelled with him on several occasions to Iraq, where he was excavating part of the ancient city of Nimrud. Eager to assist with his projects, Christie was even known to clean pottery shards with her favourite face cream. Their eclectic range of interests is highlighted by the contents of the Library, which contains 5,000 books on subjects from antiques to Buddhism – along with first editions of Christie’s novels.
In the Drawing Room, a Steinway piano bears witness to another of Christie’s talents. From an early age, Christie enjoyed playing music, and even trained as a concert pianist, but was too shy to perform. However, in the comfort of Greenway, Christie enjoyed practicing in private, and would gather the family together for music and games. More than 40 years after Christie’s death in 1976, Greenway remains a much-loved home, filled with cherished objects and family memories.
For those with a keen sense of adventure, take the boat from Dittisham or Dartmouth to Greenway, which travels along the River Dart. Greenway is also accessible by car.
For more information about visiting and opening times, visit nationaltrust.org/greenway