Agatha Christie's Devon - new book published
Agatha Christie's Devon by Bret Hawthorne
The English Riviera, home of the world's greatest crime fiction writer, Dame Agatha Christie.
Born in Torquay in 1890, she spent much of her life in the area. She played here as a child, worked and socialised here as a young lady and gathered ideas that were to come to life in her best selling books with immortal characters such as Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot.
Today Agatha Christie is internationally famous as the most prolific mystery writer of all time with 79 crime novels and many plays to her name.
We invite you to follow in the footsteps of Agatha Christie and discover the English Riviera that she knew and loved so dearly.
The 15 locations on the Riviera map are just a few of many that boast connections with Agatha Christie.
In the centre of Torquay is the Agatha Christie Mile. This starts from Torquay Tourist Information Centre and takes in Torquay harbourside and seafront.
Each location on the Mile is marked with a unique Agatha Christie plaque. Details of public transport and sites en route are available from the English Riviera Tourist Information Centres.
Beyond the English Riviera you can explore Agatha Christie's Devon and follow further trails onto Dartmoor or along the scenic South Devon coastline as far as Plymouth.
1. Kents Caverns - "The Man in the Brown Suit" features Hempsley Cavern - an almost exact replica of Kents Cavern with its cove paintings and flint deposits. The caves are open all year round. For details (01803 215136)
2. Anstey Cove - Agatha often took moonlight picnics with her friends on the tiny shingle beach at Ansteys Cove. Here she had a romantic encounter with a gentleman called Amyas Boston and later used the name Amyas for one of the characters in "Five Little Pigs".
3. Meadfoot Beach - Agatha was an enthusiastic swimmer and during the worm summer months would visit this beach nearly every day. Mixed bathing was not permitted during Agatha's day and males were not allowed within 50 yards of ladies bathing machines!!
4. Torquay Town Hall - During WW1 the Town Hall was used as a Red Cross Hospital and when Agatha Christie joined the Voluntary Aid Detachment she worked here as a nurse. In 1915 she transferred to the Dispensary housed in the buildings on the corner of Trematon Avenue. Here she studied with Torquay's leading pharmacist and acquired her knowledge of poisons that later proved such an integral part of her writing.
5. All Saints Church Torre - Agatha was baptised in All Saints and regularly attended Sunday services. Her father mode a financial donation to the church and ensured that Agatha was entered in the records as a founder member. The church welcomes visitors and offers a guided tour for Christie enthusiasts.
6. Cockington Court - In the 1900's, Cockington Court was home to the Mallocks, friends of the Miller family. Amateur theatricals were often organised and Agatha was encouraged to take part in the open - air dramatics on the lawns in front of the house.
7. Oldway Mansion - Built in 1874 for lscac Singer of sewing machine fame, Agatha Christie came to this magnificent Mansion to attend social dances that were held in the lavish ballroom. The history of Oldway is fascinating and visitors are welcome.
8. Paignton to Dartmouth Steam Railway - The steam train runs 7 miles from Paignton to Kingswear following the coast and River Dart. The journey was one often undertaken by Agatha Christie who would descend at Churston Station to continue by car to her home at Greenway.
Agatha Christie was born in Barton Road, Torquay, in 1890.
Devon – the idyllic background for Agatha Christie’s childhood, youth and later life, and the setting for no less than 15 of her novels.
Born in Torquay in 1890, the young Agatha Mary Clarissa Miller lived at Ashfield, a large Victorian mansion in the district of Torre, and led an elegant English Riviera lifestyle of society parties, dinners, concerts and outings. She would roller-skate along Princess Pier, and bathe at Meadfoot Beach and Beacon Cove - once a ladies-only beach but where bathers were sneakily spied upon from the Royal Torbay Yacht Club above. Her father Frederick was a frequent visitor to the yacht club where he would while away the afternoons playing whist.
Agatha would visit the houses of eminent families in the area, taking part in family theatre productions with the Mallocks at Cockington Court and no doubt moving in the same social circle as the Carys of Torre Abbey. She attended numerous balls at Oldway Mansion in Paignton, and at the Imperial Hotel in Torquay, which featured in three of her novels – Peril at End House, The Body in the Library and Sleeping Murder - and she enjoyed many concerts at Torquay’s Pavilion. It was after one such concert that Agatha received her second proposal of marriage (the first being from Reggie Lucy whilst walking on Torquay Golf Course) from young subaltern Archibald Christie, who she had met three months previously at a dance at Ugbrooke House near Exeter. She rejected him initially, given that she still had an ‘understanding’ with Lucy – two years later she married Christie, on Christmas Eve 1914. The Grand Hotel on Torquay’s seafront was the venue for their honeymoon, and today forms the start of the Agatha Christie Mile, which takes in many of the landmarks pertaining to the author’s past and can be walked with the aid of a leaflet, available from the local Tourist Information Centre.
During the First World War, Agatha worked as a nurse at Torquay Town Hall, which had been converted into a Red Cross hospital where she acquired her knowledge of poisons – crucial in many of her books.
In 1938, Agatha bought the Greenway Estate near Brixham with her second husband, Max Mallowan. She led an active life in the nearby community, becoming a governor at the school in the village of Galmpton, and frequently dining with Lord and Lady Churston at their manor house in Churston village. With the proceeds of one of her books she donated a stained glass window to Churston Church.
Her writing was often inspired by the Devon towns and countryside of her home, along the coast from the English Riviera to Dartmouth and Salcombe, taking in the beautiful setting of Burgh Island for the novels And Then There Were None and Evil Under the Sun, to the Moorland Hotel at Haytor on Dartmoor, which provided the final push she needed to finish her first book The Mysterious Affair at Styles.
For the Agatha Christie fan, a visit to Devon will enthrall and delight. Her presence is felt strongly in this pretty corner of England, not just in the places made familiar in her books, but also in those places where the life of the lady herself was equally remarkable.
Very prolific British author of mystery novels and short stories, creator of Hercule Poirot, the Belgian detective, and Miss Jane Marple. Christie wrote more than 70 detective novels under the surname of her first husband, Colonel Archibald Christie. She also published a series of romances and a children's book.
Agatha Christie was born in Torquay, in the county of Devon, as the daughter of Frederick Alvah Miller, an American with a moderate private income, and Clarissa Miller. Her father died when she was a child. Christie was educated home, where her mother encouraged her to write from very early age. At sixteen she was sent to school in Paris where she studied singing and piano. Christie was an accomplished pianist but her stage fright and shyness prevented her from pursuing a career in music. When Christie's mother took her to Cairo for a winter, she wrote there a novel. Encouraged by Eden Philpotts, neighbour and friend in Torquay, she devoted herself into writing and had short stories published.
In 1914 Christie married Archibald Christie, an officer in the Flying Royal Corps; their daughter, Rosalind, was born in 1919. During World War I she worked in a Red Cross Hospital in Torquay s a hospital dispenser, which gave her a knowledge of poisons. It was to be useful when she started writing mysteries. Christie's first detective novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, introduced Hercule Poirot, the Belgian detective, who appeared in more than 40 books, the last of which was Curtain (1975). Poirot was an amiably comic character with egg-shaped head, eccentric whose friend Captain Hastings represents the "idiot narrator" - familiar from Sherlock Holmes stories. Poirot draws conclusions from observing people's conduct and from objects around him, creating a chain of facts that finally reveal the murderer. '"He tapped his forehead. "These little grey cells. It is 'up to them' - as you say over here."' Behind the apparently separate details is always a pattern, which only Poirot is able to see. Miss Marple, an elderly spinster, was a typical English character, but when Poirot used logic and rational methods, Marple relied on her feminine sensitivity and empathy to solve crimes. Both Poirot and Marple did not have any family life - they belong to the wide cast of monks and nuns of the detective fiction. Marple was featured in 17 novels, the first being Murder at the Vicarage (1930) and the last Sleeping Murder (1977).
In 56 years Christie wrote 66 detective novels, among the best of which are The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (1926), Murder on the Orient Express (1934), Death on the Nile (1937) and Ten Little Niggers (1939). In addition to these works, Agatha Christie's autobiography (1977), and several plays, including The Mousetrap, which run more than 30 years continuously in London, and had 8 862 performances at the Ambassadors Theatre.
Christie's marriage broke up in 1926. Archie Christie, who worked in the City, announced that he had fallen in love with a younger woman, Nancy Neele. In the same year Christie's beloved mother died. The story of Christie's real life (love?) adventure in the 1926, when she disappeared for a time and lived in a Harrowgate hotel under the name Mrs. Neele, was basis for the film Agatha. It was directed in 1978 by Michael Apted. In title role was Vanessa Redgrave. Her divorce was finalized in 1928, and two years later she married the archaeologist Max Mallowan. She had met him on her travels in Near East in 1927, and accompanied him on his excavations of sites in Syria and Iraq. Later Christie used these exotic settings in her novels Murder in Mesopotamia (1936) and Death on Nile (1937). Her own archaeological adventures were recounted in Come Tell Me How You Live (1947). Mallowan was Catholic and fourteen years her junior; he became one of the most prominent archaeologist of his generation. Of her marriage the writer told reporters: "An archaeologist is the best husband any woman can have. The older she gets, the more interested he is in her."
Christie's most prolific period began in the late 1920s. During the 1930s he published four non-series mystery novels, fourteen Poirot novels, two Marple novels, two Superintendent Battle books, a book of stories featuring Harley Quin and another featuring Mr. Parker Pyne, an additional Mary Westmacott book, and two original plays. In 1936 she published the first of six psychological romance novels under the pseudonym Mary Westmacott.
During WW II Christie worked in the dispensary of University College Hospital in London. After the war she continued to write prolifically, also gaining success on the stage and in the cinema. Witness for the Prosecution, for example, was chosen the best foreign play of the 1954-55 season by the New York Drama Critics Circle. Among the many film adaptations were Murder on the Orient Express (1974), with Albert Finney as Poirot, and Death on the Nile (1978), with Peter Ustinov as Poirot.
Christie's characters are usually well-to-do people. Often the comfortable lifestyle of his characters is undermined by financial problems, which lead to murder. Cosiness is deceptive and in many stories the reader is fooled to suspect an innocent character. Christie's world view was conservative, which also was seen on her emphasis on logical explanation of crimes - there is no anarchy in Christie's world and society is not blamed for the crime committed within the narrative. Although her writing career spanned over six decades, she registered changing manners and mores without remaining in the atmosphere of the period between the two World Wars.
In 1967 Christie became president of the British Detection Club, and in 1971 she was made a Dame of the British Empire. Christie died on January 12, 1976 in Wallingford, Oxfordshire. With over one hundred novels and 103 translations into foreign languages, Christie was by the time of her death the best-selling English novelist of all time. As Margery Allingham said: Christie has "entertained more people for more hours at time that any other writer of her generation."