Agatha Christie and the village of Winterbrook
Winterbrook is a small hamlet in the parish of Cholsey, Oxfordshire, bordering the Thames on its east side, and at the southern end of Wallingford. The hamlet has an interesting history, going back to the Bronze Age, and distinctive character, with fine houses from the 18th and 19th century, and a farming tradition. The tranquil area, lined by mature trees, attracted novelist Agatha Christie and her archaeologist husband Max Mallowan to live in Winterbrook.
Winterbrook’s most famous resident was Agatha Christie, writer of detective crime novels, such as the Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot stories and the play "The Mousetrap". She bought it with her husband Max Mallowan in 1934. Agatha Christie died there in 1976. Winterbrook House, a Queen Anne house (mid 18th century), was believed to be the model for Danemead, Miss Marple's house in the village of St Mary Mead. It is a Grade II listed building.
Max Mallowan was an archaeologist who made major contributions as an excavator and educator. He met Agatha Christie while working at an excavation at Ur (now in Iraq). From 1932 to 1938, Max Mallowan, while working for the British Museum, excavated several relatively little-known archaeological sites which included Arpachiyah and Nimrud in Iraq, Chagar Bazar and Tell Brak in Syria. Later he became Professor of West Asiatic Archaeology at the University of London. Max Mallowan wrote several books on his archaeological experience. When Agatha Christie died, he married his mistress, Barbara Parker, also an archaeologist. They both died in Winterbrook.
Agatha Christie and Max had Greenway House in Devonshire and Winterbrook House near Oxford. Towards the end Max and Agatha Christie lived at Winterbrook House in Wallingford.
Agatha Christie died on 12 January in 1976 and two years later also her second husband Max Mallowan died.
During the period of work in Syria, Agatha Christie and Max purchased a house in Wallingford, Oxfordshire, an area which they both loved very much. Winterbrook House, was described by Agatha Christie as "Max's house", was his and Agatha's for the remainder for both of their lives. They didn't stay at Winterbrook House for very long at first, having to return to Syria for more excavations. While they were in Syria (1938), Agatha Christie's daughter Rosalind came to help. She was enlisted by Max to make drawings of the painted pots they discovered on the dig, which later were reproduced in a book about the dig in Tell Brak, Syria. A thorough account of the work in Syria was detailed in Agatha Christie's book Come, Tell Me How You Live (published in 1946).
Agatha Christie continued her life as a very famous but also a very private person and spent the remaining years of her life at home in Winterbrook writing her mysteries. Christie was a faithful member of her church and when she passed away in 1976, Agatha was buried at St. Mary's Church in nearby Cholsey.
Agatha Christie died in 1976 in her home of Winterbrook House in Wallingford; the next year Max married Barbara Parker, who had served as his epigraphist at Nimrud and as secretary of the British School of Archaeology in Iraq, where Max also served as director from 1947 to 1961. That same year, 1977, his autobiography Mallowan's Memoirs was published. It gives a selective account of his life, chiefly his childhood, education, marriage, and career. He does say in it how Agatha Christie died, peacefully and gently, leaving him now with a feeling of emptiness after 45 years of a wonderful marriage. Max Mallowan also died in Wallingord, Oxfordshire, in 1978.
1972 saw Poirot's penultimate case, Elephants Can't Remember. Then came Curtain in 1975, the projected final book which had been written during the Second World War. This is the novel where the wheelchair bound Poirot finally dies. Remarkably a fictional character then had his obituary published on the front page of the New York Times for 6th August 1975. On the 12th of May 1976, after lunch, as Max was wheeling Agatha from the dining room to the drawing room at Winterbrook House in Oxfordshire, Agatha Christie also died.
There is strong evidence that the house where Agatha Christie lived, Winterbrook Lodge in the actual town of Wallingford, is the model for Danemead, which is Miss Marple's house in the village of St Mary Mead. Moreover, Wallingford is believed to be the model for the fictional town of Market Basing, the site of a number of Agatha Christie's mysteries . St. Mary Mead, so Miss Marple tells us during the Nemesis case, is midway between the towns of Market Basing and another fictional town, Loomouth, on the southern coast. And, the actual town of Alton, Miss Marple further exclaims during the Nemesis case, is only about twenty-five miles from St Mary mead.
Agatha Christie Biography
Agatha Mary Clarissa Miller was born at home on September 15, 1890. She was the third child of Frederick Alvah and Clarissa Beochmer Miller. Her father was an American who had been living in England for twenty years. Her mother was English. Agatha lived at Ashfield in Torquay, Devonshire.
When Agatha was 11, her father died. Before his death, he had begun teaching her arithmetic. Agatha never went to school. Her mother believed education destroyed the brain and ruined the eyes. She taught Agatha history and something called "general knowledge". Agatha read newspaper articles. The house was filled with books, and all three children were encouraged to read.
As a teenager, Agatha read the Sherlock Holmes books. Early in the 1900s, she was heavily influenced by the novelist Eden Phillpotts. He lived nearby and she would visit him regularly. He mentored Agatha, encouraging and guiding her reading.
After the death of her father, Agatha was taken to arithmetic classes twice a week. Her teachers instilled a respect for money in her. She also took Swedish exercise classes, piano, singing, and dancing lessons. At 16, she attended finishing school in Paris, where she remained for two years. She spoke French and German. She also took gymnastics and tennis lessons.
As a young woman, Agatha was attached to her mother. Mrs. Miller wanted her daughter to be a concert pianist or a professional opera singer. Agatha was a talented pianist and had a clear soprano voice. However, Agatha preferred nursing. She was described as tall, Scandinavian in coloring with reddish-gold hair, nice, fun, shy, bright, and loyal.
After finishing school, Agatha spent three months in Egypt with her mother. During this time, she was officially engaged to Reggie Lucy, a major in the gunners. Upon returning to England, Agatha met Lieutenant Archibald Christie of the Royal Field Artillery, later of the Royal Flying Corps. Archibald was described as steady and popular by a fellow officer. After a two year engagement, Agatha and Archibald were married by special license at the parish church of Emmanuel, Clifton, Bristol, on December 24, 1914.
During the war, Agatha Christie became a nurse near Torquay to be near her mother. She was a favorite with the recovering soldiers. She soon advanced to the dispensary. Agatha Christie used her nursing experience later to write her first detective novel.
Agatha's first foray into public writing was a poem that was published in "The Road of Dreams". The only detectives stories she had read were Sherlock Holmes and a French novel called Mystery of the Yellow Room. Her sister Madge taunted Agatha to write a detective story in which the ending could not be guessed quickly. For three weeks, Agatha Christie stayed at Moorland Hotel, Hay Tor, Dartmoor, where she wrote her first detective novel, The Mysterious Affair At Styles. This was the world's first introduction to her famous Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot. The book was based on Agatha's nursing experience. Styles was an exact replica of Torquay.
Agatha Christie was in charge of herself and her career. Letters to her publishers were businesslike and crisp. Christie's second book was published in 1922. This marked the beginning of a book-a-year record. She was on the bestseller list for the rest of her life. Agatha took great pleasure attending parties with other authors at the home of one of her lifelong friends, who happened to be her first publisher's nephew. He enjoyed gathering writers to talk about their styles, interests, and lives.
In 1919, Agatha gave birth to her only child, Rosalind, named after Shakespeare's heroine. Agatha went with her husband on a British Empire Exhibition in 1922. Her sister looked after Rosalind. Agatha was seasick most of the time. The tour went to Madeira, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Tasmania, Hawaii, Canada, and the United States. In 1923, Archibald joined Austral Trust Ltd. He was immediately placed on the board. He was responsible for share activities. The family moved to Scotswood, Sunningdale. They stayed for two years. A larger house was bought nearby. It was called Styles after Agatha's first book. Agatha retained a flat at 8 Addison Mansions, Kensington, where much of her business was done. Agatha's agent for over fifty years was Edmunk Cork of Hughes Massie Ltd. He took her from Bodley Head, where six of her books had been published, to William Collins Sons & Co., Ltd., who published the rest of her work.
In 1926, Agatha Christie wrote her masterpiece, The Murder Of Roger Ackroyd. It was the most discussed detective story ever written. Many believed Agatha Christie had broken the sacred rules set down by the Detection Club. The idea for the plot device was given to her by a friend. He suggested she should make the narrator of the story double as the murderer.
On December 3, 1926, the newspaper headlines stated "Agatha Christie Vanishes". Agatha Christie disappeared for ten days. The solution was partly resolved when she was found on the eleventh day in the north of London. Clarissa Miller, Agatha's mother, had died after a severe illness. Agatha spent a month in the south of France to recuperate, mourn, and relax from the stress of overwork. She had also found out her husband was in love with another woman. Agatha was highly imaginative and sensitive. She was caught by surprise and thrown totally off balance. The police at the time believed she dealt with the situation in a way she could understand it; with mystery, deception, and revenge. Agatha Christie disappearance was planned with methodical care.
On the morning of her disappearance, she and her husband had an argument. She left a letter for her husband and one for her secretary, telling her to cancel all weekend engagements. Then she went for a drive.
Agatha Christie was found living at the Harrogate Hydropathic Hotel. She claimed she was suffering from amnesia. Seeing her husband at the hotel, she said he was her brother. Two doctors diagnosed her as suffering from an unquestionable loss of memory. Mrs. Christie said it was the result of too many troubles at once: the death of her mother, an earache, a toothache, gastritis, memory lapses, sleepwalking, and "buckets of tears". The police believed Agatha Christie was mentally distraught, filled with revenge, and in degradation of misery. She did what any other woman would have done, deciding to teach her husband a lesson.
Archibald and Agatha Christie stayed together for two more years. Divorce was granted in an undefended suit. Agatha received custody of Rosalind. After the divorce, she went to southern Iraq to join an archaeological dig. There she met Max Mallowan, an archaeological assistant. The two were completely unlike in background, education, profession and age, but both recognized they complimented each other. Max and Agatha Christie were married in September 1930.
Agatha Christie's book sales are only surpassed by the Bible. She is second only to Shakespeare as the most often translated writer in the English language. Between 1930 and 1956, six romantic novels appeared under her pseudonym, Mary Westmacott. Between 1930 and 1939, twenty-four mysteries were published. Agatha Christie wrote an original play, produced in 1934. She wrote another play that was not published until 1973. She also adapted a short story into a play, produced in 1936. She accompanied Max on his archaeological digs, taking her portable typewriter along. Agatha Christie believed, however, she owed a higher responsibility to her husband and household than to her publishers and readers.
In September 1939, during the Second World War, Max was stationed in Tripolitania. Agatha Christie lived in London, serving as dispenser at University College Hospital. Her daughter Rosalind had married Huber deBurgh Prichard. Her grandson Matthew was born in 1943. Rosalind was widowed during the war. She later married Anthony Hicks.
Agatha's off-duty hours were spent plotting, planning, and writing. Between 1940 and 1945, ten new novels were published and two stage adaptations of earlier novels were made. She also wrote the last Poirot and Miss Marple mysteries. These were to be kept in her publisher's vault. Neither would be published until after her death. Agatha Christie deeded all rights to her novels to her husband and her daughter. Her fifty-sixth novel was published in 1950. Her short story, "Three Blind Mice", was first aired on the radio in 1947. It was adapted to a stage play and called "The Mousetrap". It holds the record as the longest running play produced. It opened on the London stage in 1952. On the night of Agatha's death, "The Mousetrap" was giving its 9,612th consecutive performance.
Agatha Christie won the Commander of the Order of the British Empire decoration in 1956 for being the most popular British crime mystery writer. She became president of the Detection Club in 1958. Between 1956 and 1960, four mysteries and one collection of short stories were published, as well as three plays being produced. Her husband received the same decoration as she in 1960, his for archaeology. In 1966, Agatha Christie and Max went on a lecture tour of the United States and Canada. Max received a knighthood in 1968, giving them the titles of Sir Max and Lady Mallowan. Agatha received an Order of Dame Commander of the British Empire in 1971. She was now Dame Agatha Christie.
By 1971 most of her time was spent at her home, Winterbrook House, in Wallingford. In 1972, Agatha Christie broke her leg and experienced heart trouble that required considerable bed rest. New mysteries were produced regularly every year to the end of 1973. In 1974, Agatha had a recurrence of heart trouble. She gave her last interview to Lord Snowdon in the same year. Agatha Christie told him she wanted to be remembered as a good writer of detective and thriller books. She also told him the writing that had given her the most enjoyment was her romance books. Her last public appearance was in 1974 at the opening of the movie version of her novel, Murder On The Orient Express.
In 1975, Agatha Christie was experiencing failing health and increasing weakness. She made over all rights to "The Mousetrap" to her grandson. Agatha Mary Clarissa Miller Christie Mallowan died peacefully in Wallingford on January 12, 1976. She was buried in the country churchyard of Cholsey parish near her home.
Agatha Christie's interests spanned her lifetime. She loved cricket and enjoyed collecting objects, two things she picked up from her father. She picked up her interest in trees and love for gardening from her mentor, Eden Phillpotts. Agatha Christie enjoyed shopping and was pleased she could do so in Torquay undetected. She took a professional interest in the design of her own book covers. She was fascinated by archaeology.
Agatha Christie was described in her life as imaginative, happy in her own company, never lonely, modest, and a good listener. She was paranoiac in her shyness of strangers. She was secretive, professional in business, and had an inborn sense of public relations. Agatha Christie projected sturdy middle class respectability. She was reserved, reluctant to be interviewed, and averse to discussing her personal life. She had an engaging sense of humor and delighted in perceived incongruity. She was a talented pianist and singer. She was a non-smoker and a non-drinker. Agatha Christie had a deep-rooted avoidance of controversy and worked hard to attain her privacy.