The holiday home that was once described by murder mystery writer Agatha Christie as “the loveliest place in the world” is opening to the public for the first time this week, as a £5.4m restoration returns it to how it looked in its 1950s heyday.
Among the rooms being opened to the public at Greenway House in Devon is the drawing room in which Christie used to spend summer evenings reading a chapter from whichever was her latest novel – described as the “Christie for Christmas” – to family and friends, who had to guess “whodunnit”.
Visitors will also be able to see the library and its frieze, which was painted by Lt Marshall Lee, an unofficial war artist of the US Coast Guard, while the house was requisitioned by the Admiralty in the autumn of 1943. The author’s bedroom, with its view down the river Dart, as well as the dining room and the “fax room”, which will display her enormous output of novels, will all be on show.
For the first few weeks, visitors will see staff in the final stages of recreating Greenway, as the Trust has decided to let the public see the process rather than making them wait until later in the year to gain access to the house. The house, which Christie bought in 1938 and made her holiday home until 1959, was given to the National Trust in 2000 by her family.
But until now only the 30-acre garden, boathouse and footpaths through the 278-acre estate had been open to the public, as the house remained the private home of Christie’s daughter Rosalind and her husband Anthony Hicks until their deaths in 2004 and 2005.
Mathew Prichard, Christie’s grandson, said: “After many years of toil on behalf of the National Trust, Greenway is restored to its former beauty and is ready for the public to come in. “What I wish most is that the people who visit it feel some of the magic and sense of place that I felt when my family and I spent so much time there in the 1950s and 1960s.
“If they do, then our gift of Greenway will be worthwhile.”
Robyn Brown, National Trust property manager for Greenway said: “It has been an enormous and expensive task to restore the house and garden.
“But I hope that visitors will come and enjoy them in the way that many of the previous owners have done – as a family holiday home in which parties have congregated and celebrated a combined interest in gardens, a love for travel, literature and music as well as the beauty and inspiration of Devon and its surrounding coast and countryside”.
Because of traffic restrictions in the lanes leading to the property and limited parking, people are being encouraged to arrive at Greenway in “green ways”. These include a ferry from Dartmouth to the quay below the house, or by cycling or walking. The National Trust said car parking can only be booked in advance.
In addition to the rooms open to visitors, part of the house is available as a holiday apartment accommodating up to 10 people, to continue Greenway’s history as a holiday retreat. Steps have been taken to reduce the environmental impact of the property, including a ground source heat pump for heating and humidity control in the showrooms, solar panels to provide hot water in the apartment and an air- to-water heat pump in the visitor reception area.
The restoration of the property has been undertaken with the help of an £800,000 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund, while Devon Renaissance has contributed £95,000 towards the creation of a new visitor centre at the site. About £1m was raised through a public appeal.