Trail of the Unexpected: Agatha Christie's holiday home opens for guests
Saturday 28 February 2009
From today, Agatha Christie's house, Greenway in South Devon, is open to holidaymakers. The writer bought it in 1938, and described it soon after as "the ideal house, a dream house"
As part of a £5.4m restoration, the National Trust has converted part of the writer's holiday home – a cream-coloured Georgian house – into a grand, five-bedroom, three-bathroom apartment. It has a separate entrance and sweeping views across the woodland gardens to the River Dart, and provides the chance for fans to experience the delight Christie felt here.
Greenway, perched on a promontory overlooking the calm green waters of the Dart, was Christie's retreat. She would spend several weeks each summer here, and often visited at Christmas. More recently, Greenway was the home of Christie's daughter Rosalind and son-in-law Anthony. In 2000, Rosalind, Anthony and Rosalind's son Mathew Prichard gave Greenway to the National Trust, and the gardens – acclaimed for their exotic trees and their collections of magnolia and camellia – were opened to the public. Rosalind died in 2004, Anthony a few months later.
The National Trust began the restoration soon after, and has now almost completed the task of recreating Greenway as a holiday home. The process has been helped by Mathew's gift of most of the contents: 5,000 items, and nearly 5,000 books. Greenway was the repository of Christie's life; it was here that she stored editions of every book she wrote.
The clutter that visitors to the house would have experienced in Christie's time has not been reproduced, but an extensive cleaning and conservation project has revealed an extraordinary glimpse into a family of obsessive collectors. Arranged on walls and tables, in cabinets and display cases, are some of the decorative boxes, Meissen china, watches, shell pictures, papier-mâché pots and souvenirs that were collected by different members of the author's family, all vying for space.
However, now that the décor has been returned to the cream colour favoured by Christie herself, the elegant proportions of Greenway are obvious. This is a comfortable family home, with deep armchairs and sofas imported from the writer's childhood home of Ashfield in Torquay.
There will no doubt be afternoon teas in the kitchen and, while perusing the books in the library, visitors may hear the sound of the drawing room Steinway. Agatha toyed in her youth with the idea of becoming a concert pianist and she continued to play the instrument throughout her life. As part of the National Trust vision of a house that is lived in, local volunteers will be allowed to play the piano as well.
The luxurious apartment upstairs is also filled largely with Christie's furniture, ornaments and pictures, though there are some modern additions, including Smeg fridges. The small swimming pool, available to guests, was installed by Rosalind and Anthony in the 1970s. One highlight that would have been unseen by most past visitors to Greenway is a pair of large portraits of Christie's beloved parents when newly married, hanging in one of the bedrooms.
When she bought the house, Christie took particular interest in the plumbing fixtures, saying: "I want a big bath, and I need a ledge because I like to eat apples."
Her own bathroom is off-limits to guests and lies opposite her bedroom, which has been kept as it was when she slept there.
Starting early this summer, when the dining room is rescued from its current status as storeroom, there will be the option of a "fine dining experience", served on Christie's own china.
A simpler option is the Lodge at the drive entrance. This has been restored into a cosy, one-bedroom cottage, with stone-flagged kitchen, wood-burning stove and French windows opening on to a tiny terrace. Best of all is access to the gardens. In the early morning or at twilight it feels like your own personal domain, as you pass under the creeper-covered stone arch, through the Fernery and down twisting paths to the Battery with its two cannons. The Boathouse, with its shrouded boats and plunge pool, was the scene of the murder in Dead Man's Folly, Christie's 1956 novel, whose setting is modelled closely on Greenway (and features the Lodge), but this splendid new holiday accommodation is not for those seeking a murder-mystery weekend.
'Agatha Christie at Home', by Hilary Macaskill, will be published by Frances Lincoln in the autumn
Greenway, Galmpton, near Brixham, Devon (01803 842382; nationaltrust.org.uk/ greenway). Open 10.30am-5pm, Wednesday to Sunday. Admission £7.45.
Cars are not admitted to Greenway without prior booking. Visitors arriving by "green transport" – boat, bus, bike, foot – receive discounted entry.
Bookings for The Apartment and The Lodge can be made on 0844 8002070 or at www.nationaltrustcottages. co.uk.
Prices for The Apartment range from £792 to £2,719 a week; for The Lodge, £398 to £934. Short breaks are bookable if space is available within three weeks of proposed start date.
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