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Cloudlands, St Agnes Lane, Torquay, Devon TQ2 6QD
Tel: 01803 606550  Email: info@cloudlands.co.uk
 

Devon - the idyllic background for Agatha Christie’s childhood, youth and later life, and the setting for no less than 15 of her novels...

Agatha Christie

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.

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 the Imperial Hotel in Torquay.

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 (see below).

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.

The Agatha Christie Mile - In the centre of Torquay is the Agatha Christie Mile where each location associated with Agatha Christie is marked with a unique plaque.
1 The Grand Hotel - 2 Torquay Railway Station - 3 Torre Abbey - 4 Princess Pier -
5
Princess Gardens - 6 The Pavilion - 7 Agatha Christie Bronze Bust - 8 The Strand -
9
Torquay Museum - 10 Royal Torbay Yacht Club - 11 Beacon Cove - 12 Imperial Hotel.

Map of The Agatha Christie Mile

1. The Grand Hotel (less than a 5 minute walk from Cloudlands) - It was the Grand Hotel where Agatha and Archie spent their honeymoon after their wedding on Christmas Eve, 1914. Two days later, Agatha travelled up to London with her new husband and waved him goodbye as he set off to the war in France. It was to be six months before they would see each other again and nearly four years before their married life really began. The Grand Hotel is worth stopping at for morning coffee or afternoon tea. Non-residents are welcome.

2. Torquay Railway Station - In 1990 as part of the town’s Agatha Christie Centenary Celebrations, the Orient Express brought Hercule Poirot (David Suchet) to the station to meet Miss Marple (Joan Hickson) for the first time. In her books Agatha Christie never allowed the two to meet so it was a very special occasion. Poirot and Marple came face to face on the platform, Miss Marple held out her hand and Poirot, in his unique style, raised it to his lips and kissed it. The watching crowd applauded!

3. Torre Abbey - Torre Abbey is Torquay's oldest building dating back to 1196. It is home to The Agatha Christie Memorial Room which features her favourite armchair, her 1937 Remington Portable Typewriter, and her plotting notebook containing the handwritten manuscript of the best seller "A Caribbean Mystery".

4. Princess Pier - Roller-skating on Princess Pier was one of young Agatha's favourite pastimes. In Torquay Museum Agatha is pictured skating in an ankle length skirt and large feathered hat. Skating on the pier cost 2d and was a noisy and bumpy affair but enjoyable outdoor fun.

5. Princess Gardens - Opened in 1894, the gardens were built to a classic Victorian design which includes ornate fountains, rich flower beds, ornamental shelters, and palm trees imported from New Zealand. Agatha was doubtless a frequent visitor to the Princess Gardens and they featured in "The ABC Murders".

6. The Pavilion - This elegant building was opened in 1912 as a grand concert hall. Agatha had a great love of music and attended many concerts here. In early 1913 Agatha enjoyed a Wagnerian concert here with Archie Christie, who she later married.

7. Agatha Christie Bronze Bust - The only one on view in the world. The Bust was unveiled on the 15th of September 1990 by Agatha's daughter, Mrs Rosalind Hicks, to commemorate the centenary of her mother's birth. It is the work of Dutch sculptor Carol Van Den Boom-Cairns.

8. The Strand - The Strand has always been a busy area of Torquay. In Agatha's day it was a popular meeting place and a stopping point for stagecoaches. Young Agatha would have shopped with her mother here at exclusive stores such as William & Cox (now Hoopers).

9. Torquay Museum - Devon's oldest museum is home to the Agatha Christie Centenary Exhibition, the only one of its kind in the world. It was created in 1990 with the help of the Christie family, who have loaned exhibits and photos of Agatha previously never seen.

10. Royal Torbay Yacht Club - In her autobiography, Agatha talks fondly of the Yacht Club of which her father, Frederick Miller, was a prominent member. He would visit the Yacht Club daily to play cards, read newspapers and chat to friends, a routine that would only change during the cricket season, when he would devote his time to Torquay Cricket Club of which he was president.

11. Beacon Cove - At the turn of the century, Beacon Cove was known as the Ladies' Bathing Cove, although the men of the Royal Torbay Yacht Club were frequently seen at the club window, hoping for a glimpse of the female bathers! In Agatha Christie's teenage years, the Cove was the scene of a near tragedy. While swimming she got into difficulties. Fortunately, she was spotted by a boatman who hauled her to safety.

12. The Imperial Hotel - In the opening chapter of "Peril at End House", the Imperial Hotel, renamed the Majestic, is described by Hastings as "...in its own grounds on a headland overlooking the sea. The gardens of the hotel lay below us freely interspersed with palm trees. The sea was of a deep and lovely blue." The terrace of the hotel is also the setting for the final chapter of "Sleeping Murder" when Miss Marple unravels the mystery for Gwenda and Giles. Agatha herself attended many social occasions here and the hotel still reflects the elegance and grandeur of that period. Experience ambience and elegance by taking morning coffee or afternoon tea in the Palm Court Room which boasts panoramic views of the Bay.

Agatha Christie photo trail

agatha christie