Agatha Christie bought Greenway House in 1938 as a holiday home. Photo Mark Passmore, Apex News Pix. © National Trust
The National Trust has launched a public appeal for donations towards the restoration of Agatha Christie’s Devon holiday home, Greenway, and its collections. The £5.4 million project, dubbed Another Chapter, will allow the famous crime writer’s only remaining house to be opened to the public for the first time.
Christie bought Greenway in 1938 and found the picturesque South Devon setting an inspiration for books such as Dead Man’s Folly and Five Little Pigs. The Trust hopes to infuse it with the atmosphere it would have had in the 1950s as a much-loved home where the author read manuscripts to her family, putting the vast collections gathered by family members on show.
The 18th century house, however, is showing signs of decay. Large cracks are visible on entering, lintels are detached and subsidence needs to be addressed.
“The house cannot be opened until it is repaired and the collections cannot be displayed until they have been catalogued and conserved,” said Robyn Brown, Greenway Property Manager. “Quite simply, we cannot share this wonderful place with a wider public without their support.”
The library that earned an unusual mural during WWII. © National Trust/Nadia MacKenzie
Greenway was gifted to the National Trust by Christie’s family in 2000, since when its gardens have been reinvigorated and opened to the public. The house itself remained closed to the public, as it served as the retirement home of Dame Agatha’s daughter and son-in-law, Rosalind and Anthony Hicks.
After the couple passed away in 2004 and 2005, the house passed to the Trust, and Christie’s grandson, Matthew Prichard, made a gift of the contents.
In future, visitors will be able to enjoy these unique collections, which include pristine first editions of Agatha Christie’s books (many signed) and archaeological artefacts collected by Christie’s second husband, Max Mallowan. There is also the intriguing legacy from the years Greenway was requisitioned during the Second World War – a ceiling frieze painted by US Naval Officer Lt Marshall Lee.
US Coastguard Officers were stationed at the house in the run-up to the D-Day invasion, and Lee painted his extraordinary frieze of battles and ports where his flotilla had been engaged while he was waiting for orders to set sail.
On returning to her home after the war, Agatha Christie was pleasantly surprised by the mural, and decided it would stay as a piece of ‘modern archaeology’. Parts of the beautiful wartime painting are now lifting and flaking and need urgent work to be saved for posterity.
Agatha Christie loved the mural by the US Naval Officer and decided to keep it. © National Trust/Nadia MacKenzie
“The cost to restore and convert the house will be in the region of £3.4 million,” explained Ms Brown. “We will be using specialist conservation techniques to preserve as much of the fabric as possible and employ the latest technology to provide a carbon efficient building – ground source heat pumps, solar energy, sheep’s wool insulation etc.”
A further £2 million is needed for the gift contents – some 5,000 items will require cataloguing, cleaning and conserving, as well as interpretation and controlled atmospheres.
Portacabins acting as a conservator’s store and workshop are now on site. Throughout the project, visitors will be able to witness conservation in action on the books, furniture, porcelain and pottery.
“Our shared vision for the house and its magnificent collections,” said Ms Brown on behalf of the Trust and Christie’s surviving family, “is to show and use the house – opening the ground floor and principal rooms on the first floor much as Agatha and her family had them – light and airy, set in the 1950s during a period of optimism and hope, not just for the family but for the nation recovering from World War Two.”
“This was when the family had the time to enjoy the property, each other, to party, to play, to collect.”
The Trust also plans an apartment for guests to stay in the house and take dinner in the family dining room, staff and student accommodation.
To donate to the appeal, call 0870 458 4000 or visit www.nationaltrust.org.uk/donations. The Trust aims to raise £1 million from donations.