Part of Torbays fascinating past includes the worlds most famous ‘Queen of Crime’, writer, Dame Agatha Christie.
Agatha,Mary,Clarissa, Miller was born on September 15 th 1890, and was christened at All Saints Church, Bamfylde Rd, Torre on October 20th 1890. She was baptised in the same marble font that is used today. Her father made a donation to the church so that Agatha could be a founder member.
Agatha spent her childhood days happily with her sister and brother,looked after by a nanny at the family home ‘Ashfield’. Ashfield a Victorian mansion with its large garden, and croquet lawn, was the centre of her life for nearly 50 years. In 1962, Agatha learned that ‘ Ashfield’ was to be demolished, much to her dismay.Today as one approaches the South Devon College from Barton, down Barton Rd, just before the first building of the College on the left, stood ‘Ashfield’.
Agathas horse riding expeditions through country lanes to Cockington village, used to start as Agatha walked from Ashfield, to the riding stables. They were to be found where the Torbay Constitutional Club now stands at the junction of Lansdowne Lane and South Street, just down from the Police Station.
Cockington Court a part Tudor Manor house which is set in acres of woodland was owned by the Mallocks, friends of Agatha and her family. She would often go there to participate in amateur dramatics. Cockington Court today houses craft studios which are open to the public. The crafts that included are working glass blowers, a blacksmith, an artist, a quilter, jeweller, potter, calligrapher and an aromatherapist. Some of the country lanes that Agatha used to ride through are still there for all to enjoy and journey down on the way to Cockington Village. The village of Cockington which is mentioned in the Doomsday Book is still very quaint, with its thatched roofed cottages and the old village stocks, and forge. The Countryside around Cockington is very picturesque and unspoiled by modern life.
Whilst young Agatha's favourite pastimes included swimming, horse riding, dancing , reading, and roller-skating. She regularly used to go to the Princess Pier, where she would skate up and down the length of the pier, and in the winter in the Concert Room at the end of the Pier for 2d (4p). The Concert Room was sadly destroyed by fire in 1974.
Very near to the Pier are the Princess Gardens, so named after The Princess Louise, one of Queen Victorias children who had made a visit to Torquay in 1890. Prior to this the land had been marshland. Today the gardens are laid out formally, with flowerbeds and lawns, fountains and paths. This was the setting for a Scene in The ABC Murders, featuring Hercule Poirot
Next to the Princess Gardens stands the beautiful Georgian building The Pavilion, which was a prominent social venue as far as music and concerts were concerned. Agatha regularly attended concerts there. In fact in January 1913 she went to the Pavilion with a young man which she had met a few months earlier ,to hear music by Wagner. The young man being Archie Christie. After the concert they went back to ‘Ashfield’, and Archie proposed to Agatha. They married Christmas 1914. The Grand Hotel was the splendid location of their honeymoon for just one night with her first husband. He had come home on leave from his duties as a Flight Commander in France and had five days before he was due to return to France.
Agatha was a good swimmer and used to like bathing at Beacon Cove, this was the beach where, although usually quite safe, she nearly drowned. Apparently there were unusual sea conditions that day. She was rescued by a grumpy old man who used to be at hand in a boat should anyone need to be rescued. Beacon Cove in Victorian times, used to be known as the Ladies Bathing Cove, where Ladies should have had privacy when bathing. However the “gentlemen” of the Torbay Yacht Club, on numerous occasions it is rumoured, spent their time looking through opera glasses to watch the ladies on the beach, hoping for a glimpse, or two of what they shouldn’t see. The Torbay Yacht Club situated on Beacon Terrace, and has a fine view of the Bay. Agathas father himself was a member of the Yacht Club. Beacon Cove can be found down steps on the right just past Living Coasts on Beacon Quay.
Going on up the hill from Beacon Quay one can find the Imperial Hotel which was the setting for Agatha Cristies thriller Peril at End House, Sleeping Murder, The Body in the Library, and Sleeping Murder. Agatha visited the Imperial Hotel socially for Dinner, Dances and Tea Dances. Nowadays Non-residents are welcomed to the hotel to take afternoon tea, coffee or an ,aperitif on the terrace just as Miss Marple would have done whilst solving the mysteries.
In 1914 when the war broke out Torquay Town Hall was commandeered into being a Red Cross hospital. Agatha who had taken her First Aid and Nursing exams had passed and became a nurse tending the casualties who were being brought back home injured from France.
In 1915 Agatha suffered a severe bout of the flu and was unable to work as a nurse for nearly a month. When she was well and returned she found that a new department had opened. The Dispensary. This is where she worked for the next two years and gained all her knowledge about poisons. The knowledge which she was able to use with authority in her novels. Whilst working in the Dispensary which at times was not very busy at all , Agatha started to write her first detective story with the encouragement of her sister, and in 1921 The Mysterious Affair at Styles was published, featuring Hercule Poirot. Agatha Christie wrote more than 30 novels featuring Poirot. Amongst most popular were “ The Murder of Roger Ackroyd ",”The Murder on the Orient Express” and “ Death on the Nile”.
In 1927 Archie Christie asked for a divorce, having fallen in love with another woman. Agatha already being upset by the death of her mother, disappeared. The whole of England became wrapped up in the case of the missing writer. After 11 days she eventually turned up, claiming she had amnesia when having to explain to the police her disappearance.
Agatha Christie had an interest in archaeology and whilst taking a break in the Near East she visited an archaeological dig in Ur, where she met the young archaeologist Max Mallowan and later married him in 1930. Agatha accompanied him on many of his expeditions to the Middle East, which became the setting for many of her novels. She created Miss Marple in 1930.
In 1938 Agatha moved to Greenway House with her second husband . It is a beautiful Georgian House on the River Dart. It was requisitioned in WWII by the US Navy but Agatha and her family returned there again in 1945, and until she died in 1976.
Agatha was awarded the high honour of becoming Dame of the British Empire in 1971.
An Agatha Christie Trail brochure can be obtained from the English Riviera Tourist Board in Vaughan Parade ,Torquay , so that you may visit the many places that have been mentioned here, and more.
Also there is a Tribute to Agatha Christie Room which can be found at Torre Abbey,The King’s Drive,
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