Revealing the mysteries of Agatha Christie's eclectic collection at Greenway

Greenway in Devon contains the results of a lifetime of collecting. It was the beloved holiday home of the famous and much-loved author Agatha Christie (1890-1976) and her family. Here we present a selection of the family's cherished objects that helped to turn Greenway into Agatha’s dream house.

Five generations of collectors  

Agatha’s love of collecting was instilled in her as a child by her grandparents and parents. As an adult, her passion was shared by her second husband, Max Mallowan, her daughter Rosalind, son-in-law Anthony and grandson Matthew. When living at the house, the family loved to go to nearby salerooms to support local artists and craft workers, adding to their ever-growing collection.

Family photograph, left to right: Anthony Hicks, Agatha's son-in-law (1916-2005), Matthew Prichard, Agatha's grandson (b.1942), Agatha Christie (1890-1976) and daughter Rosalind Christie Hicks (1919-2004) in front of Greenway
Photograph of Agatha Christie and family in front of family
Family photograph, left to right: Anthony Hicks, Agatha's son-in-law (1916-2005), Matthew Prichard, Agatha's grandson (b.1942), Agatha Christie (1890-1976) and daughter Rosalind Christie Hicks (1919-2004) in front of Greenway

The collection at Greenway comprises over 12,000 items, covering a huge range of dates, from pre-historic archaeology to 20th-century studio pottery.

Some passions were shared by several members of the family, while others were an individual interest. The family were all interested in Tunbridge ware, a marquetry technique used on an array of wooden objects including boxes, inkstands, trays, tea caddies and more. Meanwhile Agatha was responsible for collecting the numerous straw work boxes at Greenway, some of which may have been made by French prisoners of war during the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars.

Boxes

Tunbridge ware

There are more than 80 pieces of Tunbridge ware at Greenway, including trays, jewellery stands, trinket boxes and games boxes. Tunbridge ware originated in the early 18th century and flourished in the mid-19th century, all characteristically decorated with marquetry to form a design or picture.

Book box

A straw work sewing box

Agatha brought this straw work sewing box to Greenway. When closed, the box resembles a book. It was made around 1810 by a French prisoner of war. The lid has a watercolour view of Beaufort Castle, and the box opens to reveal a mirror above a small storage trough at the back.

Agatha's deathly connections

A collection of 40 bottles of homeopathic medicine, contained in a purpose-made wooden box, allude to Agatha’s pharmaceutical knowledge and qualifications. As a young woman, Agatha studied theoretical and practical chemistry and she took tuition from a pharmacist in Torquay. Death by poison is a common feature of her fiction, and her pharmaceutical training was certainly called upon.

In the Entrance Hall, a distinctive skull-shaped porcelain jar strikes a sinister note. Made in Germany in the late 19th century, Max used it to store his tobacco. 

A wooden box of 40 glass bottles containing homeopathic medicines

Medicine bottles

This wooden box may look like it contains vials of poison that you might find in one of Agatha Christie's mysteries, but it actually contains 40 glass bottles of homeopathic medicine.

Dresser in the entrance hall at Greenway, Devon.

Porcelain skull jar

The German porcelain jar in the form of a skull was used to store Max's tobacco. The lid is topped with a frog finial, Japanese in origin, from the late 19th century.

Family treasures

Originally used as a sitting room, the Morning Room was commandeered to house the family’s growing collection. There is a fine display of ceramics in the room, many of which were made by the Swansea and Nantgarw factories in Wales. Of particular interest are the items of botanical porcelain, much loved by Rosalind and Anthony.

View of the Morning Room at Greenway with botanical porcelain on display
Morning room at Greenway
View of the Morning Room at Greenway with botanical porcelain on display

Prominently displayed is the portrait of Agatha as a young girl. Entitled 'Lost in Reverie', it was painted by the American artist Douglas John Connah. It shows Agatha at the age of four, clutching her beloved doll, Rosie.

The very same doll is also on display. Rosie was made in France by the company Jumeau, which was famed for making dolls with painted faces and detailed clothing that followed the contemporary fashions. 

Agatha and Rosie

Portrait of Agatha Christie at the age of 4

Agatha, aged 4

This portrait, entitled 'Lost in Reverie', shows the young Agatha Mary Clarissa Miller clutching her beloved doll Rosie. It was painted in 1894 by American artist Douglas John Connah.

Image of doll

Rosie today

Rosie, Agatha's doll, can still be seen in the Morning Room, just below the Connah portrait. She was made in around 1894 by famous the French doll company, Jumeau, who began producing 'bebes' from the 1870s after specialising in adult fashion dolls.

Silver curiosities

Agatha and Max’s methodical approach to collecting was perhaps nowhere more evident than in their silver collection. Totalling 290 pieces, their collection was representative of nearly every year of manufacture from 1648 to 1836. Agatha even made a detailed list of the inidividual items, providing valuable details of how and where the pieces were acquired, from candlesticks and tea pots to bleeding bowls and ear trumpets.

A silver ear trumpet hallmarked in London, 1836. Devices like this were used as hearing aids to direct sound into the ear.
A silver ear trumpet
A silver ear trumpet hallmarked in London, 1836. Devices like this were used as hearing aids to direct sound into the ear.

Fairy-tale furniture

In Agatha's bedroom, there is a mother-of-pearl inlaid chest that Agatha bought while in Damascus in 1929. Agatha described it as the ‘sort of furniture that reminds one of fairyland.’ Clearly a piece much cherished by Agatha, it has occupied pride of place in her bedroom since she brought it to Greenway.

Agatha CHristie's bedroom at Greenway

Agatha's bedroom

Agatha and Max's bedroom at Greenway, with the Damascene chest in the very spot Agatha chose for it.

Detail of dresser

A furniture favourite

The chest is inlaid with mother-of-pearl and brings a touch of whimsy to the bedroom.

Books, books and yet more books

Greenway boasts a 5,000-strong book collection, most of which is contained in the lower bookcases that line the walls of the Library. The range of books give a good feel for the varied interests of the different family members. Subjects range from Buddhism to gardens and antiques; amongst them, on display upstairs in the fax room, is the collection of Greenway Editions of Agatha’s books. The library itself may have been the inspiration for the setting of her book 'The Body in the Library'.

A selection of first editions of Agatha Christie's novels on display
Agatha Christie book spines
A selection of first editions of Agatha Christie's novels on display

Ceramic treasures

But perhaps the most important strength at Greenway is the rich and varied collection of ceramics. It includes one of the oldest ceramic objects in all of the Trust’s collections of ceramics, a glazed earthenware camel from the Tang dynasty (618-907 AD).

This Tang Dynasty camel is over one thousand years old and was a gift from Max to Agatha
Greenway camel
This Tang Dynasty camel is over one thousand years old and was a gift from Max to Agatha

Greenway also houses an incredibly strong collection of 20-century British studio pottery, including a vase by Katharine Pleydell-Bouverie when she was working at Cole Pottery, Coleshill just before World War II.

A glazed stoneware vase by Katherine Pleydell-Bouverie
Ceramic bowl
A glazed stoneware vase by Katherine Pleydell-Bouverie

These items reflect the family – the camel was a gift from Max to Agatha, while the studio pottery was built up by Agatha’s daughter Rosalind and her husband, Anthony Hicks.

These were objects that Agatha and her family lived with, objects with which they held strong emotional connections, defined by personal tastes and intimate relationships.

Other family collectibles

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