Peek into Greenway's cabinet of curiosities
We've been highlighting curiosities of Greenway's collection throughout the year and inviting you to respond creatively to them. Perhaps an object suggests a character to you, a subtle plot, or a poem?
Greenway's curious collection
Traditionally a cabinet of curiosities might have contained curious objects from around the world, items from nature, and other intrigues. We have searched the collection at Greenway for things that are usually hidden away, and each month are bringing them into focus. In the Winter Dining Room each month's items will form the centre of a display in our 'cabinet of curiosities' and will feature here on the website along with a writing prompt.
Let's start with this delightful writing box, to inspire you to get your pens and paper at the ready.
Writing prompt for the month: consider a character associated with this box. It could be the person who made it, the person who commissioned it, the person it was made for, a person who was interested in buying it. Write a short description of this person, and a paragraph of their thoughts when they first saw the finished box.
In honour of Valentine's Day, February's curious collection item is a shell picture with a heart at its centre. It is usually found hanging in the Morning Room, but for this month is the centre of the exhibition in the Winter Dining Room. It's one of a pair of shell pictures, circa 1800. Similar pictures are thought to have been produced in shipping ports, for sailors to buy to bring home for their sweethearts.
Writing prompt for the month: what do you think is special about Greenway? Could you write a love letter or poem to it, or choose another special place and dedicate your love letter to that? What is your special place like? Why do you love it? How does it make you feel?
In March, with Mother’s Day is in our thoughts, the exhibition is reflecting on afternoon tea and the celebration of spring. The object of the month is this cobalt blue ceramic teapot with gilt edging. Decorated with a white oval spring flower design. There’s nothing like a nice teapot to get a good brew, and they are especially good for sharing.
Writing prompt for the month: would you like to write a poem or a reflection on taking tea or about your favourite spring flower? This can be an exercise in detail, where you consider all the senses. How does it smell? Be precise about size, colour and shape. Where is the flower found? What vessel is the tea in, and how does it sound, look and taste?
The Easter holidays are the focus of the cabinet during April. We've spotted quite a few egg-shapes in the collection around the house, and have chosen the object of the month as it ties in with both Easter and April showers. This umbrella has an decorative egg at the end of its handle made from tigers eye.
Writing prompt for the month: think about the hand that holds this unusual umbrella handle. You could write a short character description of one or two paragraphs, or a poem about April showers.
Writing prompt for the month: inspired by one of the music box's tunes 'Ye Banks and Braes' written by the poet Robert Burns, could you write a poem? Or you could write some prose with a small scene where someone is playing a music box. Who are they? Where are they? What does the music meen to them?
We are taking some time this month to explore and understand D-Day and the experience of the Second World War at Greenway. The object of the month is an oil painting on board of the LCI 87 Flagship, part of Flotilla No 10. During the Second World War, Greenway was occupied by Flotilla 10 of the U.S. Coast Guard making preparations for D-Day. The painting is of one of their ships, and on the reverse there is handwritten information about ships attacked, lost or damaged on D-Day, giving details such as ‘beach morning of D-Day’.
Find out more about Greenway's Second World War connections by clicking here
Writing prompt for the month: members of the planning team stayed in the house, from January 1944, until just before D-Day. It had taken 11 months to journey to this spot on the River Dart. Could you write a paragraph of diary entry for one of the men staying here, from their first day of arrival?
See the oil painting by clicking here
July and August
In these summer months we are thinking about play at Greenway. Sports days and traditional outdoor games are the order of the day! A croquet mallet is the object for these month. It is usually stored by the stairs at Greenway, alongside other games equipment, fishing rods and more. This mallet is made by Jaques of London, and was purchased from Harrods. It is made from wood. There is a croquet lawn to the side of the house at Greenway, and there are photographs within the collection of people playing there.
Writing prompt for July and August: can you write a poem which celebrates and includes the evocative sounds of sport in summer? Or did you have a favourite game or activity you played with friends or family in the summer holidays? Write a descriptive paragraph sharing your anecdote remembering a moment of summer sport.
This month we celebrate the Queen of Crime herself. For her 80th birthday, Agatha Christie dined on lobster, blackcurrant ice cream and avocado, a luxury item at the time. The object of the month is a white majolica serving dish made up of three parts and a large superimposed lobster, which feels apt for a celebratoin of her birthday on 15 September.
Usually the dish resides in the Dining Room where the family would come together on the holidays. It's impressed with marks of Portugal 1940 and other similar examples have shown three compartments painted green so that they appear to be cabbage leaves.
Writing prompt for September: Inspired by Agatha's birthday celebrations, could you write her a birthday message? Or would you like to write a passage describing a special meal you enjoyed? You can consider all the senses and textures. How did it smell, look and taste? What were the sounds you heard as it was served and enjoyed? How did this make you feel?
Halloween and harvest time
It’s that time of year when the seasons change; we say goodbye to summer and its harvest and welcome the beginning of winter. We celebrate this month with Halloween – the ancient Celtic festival of Samhain when people would light bonfires and wear costumes to ward off ghosts.
Nestled in the collection at Greenway is this spooky tobacco jar and cover. Originating from Japan in the late 19th century, it's slightly different from other jars of its time in that it has a frog on the lid, instead of a snake which is more commonly found. It was brought to Greenway by Agatha Christie Mallowan but the exact date is unknown. However it is listed on an inventory which was taken just before the requisition of Greenway House by the American Coastguard in 1942. Perhaps one of the soldiers used it?
Objects have a history, or ‘life story’, much like people do but they can’t tell us, so we have to follow clues or use our imagination to try and work it out. Try to imagine this jar as a character, and tell a story about its life. Where has it been, who has it met, and what might it have seen? Was it kept locked away in a cupboard and how did it feel about this? Has it travelled a long distance, following adventures with its owner? And what do you think the symbols mean?
As we head into the final weeks of our writers residency, it is only fitting to showcase this writing box. We don’t believe it was used by Agatha Christie herself, but was certainly part of someone’s life as it contains receipts, unused diaries and a newspaper cutting from the late 1800s. It could well have belonged to Agatha Christie’s mother as a few items refer to Mrs Miller.
A portable writing desk it opens out to reveal a handy slope, compartments containing envelopes and letters, pre-printed postcards and sealing wax. There’s a handy blotter and ink bottles, and some more personal items like receipts, an invite to tea and even a photograph.
Currently we’re not able to display all the items inside as they have been in situ for many years so to unfold and handle them now may damage the fragile paper, but this may be an exciting project for the future.
Writing prompt for November: Thinking about the writing box and the items within; this would have been a way to organise your diary. The telephone had been invented by this time but writing was still the main form of communication and record keeping. You could write a passage about the person who owned this box. Who are they? What did they use it for? How does the paper feel on the writing slope, and does the quill nib scratch when you write?
You could imagine responding to the invitation to tea, or compiling a shopping list – what sort of items would be on it in the late 1800s?
Good tidings for Christmas
Our final object for the cabinet of curiosities is a real treat. Not a part of the visual display, this decorated wooden box is normally stored behind the scenes. It was sent to Agatha Christie as a gift from a fan, across the sea from Czechoslovakia. Research shows that Christie sent a Christmas card to say thank you.
Inside the box, a white horse statue lays nestled in protective cotton wool, which signifies in Christie’s novel, The Pale Horse. Tucked in with the horse was a letter from the giftee. The letter isn’t on display as not only does it contain personal correspondence, it’s also been folded for so many years that to handle this fragile peice would cause significant damage.
Suggested writing prompt for December
As it’s the season of goodwill, why not write a Christmas greeting to Agatha Christie or Greenway? There may be something you appreciate about the house, or Agatha Christie’s work. You could also write a descriptive paragraph about your most favourite Christmas present – given or received. What did it feel like? Giving it or receiving it?