Magic of Agatha Christie and Greenway

Published 24th July 2006

Greenway House in Devon.

Greenway House in Devon.

A unique and once-in-a-lifetime opportunity is in store for collectors and Agatha Christie enthusiasts on Tuesday September 12th at Bearne's in Exeter when the family offer at auction a selection of items from her former home at Greenway House, Churston Ferrers, South Devon.

Dame Agatha Christie, her daughter Rosalind and husband Anthony Hicks were all avid collectors throughout their lives, and Greenway House was almost overwhelmed by the sheer volume of various works of art.

Titled 'The Greenway Sale', the auction will include books, ceramics, pictures, prints, collectables, English and Continental furniture, silver, jewellery, plus some clothing, and is likely to attract world-wide interest.

With estimates ranging from just a few pounds to several thousand, the auction will provide a wonderful opportunity for Christie collectors everywhere as every item offered will have the magical provenance of Greenway.

The sale coincides with the second Christie Week, a national celebration to mark her birthday and in recognition of the achievements and extraordinary legacy of the best-selling novelist of all time. (Explore more at:

The present Grade II* listed Greenway House was built in 1791 and although the property passed through several well known West Country families, it was the ownership by the world's most famous crime writer which brought the spotlight to bear on this spectacular house and garden on the banks of the River Dart.

Dame Agatha Christie spent most of her formative years growing up in Edwardian Torquay in a house called 'Ashfield', near St Vincent's Road, now sadly demolished. In fact, her first novel 'The Mysterious Affair at Styles' was begun in Torquay and there are several locations in Torquay and Devon which inspired her novels.

In 1938 when she learned that the Greenway Estate was being broken up and sold, she felt compelled to buy it even though this meant the sale of her beloved Ashfield. However, Greenway in turn became a much loved holiday home and retreat for Dame Agatha where she spent a great deal of her relaxation time, particularly in the Summer months, until her death in 1976.

In an act of great generosity, the property – specifically the house (excluding contents), garden and wider estate - was gifted to the National Trust in 2000 by Agatha Christie's daughter Rosalind and her husband Anthony Hicks, and Agatha Christie's grandson Mathew Prichard. This was a brave decision as visitors could now explore what was their private garden but the Hicks much enjoyed hearing visitors' delight in discovering this hidden gem.

To date, only the 30 acre garden, boat-house and footpaths of the 278 acre estate have been available for public enjoyment, but the National Trust hopes to re-open the house in 2008 following a careful and costly restoration.

With the recent deaths of Rosalind and Anthony Hicks, the house contents passed to Mathew Prichard who now also intends to gift to the National Trust much of the vast treasure trove of possessions built up by his grandmother, mother and stepfather.

However, with such a large and diverse collection of works of art found within Greenway, and following instructions from the Executors of the Hicks' Estate, the decision was taken by the family to dispose of some surplus items by auction, with them proposing to donate half of the proceeds of the sale to the National Trust to help fund the Trust's conservation work at Greenway.

The items in the auction were first agreed with the Trust and none of the items on sale are central to the collections that the Trust hopes to show and preserve for future generations.

In the sale catalogue foreword, Mathew Prichard, Agatha Christie's grandson, writes: "My Grandmother, Agatha Christie, was a great collector, as were my parents, and so am I!

"The bulk of what she collected will ultimately be on display at Greenway, now owned and managed by the National Trust, and we hope, with substantial refurbishment, that the house will be open to the public in 2008.

"What is on sale on September 12th is either what there is not room for at Greenway (like most collectors, my family collected far too much and were reluctant to sell anything!), or what did not really belong there.

"All of it is authentic family material, including some signed Agatha Christie books, and I hope you feel what is for sale gives an opportunity to share in a piece of literary history, as well as a piece of stunningly beautiful Devon property. The sale proceeds will be shared equally between my family and the National Trust's refurbishment costs at Greenway."

The Greenway sale is an exciting prospect as every piece has the provenance of Greenway and with over 700 lots on offer, including many items or groups of items estimated at under £100, there will be something for everyone and ample opportunity for Agatha Christie collectors and enthusiasts to make an inexpensive purchase at the auction.

The books should prove to be of special interest as a small but fascinating group of thirty Agatha Christie early or First Editions are included, twenty-eight of which bear personal inscriptions from the writer. Three good examples are 'Murder is Easy' first edition 1939, inscribed 'from Agatha Christie' (estimate £1,000-2,000); 'The Hollow', first edition 1946, inscribed 'Rosalind from Agatha Christie' (estimate £500-700); and 'The Mysterious Mr Quin', first edition 1930, inscribed 'Max from Agatha' (estimate £800-1,200). Sir Max Mallowan was Agatha Christie's second husband.

First Edition of 'Murder is Easy' by Agatha Christie.

First Edition of 'Murder is Easy' by Agatha Christie.

There is a good selection of approximately one hundred and fifty lots of silver and plate to be found in the sale including for example a fine William and Mary basting spoon with oval rat-tail bowl and tubular handle by Joseph Ward of London. It was made in 1700 and is a rare survival for something in presumably regular use over three hundred years ago (estimate £1,000-1,500). Surprisingly there are two other basting spoons in the sale, dated 1700 and 1713 (estimates £300-500 and £400-600).

Agatha Christie's Signature.

Agatha Christie's Signature.

From the later reign of George III, a pair of oval meat dishes provide interest for collectors of Irish silver. They were made by Robert Breading and were assayed in Dublin in 1795. Weighing nearly 70oz. and engraved with the arms of Fitzwilliam, they would make a handsome addition to any collection (estimate £1,500-2,000). There are several other pieces of Irish silver on offer, including a rare small Monteith with detachable rim, assayed in Galway, circa 1700 (estimate is £3,000-5,000.). A number of the lots in the sale are recorded in Agatha Christie's own handwritten inventory of the silver collection.

Silver Montieth (circa 1700).

Silver Montieth (circa 1700).

A limited number of pieces of Tunbridge-ware from the extensive collection remaining in the house are to be sold. This type of marquetry work from Tunbridge Wells achieved great fame and became very fashionable in the 19th Century.

Any wood of unusual colour or grain was used, including yew, cherry, holly, and furze in order to create attractive marquetry and mosaic patterns, sometimes arranged as rows of elongated triangles bordering other geometric shapes so arranged as to produce effects of solid cubes viewed in perspective.

This skill became a specialised branch of the small cabinet-making trade but two of the better known makers were Thomas Barton and Robert Russell. The example illustrated is a workbox with fitted interior, the lid with a view of Eridge Castle, (estimate £300-500).

Workbox with Fitted Interior.

Workbox with Fitted Interior.

Amongst the ceramics and glass section of the sale, a pair of attractive Chinese oval dishes is to be found. Decorated in bright colours with a pseudo tobacco leaf design, they are classic examples of export porcelain from the Qianlong period (1736-1795). The pre-sale estimate is £800-1,200.

Pair of Chinese Oval Dishes from the Quianlong Period (1736-1795).

Pair of Chinese Oval Dishes from the
Quianlong Period (1736-1795).

In contrast to the Oriental and English porcelain included in the sale, 'Barge-ware' was a distinctive type of treacle glazed pottery produced in the late 19th Century in the Burton-on-Trent area and particularly favoured by bargees' wives. Of a dozen examples in the sale, a teapot and cover has particular local interest with the inscription 'Mrs Caryl/49 Longbrook Street, Exeter/1893', (estimate £100-150).

From over one hundred lots of pictures and prints to be offered, two 20th Century paintings stand out as being of particular intereSt The first is a still life of chrysanthemums by Alfred Janes (1911-1999) which is painted in a particularly attractive 'mosaic' technique. Janes was born in Swansea and studied at the Swansea School of Art and The Royal Academy Schools. He exhibited regularly in Swansea and London. The estimate is £2,500-3,500.

The other 20th Century work which requires mention is 'Fruit Picking' by Leon Underwood (1890-1978). George Claude Leon Underwood was an artist of extraordinary range. He painted in oils and watercolour, was a print-maker and sculptor and whose early conventional style was modified after journeys to Iceland and Spain in the 1920s. This present work probably dates from circa 1930 following a trip to Mexico in 1928. The picture is expected to fetch between £5,000 and £7,000.

Leon Underwood (1890-1978); Fruit Picking.

Leon Underwood (1890-1978); Fruit Picking.

The Greenway Sale will take place on Tuesday, 12th September 2006 at Bearne's in Exeter, with viewing on Saturday, 9th September 2006 (9.30am-2.30pm); Sunday, 10th September 2006 (9:30am-5:30pm); and Monda,y 11th September 2006 (9:30am-7:00pm). An illustrated catalogue, which can also be accessed on-line, is available now.

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