Greenway – Home to a Famous Seafarer and an even more Famous Novelist

Greenway - Home to a Famous Seafarer and an even more Famous Novelist

There are several ways to reach this delightful National Trust (NT) property on the banks of the River Dart. If you have your own transport, you can drive through the village of Galmpton (which lies between Paignton and Brixham) and down the lane to the property’s car park: Another option is to take the Greenway vintage bus which starts at Torquay, or you can take the Dartmouth Steam Railway to Greenway Halt, but whichever way you do it, come here you must.

Greenway House

The Gilberts, a well-known Devon seafaring family, were the first to build a house at Greenway. The Tudor mansion, known as Greenway Court, was built in the 16th century by Otto Gilbert for himself and his wife Katherine who bore three sons while they were here. One of them, Humphrey, became a favourite of Queen Elizabeth I.

In 1583 Sir Humphrey claimed Newfoundland for the Queen while his brother, Sir John, looked after the family home. Another family member, Sir Walter Raleigh, was Sir John’s half-brother and a frequent visitor to the court, and there’s a boathouse down by the river known as Raleigh’s Boathouse, but I don’t think anybody is seriously suggesting it’s been around since Elizabethan times.

Raleigh's Boathouse

In 1588, Another Elizabethan Sea Dog, Sir Francis Drake, captured the ‘Nuestra Senora del Rosario’, one of the largest ships of the Spanish Armada: The prisoners were taken to Torre Abbey, and the ship was anchored at Greenway. Not to let the grass grow under his feet, so to speak, Sir John took advantage of the situation and the remaining crew were put to good use at the court landscaping the gardens.

The Gilberts left Greenway around 1700 for Compton Castle, and Greenway Court was sold to the Roope family. One of the family, with the name of Roope Harris Roope, had the present Greenway House built around 1780 and had the original Tudor house demolished.

After the house was sold again in 1791 a further four owners – three of them from Cornwall – enhanced the estate in their own various ways until it was purchased by the Mallowans in 1938. Max Mallowan’s wife is better known as Agatha Christie.

Below are some pictures of the estate.

Agatha Mary Clarissa Miller was born in Torquay on 15th September 1890, but moved away when she married her second husband, the archaeologist Max Mallowan, in 1930. They had met in Iraq whilst Agatha was following her life’s ambition of travelling on the Orient Express, and often accompanied him on his archaeological digs and, as we know, based some of her books such as Death on the Nile on these trips.

They had a country house in Oxfordshire and a home in London, but Agatha still loved her native Devon, and when Greenway came up for sale in 1938, they bought her “Dream House” as a holiday home.

They both came to love the place and spent spring, late summer and many Christmases here, but it was interrupted by World War 2 when the house was requisitioned, firstly for child evacuees, and then by the 10th Flotilla of the U.S Coastguard in preparation for D-Day. In the Library is a frieze that runs around the room painted by an American serviceman at the time.

The Library
Detail of the Frieze in the Library

After the war, they returned to Greenway, and although it’s doubtful that Mrs. Mallowan (as she was referred to locally) ever wrote any of her books here, Greenway did feature in a couple of her novels – as Nasse House in Dead Man’s Folly and as Alderbury in Five Little Pigs.

Agatha Christie had one child, Rosalind, from her first marriage to Archibald Christie, and in 1959 she took over Greenway from her mother. Rosalind and her husband Anthony Hicks didn’t make it their permanent home until after the death of Agatha (1976) and Max (1978), and in 2000 they gave the house and gardens to the National Trust: They continued to live at Greenway until Rosalind died in 2004 and her husband in 2005.

In 2007 their son and Agatha Christie’s grandson, Mathew Prichard completed the job and gifted most of Greenway’s important items to the National Trust in order to keep it looking much as it did when the Mallowans lived here, including her beloved Steinway piano in the Drawing Room.

Below are some pictures of the Drawing Room, the Steinway Piano and some family photos.

After spending £5.4m on its restoration, the National Trust (NT) opened Greenway’s doors to the public in 2009 and can be visited on a self-guided tour.

The family were avid collectors and there’s plenty here to see – and you’ll soon realise why they ask you to put your backpacks into lockers – because it wouldn’t be difficult to cause some embarrassing damage if you’re not careful.

Below are some pics of the Dining Room, Bedroom, Dressing Room, and the Fax Room. The last picture shows some Overmantel Plasterwork in the Winter Dining Room which is believed to have originally come from Greenway Court.

The house is pretty well much how you would expect it to be, but what I like about it the most, is the location and the woodland estate: For over 400 years successive generations of Greenway families have made it their home and it’s not hard to see why. Agatha Christie, who was a well-travelled lady, described it as “The loveliest place in the world”, and even if that statement is open to debate, I could certainly think of a lot worse places to live.

View from the Battery
Agatha Miller aged 4 (The Morning Room)
Agatha Miller about 20 years old by Nathaniel Hughes John Baird
Greenway from the River



10 thoughts on “Greenway – Home to a Famous Seafarer and an even more Famous Novelist

  1. Alli Templeton

    So this was a seafarer’s home – and Agatha Christie lived there too! Wow – what a provenance. I hadn’t even heard of Greenway, but it looks really homely, unlike a lot of NT properties. I love the idea of getting to it by steam railway too. And what a marvellous setting. That woodland looks idyllic. Thanks for introducing me to another corner of your picturesque part of the world, Malc. 🙂

    1. Easymalc Post author

      Greenway is popular because of the Agatha Christie connection and it is well worth visiting, but I prefer Coleton Fishacre which is only a few miles away

    1. Easymalc Post author

      Thank you AOC, and hope you enjoy the Christmas and New Year festivities yourself. Thanks for your support throughout this grim year and let’s hope for a better 2021 for everybody.

    1. Easymalc Post author

      The NT has often been under the spotlight, and it is again at the moment, but although I’m more in favour of them taking care of our countryside and coastline, I’m glad that they are also able to take places like Greenway under their wing as well. Thanks for taking a look at another part of my world Sarah 🙂


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