Agatha Christie, the world’s best selling author, was born on 15th September 1890 in Torquay. She is know as the Queen of Crime for her detective fiction stories and her two most famous detectives are Hercule Poirot and Miss Jane Marple. She is also the only female playwright to have had three productions in London’s West End theatres simultaneously, the most famous of which The Mousetrap is the world’s longest running play.
This year is the 40th anniversary of Agatha’s death. Along with a loyal fan base, her popularity continues to grow as new generations discover her, thanks in part to the recent BBC adaptions such as “And Then There Were None” and the publication of Sophie Hannah’s Poirot novels, the latest being “Closed Casket“.
My personal love of Christie goes back to childhood, like many, she was the first adult fiction I read. I find Agatha’s own life just as fascinating as the characters she wrote about. I’m just back from visiting Wallingford for their annual Agatha Christie weekend and while I was there I visited Agatha’s grave.
In 1934 Agatha and Max Mallowan, her second husband, purchased Winterbrook House in Wallingford, Oxfordshire. They happily lived there for over forty years and this was very much a private retreat for the couple, with the people of Wallingford respecting their privacy. Agatha, was known in the town by her married name Mrs Mallowan and frequented the local shops. On 12th January 1976 Agatha died peacefully at Winterbrook House. Today the house features a blue plaque, but it’s a private house and not open to the public.
While living in Wallingford, Agatha attended St Mary’s Church in Cholsey. The church is in an idyllic spot, located on the edge of the village and surrounded by fields. This beautiful, historic church dates back to c986, when it was originally an abbey church and has subsequently been re-built. It was here that Agatha’s funeral was held.
The funeral service, conducted by Vicar of Cholsey, Rev Philip Pare, was a private occasion, attended by family and close friends, who were out numbered by the international press.
Agatha and Max had already chosen the plot where they wanted to be buried some ten years earlier. It’s located in a secluded spot, in the north west corner of the churchyard.
Tucked away in a tranquil corner of the churchyard is Agatha’s grave. In the fields behind is the railway line and the peace is occasionally disturbed by the sound of a passing train. The grave is unassuming with a headstone and two stone boundary markers. Between the two markers is a small tablet on the grass. It reads M.E.L.M. and A.M.C.M. which stands for Max Edgar Lucien Mallowan and Agatha Mary Clarissa Mallowan.
The brass plaque on the wall, next to the grave, list the people and organisations who sponsored the planting of 25 trees in the churchyard and aided in the restoration of the church to commemorate the centenary of Agatha’s birth.
The beautiful head stone is ornately decorated at the top with the heads of two angels. Between which are the overlaid initials A M, which could stand for Agatha Mallowan or as I like to think Agatha and Max.
Keep a look out for the spelling mistake on the gravestone!
The inscription reads:
AGATHA MARY CLARISSA MALLOWAN
Agatha Christie Author & Playwright
BORN 15TH SEPT 1890 DIED 12TH JAN 1976
Sleepe after toyle, port after stormie seas
ease after war, death after life does greatest please”
The poem comes from Edmund Spenser’s “The Faerie Queene”
In 1978, when Max died he was buried alongside Agatha. An inscription to him was added:
“ALSO HER HUSBAND
MAX EDGAR LUCIEN MALLOWAN
Archealologist & Orientalist
Membre de Institut de France
BORN 6TH MAY 1904 DIED 19TH AUG 1978″
BTW did you spot the spelling mistake? Max’s occupation archaeologist was misspelt.