Agatha Christie and a trail of LGBT history 

Torbay Weekly

William Emery, Torquay Museum volunteer:

February is LGBT History Month 2022 - a month that celebrates and pays homage to the queer histories that are not frequently reviewed and taught and oftentimes buried in the past.

With the reopening of the museum falling on February 1, it is our pleasure to announce the newest addition to Torquay Museum: The Michelangelo Trail: A Delve into LGBTQ+ Histories.

This LGBT History Trail is a three-month long project that has focused on shinning a light on the queer histories of objects in the museum’s collections and permanent displays.

For example, within the Agatha Christie exhibit, the novel ‘A Murder is Announced’ has been included because of the two of the featured characters, as well as some previously undiscovered links to a members-only club for lesbian women in the 1950s.

‘Partners’ didn’t exclusively refer to women as a couple in the 20th century, however, women who were publicly recognised as living together as partners or friends often suggested a lesbian relationship.

Additionally, lesbian couples often conformed to either the masculine and feminine or ‘butch/fem’ stereotypes at this time, with one preferring men’s clothes and the other more female attire.

Regarding the basis of these characters, in the late 1940s, Agatha Christie lived in her London residence in Swan Court just off Kings Road.

A few minutes’ walk from her flat was the Gateway Club, 239 King’s Road, a lesbian members-only club where in passing, Christie may have observed the stereotypical depictions of the ‘partners’.

The women in ‘A Murder Is Announced’ very much connote one of these types of lesbian relationship.

Murgatroyd is the feminine, 'fat and amiable'. She wears the housedress, does the laundry, and defers to her partner.

Miss Hinchcliffe is the butch tall woman, has a 'short man-like crop' of hair, and a 'weather-beaten countenance'. She wears the boots, slops the pigs, drives the car, and brags about drinking.

Upon the murder of Murgatroyd, Hinchcliffe vows that the killer will pay and is as fiercely defensible as any spouse.

Accessibility is paramount when it comes to Torquay Museum and the collections as everyone should have access to the past.

With this in mind, The Michelangelo Trail can be viewed on your mobile by scanning the QR Codes placed around the museum or if you prefer, you can pick up a paper copy of the trail at reception.

Here at Torquay Museum, we are very proud of the trail, but without the support and funding of Art Fund and South West Museum Development the trail would not have been possible.

We look forward to future events and collaborations with local LGBTQIA+ networks and communities.