Scented garden ending to 'Saga of the Blue Plaques'

Ian Handford, chairman of Torbay Civic Society, and Cllr Mike Morey at the replaced Agatha Christie plaque Barton Road

Ian Handford, chairman of Torbay Civic Society, and Cllr Mike Morey at the replaced Agatha Christie plaque in Barton Road, 2019 - Credit: Torbay Council

The stories behind Torbay's blue plaques by Ian Handford, chairman of Torbay Civic Society. This week: Agatha Christie's second plaque

Last week's article was about the first of two blue plaques to Agatha Christie, when I explained it had taken two decades to install at the entrance point of her birthplace - Ashfield House - on Barton Road.

The council had demolished her house decades before and this plaque came through an anonymous donor.

A small stone was bought by Mathew Prichard, Agatha's grandson, which was carved by the Plymouth Cooperative Society mason suitable to carry the new plaque.

As previously explained, years after the unveiling vandalism had made it unreadable and for many years the public became ever more angry with coach firms bringing visitors to the site only to witness a damaged plaque on a small stone.

It really was not fitting for such a famous person. On one occasion Torbay Civic Society even received a direct call from one coach operator demanding we do something about it, although as I have explained before, plaques are the responsibility of the sponsor once officially unveiled.

Eventually, it was our close connection with Kevin Mowat, Torbay harbourmaster and leader of council at the time, that brought success.

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He offered to help by providing redundant Capstans under his control, dating from the Napoleonic era, which if carved might be a suitable to carry a plaque.

But now another year passed and this idea was abandoned when Kevin found some Section 106 money at council, which might purchase a large granite stone provided it was from a local quarry - DJC Stonemasons of Kingskerswell.

The whole saga was not unlike one of Agatha's plots - a story seemingly without end.

The second 'coming' was as suspected, not going to be easy, which indeed became the case.

Having persevered for months/years, the new plaque was finally agreed with Mathew as sponsor.

The new stone looked right in size and colour, stood upright and was even within cost even allowing for removal/delivery by lorry and crane.

That left just the new hole and mortar - a two-day job - to be created at the verge so that the large stone would be erected.

Unfortunately, the fixing and unveiling of this our second plaque to Agatha was not to be attended by Mathew or the first donor so the 'second coming' would be informal, although a press release was arranged.

Today, people in cars, coaches and walkers can view the words without resorting to being on their knees and the whole saga ought to have ended there - but, of course, it did not.

That smaller stone, still weighing tons, was carved and was of little use to anyone else but it had to go somewhere.

A eureka moment - why not use it at the society's scented garden at Hollicombe - a garden created by my predecessor Ena Hocking when as chairman in 1981 she had a small stainless steel plate made, now rusting and looking very sorry for itself, which fronted the garden.

One phone call to the council gardeners and, joy of joy, we were allowed to use our redundant stone at the scented garden site.

The new plaque we created included the words provided by Ena 40 years ago and finally during lockdown, Roger Hayford and I put the full-size blue plaque into its new home in 2020.

That tale will be told when I feature the scented garden blue plaque later this year.

The world's most famous author, with 70 novels of crime, six romantic novels (under her nom-de-plume - Mary Westmacott) and two books in her second name Mrs Agatha Christie Mallowan and 16 written plays would, I am sure, be pleased with the end of the 'Saga of the Blue Plaques'.