Two unveilings of Blue Plaque at Agatha Christe’s birthplace

Torbay Civic Society's pamphlet

Torbay Civic Society's pamphlet - Credit: Archant

Unusually, this Blue Plaque story falls into two separate events.

Torbay Civic Society's plaque at Ashfield

Torbay Civic Society's plaque at Ashfield - Credit: Archant

The first concerns an anonymous donor from Teignmouth wanting to establish a plaque in Barton Road at the entrance of what was Agatha Christie’s birthplace, Ashfield.

The plaque would be in memory of her late husband, who years before had been resident in Barton Road, Torquay.

Having contacted Agatha’s grandson Mathew Prichard, Torbay Council and Stoneycombe Quarry, eventually the actual site for a piece of granite to be placed was purchased by Mr Prichard and with the funding of everything else assured, all was set to go.

The final arrangements took a long time, as having chosen the stone and a mason from the Co-op to carve the circle to carry the plaque, a crane had to be found to set the heavy piece of Devon granite in place.

Once the plaque had been recieved, the unveiling day was agreed as March 21, 2007, when the sponsor, society members plus Mathew and his wife Caroline attended.

The unveiling was performed by the chairman of Torbay Council, Councillor John Dunn, and Mr and Mrs Prichard.

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Had the chosen stone - about 2ft high - been larger that might have ended the story of Agatha’s Ashfield memorial but vandalism ended that hope.

Now for years the society had suffered reminders that the plaque was a disgrace and even coaching firms wrote to say their drivers were loathe to take coach visitors to the home site as part of their historic tours only to see a vandalised plaque.

How many thousands went to view we can never know.

Eventually, it would be Torbay Council through our friend Kevin Mowat, leader, that with the help of another friend of our society, Darren Clark at Stoneycombe Quarry, we agreed jointly a large piece of standing granite to be purchased using Section 106 Council funds.

The result, in the summer of 2019 a small group of attendees finally unveiled the restoved and restored plaque at the same site, this time on a large piece of standing stone.

The original piece of granite - about four ton but fortunately carved - was with Darren’s help, removed and then delivered to our scented garden in Hollicombe garden park.

With a brand new Blue Plaque supplied by us, it replaced the small steel and now rusting original memorial plate, still on its small wooden frame.

At last a satisfactory outcome for what had been a very difficult time for us concerning that here was a highly important author of history and our town.

Agatha Christie had been born at Ashfield in September 1890 and had remained an intrinsic part of the Torquay community for a number of years.

She regularly swam from our beaches, she went horse riding at Cockington park, she roller skated on the Princess Pier and even attended a drama school and went to dances in the town.

When describing Ashfield in her later life, she said it was ‘a magical place in three parts, a walled garden - a wood and a path - leading to the tennis courts and croquete lawn’.

She even wrote: “As you emerged from the garden the enchantment ended.”

Finally, during the First World War, Agatha worked in the Torbay Hospital dispensary, where she would learn the chemistry and about drugs, so often used in her novels.

Agatha returned only once to her birthplace, as she found the council had demolished her old home and left just her beloved Monkey Tree.

The tree was not far distant from where today our Blue Plaque with its standing stone now marks the entrance of the very driveway she would have walked in her early years.

A Torbay Civic Society pamphlet ‘Ashfield - Agatha Christie’ is obtainable by sending stamps to the value of 50p plus a stamped addressed envelope to Torbay Civic Society, Suite 1, Palace Avenue Business Centre, 4 Palace Avenue, Paignton TQ3 3HA.