Plaque honoured queen of crime's birthplace

Torbay Weekly

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

This was always going to be a difficult plaque for us to establish even though it was to honour the most famous author of crime novels anywhere in the world.

The idea of establishing a blue plaque at Agatha Christie's birthplace home - Ashfield on Barton Road - came from a lady who had been a neighbour of Agatha's in Barton Road, yet who had now moved from Torbay.

She wished to remain anonymous although wanted to establish a plaque in memory of her late husband's interest in their neighbour - the now famous authoress.

Interestingly, I had met her husband when local chairman of Torbay branch of the Federation of Small Businesses, and now with the sponsorship assured and having contacted the council, it gave me permission for a stone to be placed on the grass verge alongside where Ashfield - long ago demolished - had originally stood.

Historian Joan Nott was willing to write the biography and so it was all systems go.

I next contacted Agatha's grandson Mathew Prichard and on the day he and his wife Caroline joined us and chairman of Torbay Council, Councillor John Dunn, for the formal unveiling ceremony on Wednesday, March 21, 2007.

It had taken 17 years for this plaque to be unveiled.

In truth that ought to have been the end of the story but of course, it is not.

There would be a second story involving a second plaque which I will tell next week.

Suffice to say that after my first meeting with Mathew Prichard, this was later followed up after vandals destroyed the words on the left hand side of the plaque leaving it in a very sorry state.

I had always had doubts about the small-sized stone and that is was so near the ground, which the vandalism proved was right.

However, as has been mentioned before in these features, it is the provider of the plaque that is the owner once the unveiling ceremony has passed.

With literally hundreds of coach loads of visitors and many locals viewing the now 'sorry state' plaque, you can imagine we were constantly bombarded with emails and letters demanding we get it restored.

Yet it took another ten years when, through the interest of Kevin Mowat, harbour master and council leader at the time, and this time Mathew, in a private capacity, that sufficient funding was found for us to renew the vandalised plaque and put in place a much larger piece of granite which, of course, will be the basis of my story next week.

Torbay Civic Society's colour pamphlet 'Ashfield and Agatha Christie' of 2007 can still be obtained by sending two second class stamps plus a stamped addressed envelope to Torbay Civic Society, 4 Palace Avenue, Paignton TQ3 3HA