Agatha Christie's Cheshire childhood Christmases
Joanne Goodwin and Steve Roberts
- Credit: Alamy Stock Photo
Agatha Christie (1890-1976) may be best known for her links to Devon (she was born in Torquay and her principal home from 1938 until her death was Greenway overlooking the River Dart) but Cheshire was important to her too.
It was Christmases spent as a child at Abney Hall, Cheadle, that stayed with the authoress of more than 70 detective novels.
Abney was owned by the Watts family into which Agatha’s sister, Madge, had married in 1902, and Agatha would fondly recall the ‘superb and wonderful’ Christmas times spent there in her youth. After the death of her father in November 1901, Agatha would accompany her mother to Abney for the festive season, where one thing that stuck out was the ‘gargantuan’ Christmas
fare that was laid on.
Agatha recalled having stockings in bed, attending church, presents and the lit Christmas tree. Abney did more than supply memorable Christmases as it was Madge, a decade her senior, and her husband, James ‘Jim’ Watts, who challenged her to write something in the crime genre and she did pen some stories while ensconced at Abney, including, aptly, a short story entitled The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding.
When The Mysterious Affair at Styles was published in 1916, not only was it Christie’s first novel, and a debut outing for her hero Hercule Poirot, it was also a thinly disguised compliment to Abney, which is depicted in all but name. Cheshire assuredly gave birth to a legend.
The journey up to Abney also inspired one of Agatha’s most enduring characters. A plaque at Marple station tells us that the location was the inspiration for the naming of Agatha Christie’s equally famous female detective, Jane Marple, who made her first appearance in a short story, published in December 1927, with the genteel lady sleuth’s first full-length novel, The Murder at the Vicarage, following in 1930.
Opened in 1865, Marple railway station is on the Hope Valley Line and lies around nine miles southeast of Manchester Piccadilly. The young Agatha journeyed to Abney by train along this line. The supposition is that on one occasion her journey must have been broken at Marple long enough for her to clock the name, retain it in her memory bank, then reuse it several years later when Miss Marple was born.
In her foreword to The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding, Agatha Christie
The Adventure of the Christmas Pudding is an indulgence of my own, since it recalls to me, very pleasurably, the Christmases of my youth.
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After my father’s death, my mother and I always spent Christmas with my brother-in-law’s family in the north of England – and what superb Christmases they were for a child
Abney Hall had everything! The garden boasted a waterfall, a stream and a tunnel under the drive!
The Christmas fare was of gargantuan proportions. I was a skinny child appearing delicate, but actually of robust health and perpetually hungry! The boys of the family and I used to vie with each other as to who could eat most on Christmas Day. Oyster Soup and Turbot went down without undue zest, but then came Roast Turkey, Boiled Turkey and an enormous Sirloin of Beef.
The boys and I had two helpings of all three! We then had Plum Pudding, Mince pies, Trifle and every kind of dessert.
During the afternoon we ate chocolates solidly. We neither felt, nor were, sick! How lovely to be eleven years old and greedy!
What a day of delight from ‘Stockings’ in bed in the morning, Church and all the Christmas hymns, Christmas dinner, Presents, and the final Lighting of
the Christmas Tree!
And how deep my gratitude to the kind and hospitable hostess who must have worked so hard to make Christmas Day a wonderful memory to me still
in my old age.
So let me dedicate this book to the memory of Abney Hall – its kindness and its hospitality.