24 March 2020

Behind the Blue Plaque: Dame Agatha Christie

Each of our wonderful suites here at 100 Queen's Gate Hotel is named after a famous resident of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea. One such is the Dame Agatha Christie Suite, a duplex suite named in honour of the celebrated English crime novelist.

Born in the seaside town of Torquay in 1890, Christie was the youngest of three siblings. Home-educated, it was Christie’s mother who first encouraged her to write and she soon became fascinated by fiction and fantasy.

In 1914, young Agatha married Colonel Archibald Christie, a Royal Flying Corps pilot, and the couple had a daughter, Rosalind. During the war, she worked as a pharmacy assistant at University College Hospital in London, acquiring an in-depth knowledge of poisons, which feature in many of her novels. After the war, she published her first thriller, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, about the murder of a wealthy heiress; in the process introducing readers to Belgian detective Hercule Poirot. In all, she wrote 66 detective novels, with Miss Marple becoming as famous as Poirot.

Christie experienced an annus horribilis in 1926 when her mother passed away and she discovered her husband was in a relationship with another woman. Traumatised by the revelation, she caused a sensation when she disappeared for 10 days, prompting a nationwide search amid rumours of murder at the hands of her husband. Over a thousand police officers, 15,000 volunteers, and several aeroplanes joined the nationwide search for her. It transpired that she had fled from her home to a hotel in Harrogate, where she was tracked down and identified by members of staff. In the years to follow, she maintained she had no memory of the episode. She divorced Archibald two years later and subsequently married archaeology professor Max Mallowan.

Appointed a dame in 1971 for her contribution to literature, Christie is one of the top-selling authors of all time, with her combined works selling more than two billion copies worldwide. Her estate claimed that her works are ranked third of the world’s most-widely published books, behind only Shakespeare and the Bible. She passed away from natural causes at her home in Oxfordshire, aged 85.

During her time living at 58 Sheffield Terrace in Kensington, she penned some of her most famous books, including Murder on the Orient Express and Death on the Nile. She lived here with second husband Mallowan from 1934 until 1941 when they were forced to flee as a result of World War Two bombing. She described it as ‘a happy house’ and recalled: “When I saw it I wanted to live there as badly as I had ever wanted to live in any house. It was perfect, except perhaps for the fact that it had a basement. It had not many rooms, but they were all big and well-proportioned. It was just what we needed.”