Agatha Christie in the North
Agatha Christie books have sold billions of copies worldwide and are one of the best selling by far with figures just behind Shakespeare and the Bible. But why did she name her most famous character after Marple, a small town on the edge of the Peak District, and what were the connections of her and her family with the area? Read on...
Dear Mrs McMurphy, I expect you will be interested to learn that at the time I was writing The Thirteen Problems (starting with a series of 6 short stories for a magazine) I was staying with a sister of mine in Cheshire and we went to a sale at Marple Hall - the house alone, she said, was worth seeing, a beautiful old manor, belonging to the Bradshaws descended from Judge Bradshaw who sentenced Charles I. It was a very good sale with fine old Elizabethan and Jacobean furniture and at it I bought 2 Jacobean oak chairs which I still have - Wanting a name for my "old maid" character I called her Jane Marple. So now you know the answer to your question! Yours Sincerely Agatha Christie
Agatha Christie and the North-West
Agatha's father died in 1901 leaving her mother to raise young Agatha alone. She was 11 at the time and less than a year later Agatha's older sister Madge married James Watts III of Abney Hall in Cheadle. Given family circumstances the young Agatha would often travel north by train on her own to stay with her sister and family at Abney Hall, thus where much of the inspiration for her stories begins. Given its proximity to Cheadle, Agatha frequently used the nearest main line railway station at Stockport when arriving from London, in which her relatives would send a welcoming party to greet her and bring her the short journey back to Abney Hall.
Abney Hall, a Victorian grade II* listed building set in substantial grounds, had been in the Watts family for generations descending from Sir James Watts who was Major of Manchester and High Sheriff of Lancashire. The family were wealthy aristocrats and cotton magnets who moved in high circles. Amongst other things they built a warehouse in Manchester which is now the Britannia hotel formerly the Watts Warehouse. The Watts were well aware of the industrial movement at Marple and its surroundings that had stemmed from the town's canal heritage, included a richness of mills and benefited from good transport links by rail especially from Marple station.
The Watts family also owned the Kinder estate and Upper House, Hayfield farming the difficult moorlands, using it as their countryside retreat and a place of entertaining away from spotlight of Manchester. Agatha Christie would spend regular family gatherings there and she would often visit Hayfield by train passing through Marple. Indeed it is this railway journey via Marple station where most people associate her famous detective.
In July 2015, Mathew Prichard, grandson of the author and her closest living relative came to Marple and talked at the station about his family’s linkage to the area. He unveiled a blue plaque at the station that the Agatha Christie Ltd had kindly commissioned. This was done against the backdrop of artwork in the form of numerous Miss Marple book covers that had been specially produced by HarperCollins Publishers and now form a permanent addition at the station. He read aloud a letter that had returned into the Agatha Christie Ltd archives from a fan asking where the surname had originated.
Some more history
At this same time Marple railway station was already a major terminal and a hive of activity. It had grand station buildings and four platforms. There were huge numbers of passengers and people working in connection with the station. It was a place to transport freight with a goods yard in the now main car park and live stock kept on the overflow land found opposite. There were even nonstop sleeper trains from London St Pancras to Marple in which such was the station's popularity horse drawn carriages would line Brabyns Brow awaiting the call of wealthy passengers.
The surrounding railway network was more extensive than it is today with lines to Stockport from Marple and a branch line off at New Mills to Hayfield. Therefore as a bright eyed teenager soaking in her experiences, the author would have undoubtedly experienced the hustle and bustle of Marple station when passing through to Hayfield with the Watts on trips to Upper House. Even back then the seed of Marple may well have been subconsciously planted in the mind of Agatha when travelling back and forth. Indeed later in life and with chairs bought from the auction at Marple Hall then the station was probably used to transport this furnture south to Agatha Christie's home, Greenway House near Torquay which is now a National Trust property.