30th June 2022
We’re continuing on our journey to discover some of the most unusual jobs around the English Riviera and today we’re heading to the Queen of Crime’s home.
Say hello to Tamara: Collections Assistant at Greenway House.
The holiday home of the beloved Agatha Christie, Greenway is set in a romantic woodland that drifts down the hillside towards the sparkling Dart estuary. The walled gardens are home to a restored peach house and vinery, as well as an allotment cared for by local school children.
A Facebook tag! When I was 17 and choosing what I wanted to do after school I decided my path in life was to go to university and make my way up to a PhD.
I refused to falter from this decision until I was 21 and a week into my master’s degree in British history, when it hit me that I wasn’t enjoying academia. It wasn’t until my housemate at the time tagged me in a post for a local museum about volunteering in conservation and general heritage that I thought of working in a museum environment.
I loved every second of this volunteering opportunity and when I saw a job for conservation come up with the National Trust I knew I had to apply. The cherry on top was that it was in Agatha Christie’s holiday home, a name I had heard continuously when growing up.
Every morning when I come into the house, I open the windows to let some light in and take a minute to appreciate the view of the river Dart in front of me.
Once completed, I then go around and hoover all the floors, dry mop the wooden floors and top dust all flat surface that are eye level and below. By the time that is done it’s time for a well-deserved cup of coffee!
As a Collections Assistant, my number one concern is ensuring that our collection is safe whether that be from sunlight, backpacks, dust, or simply human touch. I spend most of my day talking to visitors about our collections, and if they’re interested in a closer look, giving them a safe one.
The last thing I do once our visitors have left and before I’ve closed the house up is to have a chat with our volunteers. I make sure that no matter how busy my day is to have a chat with them for five minutes to show how appreciative we are for them and how we love having them here to share their expertise.
I think there is little I dislike about my job, except maybe hoovering! It is a lovely balance of work and fun. In the summer months, once the winter clean has been completed, I go around the house intricate dusting or inventory checking in front of the public.
This gives me a lovely opportunity to chat to people about Agatha Christie, my role, the collection, right down to everyday stuff like the weather.
I love talking to people, and as long as our visitors leave with a smile on their faces then I’m happy.
The winter months see a lot of the tedious work happen in the winter clean. This is when every object in the house is examined, their report updated and then given their clean. I’ve found putting on an audiobook, my head down and lots of cups of coffee gets the day done.
I find tourism as an industry very interesting, especially working in heritage. Many of our visitors don’t realise that Agatha Christie was a local Devon girl which, for those coming from Devon, reinforces a sense of pride in them.
Now that restrictions have eased, it is wonderful to welcome back those from all over the world and hear of their love for Agatha Christie. Often people have travelled for a while to get to Greenway, so are naturally looking for a nice day out and it is wonderful to be able to add to their enjoyment.
The collection here at Greenway is wonderful, strengthened by the fact that at one point it was owned by Agatha Christie or a member of her family. Knowing that I have the opportunity and pleasure of looking after the possessions of a global icon makes coming to work very easy for me.
I find it interesting as well that a lot of our collection is from Victorian, Edwardian, and Georgian eras, giving us an insight to how our ancestors would have lived. It is fascinating to see how they tackled some of the issues we face today and how their brilliance and ingenuity helped navigate their everyday lives.
The amount of work we put in behind the scenes. I understand that it may only look like dusting from the outside view in, but the concentration and patience you need in this work is unimaginable.
Something that sounds quick and easy to do can easily take half a day and our whole team. An example is removing the tapestries that hang in the Inner Hall when a case of mould was found. There are two large pieces of furniture in front of each, with numerous bits and bobs on top. Before we could even begin with the removal of the tapestries, the table in the room needed to be removed, then another table needed to be erected so we could decant onto it.
Every item on one of the large tables needed to be photographed and placed on our spare surface. The same for the items underneath. The large pieces of furniture then needed to be moved and ladders put up and four team members to get the tapestries down safely. This is after the dining room table was expanded to place the hangings on!
While work was on going, the Inner Hall had to be put back to normal. When the mould was dealt with, the work then had to be repeated. It was all worth it to see the beautiful tapestries back on the wall, mould free.
The best thing about working for my attraction is the diversity of the role. No two days are ever the same. While the to-do list of my role stays the same on paper, the practicality of that varies wildly.
Some of my days are spent room guiding which allows me to share my knowledge of Greenway as a holiday home of Agatha Christie, and the vast history this land and house have had prior. Other days are spent intricate and top dusting which allows me to show our visitors how we care for our collection on a daily basis.
However, my favourite thing about working at Greenway are our volunteers. I have never met a group of people with such knowledge and enthusiasm, and it is awe-inspiring.
One thing I wasn’t aware of when I accepted my job was how many bugs there are! The one bug I’m scared of and must get a team member to remove for me are spiders. And there are plenty of spiders at Greenway.
After two and a half years I’ve now calmed down when it comes to the eight-legged friends, after all the most annoying thing about them from our viewpoint is having to remove their webs.
However, earlier this week I had to remove my first frog from the house. I had never even seen a frog before and was very intrigued. After removing him and placing him outside, I then insisted on telling all our volunteers about our guest. Gave us something to chat about while everyone was getting their cream teas from the café.
My proudest moment of this job is just simply how well our team, volunteers and site as a whole have gone through the past two years. All industries were hit, but especially tourism. The House team have rallied together and overcame every mountain that was placed in front of us.
As the newest member of the team who had no previous experience of working in the Trust, and only 12 weeks working at Greenway, it has been inspiring to see how far we have come. I’m simply proud to be a part of this team.