History GroupTalk May 2012

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The Story of Greenway House, a talk given by Robyn Brown, General Manager, National Trust Riviera - i.e. Greenway, Colaton Fishacre, High Cross House, Compton Castle and Bradley Manor

Greenway House is situated on the river Dart, down river from Totnes, and was reputed to be the old crossing point of the river for travellers between Torquay and Plymouth.  Four hundred years ago a Mr. Gilbert of Compton decided to have a holiday home there and in Tutor times it was known as Greenway Court.   During the Armada many Spanish soldiers and sailors were captured.  The soldiers were imprisoned at the Spanish Barn at Torquay, under the watchful eye of a Mr. Carey.  The sailors were taken to Greenway where they were made to do some construction work.  Two new wings were added to the house and extensive work was done to the 30 acre garden.  There is a Cryptomeria tree still in the garden planted at about that time.  During the occupation of various owners, including the Elton, Bolitho, Gilbert and Harris families many alterations have been made and the farm buildings were redesigned by the Harvey family.   During recent excavations remains of walls built by the Spanish sailors have been unearthed.  Much work was done to the gardens particularly with Rhododendrons, Camellias and Azaleas, making this a delightful Spring garden.  Circa 1938, the Devon Investment Estate, who at that time owned Waddaton, near Brixham and Greenway, decided to sell Greenway and Agatha Christie bought it for £6000.  Many of the items in her Torquay home were brought to Greenway which she used as a holiday home. At the beginning of WWII it became a Children’s Nursery, however, it soon became an Officers’ Mess for the American Officers who were involved with ‘Operation Tiger’ in preparation for D Day.
On 1st April 2000, saw the acquisition of Greenway by the National Trust.  There was some local concern, by opening this to the public, would it create problems for the local community.  This has been avoided to a great extent by using the river as a means of visiting the house, historically the river had been used for tourism and trade.  At present many of the visitors to Greenway arrive by boat from Totnes and Dartmouth.    The Grounds are laid out with vocational activities in mind, games and fun, as one would expect of a holiday home, and there is also a Vinery attached to the property, this greenhouse has a dividing wall with its unique heating system fired by two boilers, each half can be independently controlled.  Visitors to Greenway will find a very relaxed atmosphere, all the rooms open for the public to enjoy. Lunches, dinners and teas served and there is a holiday suite available to rent within the house. Looking to the future the use of environmental technology is used as a source of energy and it was opened to the public on 2nd March 2009 and received over 90000 visitors in the first year.

Robyn finished with a quotation from an Agatha Christie book - when she wrote?       
“I thought last night that Greenway was the loveliest place in the world - it quite takes my breath away”.

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