Agatha Christie, one of Britain's favourite crime writers and creator of Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple, is the centre of a new exhibition at Dorchester's Shire Hall Museum. Hollie Carr investigates.

Starting at the bottom of a staircase, Agatha Christie-related photos line the walls of a new exhibition on the iconic author, images of the author and scenes of her life and characters slowly take you to a room immersing you in all things related to the queen of crime-writing.

The first thing to catch your eye as you enter is a large bust of the novelist, bronze in colour, which is Christie collector Gale Goddard’s favourite part of the exhibition and, she says, “is the only replica of the bronze one in Torquay, so if the one in Torquay got smashed, that’s the only other one.”

Walking around the display room, each section tells a different story about the famous novelist. One moment you are transported into the world of one of Christie’s iconic characters, Hercule Poirot, met with a captivating navy blue, velvet suit dressed elegantly on a mannequin and accompanied by his silver swan walking stick, alongside a display case of all things Poirot, including two asymmetrical boiled eggs, or submerged into the world of Murder on the Orient Express through replica props and actors’ signatures.

This spectacle is only part of the exhibition which has taken around 15 years to complete, consisting of memorabilia that ranges from daggers, all the way to books, letters and costumes. Six first editions of the books Christie wrote under the guise of Mary Westmacott also feature as part of the collection.

Gale said: “Sometimes you buy quite a lot and other times you might only buy one or two things. I’ve really finished buying for the collection, this is only part of it, there is more and there’s a separate collection of replica dust jackets – that’s another exhibition that I’m trying to get off the ground.”

She loves sharing the exhibition with fans alike explaining: “This is what I do it for, I enjoy sharing, it’s not about me, it’s about sharing the exhibition and allowing other people to walk around and enjoy it as much as I do – this is the time that I see it, otherwise it’s all packed away.”

Gale, who is a 65-year-old retired civil servant from Rutland, began collecting around 2005: “I had been watching Five Little Pigs and I just had an idea of collecting signed autographs, it went from there really.”

Her love of Christie stemmed from her love of murder mysteries “fiction and non-fiction, I think it’s the psychology of murder more than anything,” she added, “Agatha Christie, her stories throw in a lot of red herrings and so far, I’ve only managed to solve one – even I can’t do it.”

Gale’s personal favourite Agatha Christie novel is Dumb Witness, in which an elderly spinster has been poisoned in her country home. The novel features the Belgian detective Hercule Poirot and is narrated by his friend Arthur Hastings.

The overall exhibition experience tells the story of Christie through the power of imagery and souvenirs all drawn from a private collection, giving viewers a further insight into her life, writing and characters, as well as her very own disappearance which has been dubbed the biggest mystery of them all.

Gale shared her thoughts on the mystery of Christie’s disappearance: “My opinion is that if you look at the facts, in 1926 her mother died and she was extremely close to her mother, that was a huge loss to her, then her husband was having an affair and said he wanted a divorce, that was a big shock, also the fact that Collins was pushing her for another book and she was struggling, her brother-in-law came up with a brilliant idea ‘why don’t you get a set of short stories and make it into one story.’”

She continued: “You’ve got to look at the facts, it wasn’t for publicity, because why did she need publicity, she was a well-known writer, but unfortunately the press went to town on her and it made her think that she was a bit of a fraud really and I think she did have a mental breakdown and ended up in Harrogate where she didn’t remember how she got there.”

More than 1,000 people have visited the exhibition since it opened at the end of April and the Communications and Fundraising Manager at Shire Hall, Tamsin Little says that it is doing “really well, we’re really pleased about it, we’ve been going through the comment cards with Gale and all of them have been so positive.”

She believes it’s because “Agatha Christie is timeless,” going on to say “you have people that have read the books, or a lot of my friends got into Agatha Christie by watching it with their parents or grandparents, it has gone through all the books, TV and now you have got all of the new films coming out.”

Throughout her life, Christie wrote 66 detective novels and 14 short story collections, as well as being the woman behind the world’s longest-running play, The Mousetrap. Her books have sold more than a billion copies in the English language and a billion in translation.

The best-selling novelist was born in Torquay in 1890 and during the First World War worked as a nurse at the Red Cross Hospital in the town, at this time her sister challenged her to write a novel which took her four years to produce, but finally, her first book, The Mysterious Affair at Styles was published, receiving many good reviews.

Alongside the exhibit, Shire Hall Historic Courthouse Museum will be hosting a selection of Agatha Christie-inspired events, including two murder mystery nights, with one night already sold out and Drinks in the Clink: Cocktails and Crime, hosted in conjunction with the Bridport cocktail bar, DarkBear. This event will allow visitors to experience an evening full of Christie inspired cocktails and mocktails in the cells below the courthouse museum.

*The exhibition is running until Friday, September 2, 2022.