St. Mary Mead
The quaint, sleepy village was home to the renowned detective spinster Miss Jane Marple. The village was first mentioned in a Miss Marple book in 1930, when it was the setting for the first Marple novel, The Murder at the Vicarage. Christie first described a village of that name prior to the introduction of Jane Marple, in the Hercule Poirot novel The Mystery of the Blue Train, in which it was home to that book's protagonist Katherine Grey.
Miss Marple's St. Mary Mead is described in The Murder at the Vicarage as being in the fictional county of Downshire, but in the later novel The Body in the Library Downshire has become Radfordshire. In the BBC Miss Marple TV adaptation of Nemesis, a letter from Mr Rafiel's solicitors indicate that St Mary Mead is located in the (also) fictional county of Middleshire. The St. Mary Mead of Katherine Grey, however, was in Kent, therefore not connected with Miss Marple's village.
St. Mary Mead is supposed to be in the southeast of England, 25 miles from London. It is just outside the town of Much Benham and is close to Market Basing (which appears as a name of a town in many of Agatha Christie's novels and short stories), 12 miles from the fashionable seaside resort of Danemouth, and also 12 miles from the coastal town of Loomouth. Other towns said to be close by include Brackhampton, Medenham Wells, and Milchester. The neighbourhood of St. Mary Mead is served by trains arriving at Paddington railway station, indicating a location west or south west of London. It has been suggested that Market Basing is Basingstoke and Danemouth is Bournemouth so this would place St. Mary Mead in Hampshire. In the BBC Miss Marple television adaptations the Hampshire village of Nether Wallop was used as the setting for St. Mary Mead. Brackhampton could be Bracknell, just north of Basingstoke (Market Basing).
Before World War II, the village itself was not particularly large. The only road of significance passing through the village was High Street. Here were the well-established purveyances of Mr. Petherick, the solicitors; Mrs. Jamieson, the hairdressers; Mr. Thomas's basket-weavers; The Blue Boar Pub; Mr. Murdoch Wheelers's butchers, Mr. Jim Armstrong's dairies, Mr. Berks's bakers and Mr. Baker's grocery shop. The little-trafficked railway station, featured in the book The Murder at the Vicarage, is also located at the very end of High Street. There is also a large cottage, belonging to Miss Marjorie Hubbard, a good friend of Miss Marple. Nearby, there was a much smaller cottage owned by a member of the council, Mrs Allcock. The cottage was left empty when Mrs Allcock died.
Then, slightly further up Lansham Road, was the fine Victorian structure of Gossington Hall. Until the 1950s, this was home to the pompous librarian, Colonel Arthur Bantry and his wife Mrs Dolly Bantry (Miss Marple's best friends in the village). However, after Colonel Bantry died of pneumonia, Mrs Bantry sold the estate, but continued to live on in the grounds in the East Lodge. The Hall was later after one or two changes of ownership purchased by the film star Marina Gregg. When Marina died, Mrs Bantry got the estate back. One mile down Lansham Road was a very modern cottage called Chatsworth. It was also known as the "Period Piece" and "Mr Booker's new house". It was bought in the early 1950s by Basil Blake, a member of the art department at some filming studios. It was also inhabited by Basil's wife, Dinah Lee an actress.
At the other end of Lansham Road, a small lane called Old Pasture Lane broke away from the main street. Nestled in this lane were three Queen Anne or Georgian houses, which belonged to three spinsters. The first house belonged to the long-nosed, gush and excitable Miss Caroline "Carol" Wetherby. The second was Miss Amanda "Mandy" Hartnell, a proud, decent woman with a deep voice. The last cottage was called Danemead Cottage and it belonged to Miss Jane Marple, the famous spinster who solved countless cases between 1930 and 1976. The Post Office, and the dressmakers belonging to Mrs Politt, are located in front of the Lane.
The centre of the village was the Vicarage, the very grand Victorian structure at the end of the Lane. The Vicarage was home to The Vicar Leonard Clement and his pretty young wife, Griselda with their nephew: Dennis, and their two sons, Leonard and David.
Near the gardens of the Vicarage was a back lane which led to a small cottage called Little Gates. Until 1930, it was inhabited by an Anglo-Indian colonel who moved away and briefly rented it out to Mrs Estelle Lestrange.
Beyond the Vicarage were two more houses. The first was the residence of the village GP, Doctor Gerard Haydock. He continued to live on in the village beyond 1960. The other cottage was much larger than Dr. Haydock's. It belonged to Mrs Martha Price-Ridley, a rich and dictatorial widow, and the most vicious gossip of all the old ladies in the village. There was also a large estate, Old Hall, belonging to the despised local magistrate, Colonel Lucius Protheroe. He was murdered in 1930 in Mr Clement's study in the Vicarage. After the war, the mansion was turned into a block of flats, to the great disapproval of the villagers. The flats housed Mrs Carmichael, a rich and eccentric old lady who was bullied by her maid, the Larkins, two sisters by the name of Skinner, one of whom was a supposed hypochondriac, and a young married couple, and a robbery was later committed by the Skinner sisters.
Finally, just beyond the home of the dreaded Price-Ridley (as she is known by other villagers) was a small stream, leading to the fields of Farmer Giles. However, the Second World War took its toll on the village, and soon after the war Farmer Giles's fields were bought and tarmacked over; and a new housing estate was built upon it. This was referred to as 'The Development' by the villagers who survived the war. A very large hospital was also built near, manned by many doctors and nurses. As well as this there were some very large hotels and three filming studios: Lemville Studios (for films, television progammes and TV series), Elstree Studios (for radio), and Hellingforth Studios (for theatre).
- Nemesis, p. 70
- Nemesis, p. 57