The details of this strange case…
From its revolving doors to its famous glass-ceilinged Wedgwood Restaurant, the hotel exudes romance and mystery. It was to The Old Swan that Agatha Christie famously disappeared in 1926, resulting in a public furore over the 11 days that she could not be traced.
The story goes that in late 1926, Agatha’s husband Archie revealed that he was in love with another woman, Nancy Neele, and wanted a divorce. On 3rd December 1926, the couple quarrelled, and Archie Christie left their house, Styles, in Sunningdale, Berkshire, to spend the weekend with his mistress at Godalming, Surrey. That same evening, Agatha disappeared. Around 9.45pm, without warning, she drove away from the house, having first gone upstairs to kiss her sleeping daughter, Rosalind. Her abandoned Morris Cowley was later found down a slope at Newlands Corner near Guildford. There was no sign of her, and the only clue was a letter for her secretary saying that she was going to Yorkshire. Her disappearance caused an outcry from the public, many of whom were admirers of Agatha Christie’s novels. Despite a massive manhunt, there were no results at all!
Such was the speculation that the home secretary of the day, William Joynson-Hicks, put pressure on the police to make faster progress. Even the celebrated crime writers Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, creator of Sherlock Holmes, and Dorothy L Sayers, author of the Lord Peter Wimsey series, were drawn into the puzzle. Conan Doyle, who was interested in the occult, took a discarded glove of Christie’s to a medium, while Sayers visited the scene of the disappearance, later using it in the novel Unnatural Death.
Eleven days after her disappearance, Christie was identified as a guest at the Swan Hydropathic Hotel (as the Old Swan was then called) in Harrogate, where she was registered (strangely!) as ‘Mrs Teresa Neele’ from Cape Town.
Christie gave no explanation for her disappearance. Although two doctors had diagnosed her as suffering from amnesia, opinion remains divided as to the reasons for her disappearance. One suggestion is that she had suffered a nervous breakdown brought about by a natural propensity for depression, exacerbated by her mother’s death earlier that year, and the discovery of her husband’s infidelity. Public reaction at the time was largely negative with many believing it was all just a publicity stunt, whilst others speculated she was trying to make the police think her husband killed her as revenge for his affair.
Whatever the reasons, it is appealing to imagine what other guests would have made of a woman dining alone in the Wedgwood Restaurant, unaware they were in the same room as one of the biggest selling authors of all time.