From its revolving doors to its famous glass-ceilinged Wedgwood Restaurant, the Old Swan exudes romance and intrigue, like a setting in a mystery novel. It is only fitting, then, that this hotel should be home to the greatest mystery in the life of the world’s greatest mystery writer.
The story goes that in late 1926, Agatha Christie’s husband, Archie, revealed that he was in love with another woman, Nancy Neele, and wanted a divorce. On December 3, 1926, the couple quarreled and Archie Christie left the family house, named Styles, in Sunningdale, Berkshire, to spend the weekend with his mistress at Godalming, Surrey. That same evening, in classic mystery style, Agatha disappeared.
Around 9.45 p.m., without warning, Christie drove away from the house, having first gone upstairs to kiss her sleeping daughter, Rosalind. Her abandoned Morris Cowley car 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. It was as if the writer has suddenly become a character from one of her own stories. Despite a massive manhunt, there were no results. Such was the speculation that the home secretary during that time period, 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 she disappeared it was here at the tranquil haven of the Swan Hydropathic Hotel - now The Old Swan - that the mistress of crime-writing, Agatha Christie, turned up. Having checked in 10 days earlier under the name Mrs. Teresa Neele (curiously chosen as that was that last name of her husband’s mistress as well) Agatha was recognized by one of the banjo players at the hotel.
Agatha claimed she remembered nothing, and two doctors diagnosed her as having been in a psychogenic fugue, a kind of shock-induced temporary amnesia brought on by her mothers recent death and husbands infidelity.
The public was not amused. Many felt it was a publicity stunt, while others believed Agatha had been trying to frame her husband for murder. Indeed there may have been more elaborate plans in Agatha’s head, and in the biography, “Agatha Christie and the Missing Eleven Days,” solid evidence is provided that Agatha planned the entire thing to embarrass and frighten her husband, never realizing it would cause the national panic and then outrage that it did. Regardless, like a good murder suspect, she never talked.