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. However, Agatha 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. The St. Mary Mead of Katherine Grey, however, was in Kent.
St. Mary Mead is supposed to be in the southeast of England, within commuting distance of 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) and the fashionable seaside resort of Danemouth. Other towns said to be close by include Brackhampton, Dilmouth, Medenham Wells, and Milchester. 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. It has also been suggested that Dilmouth is Sidmouth.
Before the Second World War, 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 solicitor; Mrs. Jamieson, the hairdressers; Mr. Thomas's basket-weavers; The Blue Boar Pub; and Mr. Baker's grocery shop. The little-trafficked railway station, featured in the book 4.50 From Paddington, was also located at the very end of High Street.
Then, slightly further up Lansham Road, was the fine Victorian structure of Gossington Hall. Until the 1950s, this was home to the charming Colonel Arthur Bantry and his wife Dolly (Miss Marple's best friends in the village). However, after Colonel Bantry's death, 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.
At the other end of Lansham Road, a small 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 Caroline Weatherby, who died some time before 1960. The second cottage belonged to Amanda Hartnell, a proud, decent woman with a deep voice. She continued to live in the village up to the end of the '60s. The last cottage, Danemead, belonged to Jane Marple, the famous spinster who solved countless cases between 1930 and 1976. The Post Office, and the dress-makers 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 Reverend Leonard Clement and his pretty young wife, Griselda, until 1957, when Reverend Clement died. Mrs. Clement continued to live on at the Vicarage.
Beyond the Vicarage were two more houses. The first was the residence of the village GP, Doctor 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 in the town.
There was also a large estate, Old Hall, belonging to the odious local magistrate, Colonel Lucius Protheroe. He was murdered in 1930 in Rev. Clement's study. After the war, the mansion was turned into a block of flats, to the great disapproval of the villagers, and a robbery was later committed by one of the occupants of the flats.
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. It was inhabited by such residents as the irritating Heather Badcock and the helpful Cherry Baker.
St. Mary Mead is modeled on any quintessentially English country village one can visit today.