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Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Saving the home of Sherlock Holmes author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Above: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Some of Britain's leading authors have joined in a High Court fight to save the large Victorian house where Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote a number of Sherlock Holmes stories including The Hound Of The Baskervilles. 

Julian Barnes, the Booker Prize winning novelist, the crime writer Ian Rankin and Stephen Fry have teamed up with the Victorian Society and Jeremy Hunt, the culture secretary, to stop the grade-II listed building being turned into townhouses.

The High Court heard yesterday that Fossway Ltd, a company based in the Virgin Islands, wants to partially demolish it and convert it to eight separate homes.

Despite its literary importance and listing, the local authority Waverley Council issued decision notices in September 2010 allowing the owner to redevelop the property set in four acres of land.

The decision has caused an outcry and a judicial review of the decision was yesterday heard at the High Court in London.

The home, called Undershaw, was built in 1897 to Sir Arthur's specifications and was where he wrote 13 Sherlock Holmes stories and entertained many of his literary and artistic friends including JM Barrie, the creator of Peter Pan and Bram Stoker, the creator of Dracula.

But the house has laid empty since 2005 and has been allowed to become dilapidated.
"Sherlock Holmes is pretty
Supporters argue it is a "national literary treasure" and say it could be used as a study centre and tourist attraction.

But the off shore owner see it just as a "development opportunity".

Paul Stinchcombe QC, representing John Gibson, founder of the Undershaw Preservation Trust, said there was strong public support for preserving Undershaw as a heritage asset because of its literary and historic importance.

It was the house in which Conan Doyle resurrected Sherlock Holmes, one of the most recognisable fictional characters in the world, in The Adventure Of The Empty House.

The author designed Undershaw and lived there from 1897-1907, completing 13 Sherlock Holmes stories in that time, including his most famous work The Hound Of The Baskervilles.

The building has been seriously neglected by the current owners, who view it as a "development opportunity", said a QC.

Mr Stinchcombe said there were 1,360 objections to the Fossway proposals, including from the Victorian Society and local MP Jeremy Hunt, the Culture Secretary.

Other objectors were Sir Christopher Frayling, ex-chairman of the Arts Council, and Julian Barnes, who set his Booker Prize-nominated novel Arthur And George in Undershaw.

They also included Rankin and the writer and broadcaster Fry.

Mr Gibson, a Conan Doyle scholar, backed by many literary celebrities, was asking Mr Justice Cranston to quash Waverley Borough Council's decision to allow the Grade II-listed building to be divided into eight separate homes.

Mr Stinchcombe said the Fossway scheme involved using concrete blocks to divide Undershaw into a terrace of three houses.

The court heard that the council was entitled to take the view that the development proposed by Fossway would meet the objectives of preserving and safeguarding its literary association with Conan Doyle.
It was acknowledged that the proposals would have some impact on the original plan of the house, especially the construction of a new east wing.

But the house would retain existing important features including fireplaces, stained glass windows and staircases and it would be saved from further decline.

The proposals also included some demolition and the erection of five new town houses and the conversion of the stable block into garages.

The QC argued that the planning authority had failed to give proper consideration to a third party offer to buy the property so that it could once more become a single dwelling.

Mr Stinchcome said: "There was serious neglect by the owners of this building."

Its condition deteriorated rapidly through water coming in following the theft of lead from the roof and lack of security.

The council ordered urgent works in 2006 which stopped further deterioration, and recovered nearly £75,000 from Fossway to cover the cost.

A repairs notice was served in November 2008 but was not complied with by Fossway, said Mr Stinchcombe.

Mr Fry, a Patron of the Conan Doyle library and the former youngest member of the Sherlock Holmes Society of London, said: “It is more certain than anything else in all literature that Sherlock Holmes will last, not just centuries, but for millennia.

“There is so much a living, thriving Undershaw could achieve. It could be a study centre, a visitor attraction, aligning museum and a focus of pride.

"I urge all those have the power to think of themselves not as wrecking balls, but as people of vision and creative insight.

“There is real value in Undershaw. If it is thought about, it can attract new generations of tourists to the area, it can be an enormous source of local pride. Please, please, have another think.”

The judge reserved his judgment and said he hoped to give his decision soon.

Richard Alleyne

For me this story is a crying shame, we were brought up with Sherlock Holmes and we still love the character and books now.  Why should money come before whats right all the time!!


  1. I agree, plus something with so much history and wealth or stories should not be destroyed. And seeing how they recently released the Sherlock Holmes movie, something should be done to continue preserving this author's heritage.

  2. I hope they make it into a museum. Many people would love to visit the home of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, I know I would! I remember when I was first getting into reading, in fourth grade, he was one of my very first favorite authors...

  3. Salvation of the Arthur Conan Doyle home is a noble thing to do. I don't like to lose any history, especially not important relics of the past. --Caleb Pirtle


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