Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Sherlock Home and the Urgent Case of the Preservation of Undershaw

Living in the Lodge, as made me more aware of the stunning Victorian Houses and building we have all around us, especially in our parks

I love looking at other peoples, webs sites and blogs about such places.

Here in Sheffield we are lucky enough to have some of the country’s most green and  beautiful parks and open spaces.  Many of these were given to the city by Victorian benefactors  and as such  around and in each park there are some wonderful houses and lodges.

However there are stunning Victorian houses and lodges all over the country, one of which is Undershaw.

I found this on a blog I follow ‘London By Gaslight’

Undershaw is a stunning grand house built by Sir Aurthur Conan-Doyle, yes him, the one who wrote Sherlock Holmes. he lived there with his family, and wrote all of his best works there. 

The house was also a place where he hosted many of  our  distinguished literary figures of that era such as Bram Stoker, J M Barrie, and the young Virginia Woolfe. 

‘Undershaw’ was built by Conan Doyle so that his invalid wife Louise, who was suffering from tuberculosis, could benefit from Hindhead’s healthy micro climate and glorious views down the Nutcombe Valley to the South Downs. Nestling in its three acre plot, Doyle himself drafted the first designs of the house, before passing them on to architect and friend Joseph Henry Ball to complete. Doyle had many inspired ideas for his family’s new home, especially the installation of an electric plant (somewhat a rarity in those days) and a magnificent railway in the grounds that proved a constant joy to his children.  (More information about the monorail is currently being researched).                       

Undershaw’s location added a few more years to Louise’s life, but she eventually died in 1906 and is buried in the local  Grayshott churchyard along with Doyles mother and later being joined by her daughter Mary, who died unmarried in the 1970s, and son Kingsley, who died in the 1918 flu pandemic after surviving his wartime duties as a young doctor. 

After Louise’s death, Conan Doyle wanted to keep Undershaw for his son. But once Kingsley had also died, he saw no reason to hold on to the house and sold it in 1921 for £4,000 …. a considerable loss on the original £10,000 cost of the building and land. From 1924 the house became a hotel, closing its doors in 2004 when Des Moore then followed by Neil Caffrey of Fossway Ltd purchased the building for development.

written by The Undershaw Preservation Trust

Undershaw as it appears to day- photograph bu Nick Griffiths

The house is now owned by Wavely Council, and has been left to fall into disrepair.  Planning permission has been sought to make it into flats and  for modern houses to be built in the grounds. Why should it be saved?  Well it is one of the last home of Conan Doyle that we have left,  lots  of his former homes have been lost or converted to other uses.   Conan Doyle was and  is an important writer in our literary history,  and while other writers have their homes maintained (such as Dickens and Jane Austen) and Conan Doyle is no less worthy.

However  the Undershaw Preservation Trust have been trying to raise fund to see it restored and turned into a fantastic museum .

The UPT writes that it

  ‘would be to see it restored, in period style, the house, stable, well and grounds ….. all of which have survived 114 years. Trees could be thinned to open up views from the garden down the Nutcombe Valley to the South Downs and, with permission, a bronze statue of Sherlock Holmes (or Conan Doyle) could be appropriately placed at the Hindhead crossroads. Undershaw could become a self supporting Sherlock Holmes/Conan Doyle Museum (with refreshment area for visitors) and exhibits could be in conjunction with the Portsmouth Museum’s 50,000 item Doyle collection of John Gibson’s late friend, Richard Lancelyn Green. The Museum could then become part of a Conan Doyle tour, including visits to his London connections, Portsmouth Museum and his grave in the New Forest’s Minstead Churchyard.’

The actor and Novelist, Mark Gatiss, – who is also the writer of the BBC’s series Sherlock is the patron of The Trust, and a great advocate and supporter for the renovation and preservation of this historical building .  He writes:

I would like to express my whole-hearted enthusiasm for the campaign to save Undershaw. It seems to me a very sad reflection on our times that the home of one of our greatest and most popular writers should be so neglected and in danger of unsympathetic redevelopment.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle occupied several residences in his prolific and thrilling career, only Undershaw bears the stamp of his massive personality. Here the Hound of the Baskervilles first breathed spectral life and Sherlock Holmes himself was resurrected from the Reichenback Falls. Here Stoker, Barrie and Hornung and many others were entertained. It’s no exaggeration to say that Undershaw was the centre of Doyle’s life during perhaps the most fruitful and fascinating phase of his career. It must be saved and take its place among the sensitively preserved residences of this country’s other literary giants. This is certainly a three-pipe problem but not, I am convinced, an insoluble one.”

So what can we do to help, well the UPT have asked that we spread the news, that we can

  • Like them on Facebook
  • Suggest us to your Facebook friends  using the ‘Share’ link at the bottom left of their Facebook page
  • Follow @spiritangel04 on Twitter. Retweet their tweets so that your followers see them
  • Tweet a #FollowFriday recommendation for them
  • Mention Save Undershaw on your blog and add their site to your links section

They also ask that…

Anyone feeling strongly about this matter should make their representations known to: Mary Orton, the Chief Executive of Waverley Borough Council or Matthew Evans the Chief Planning Officer of Waverley Borough Council, Council Offices, The Burys, Godalming, Surrey, GU7 1HR.  Ask them to use their best endeavours however onerous,  to rectify the situation to save Undershaw for the Waverley area, and the nation as a single dwelling house so that options are left open for future use of the house as a small country hotel or even more desirably, a museum and cafeteria. Like the houses of Jane Austen at Chawton, Gilbert White at Selborne, Winston Churchill’s at Westerham  and Kipling’s Bateman’s at East Sussex  (all shown in the slideshow opposite) future generations can enjoy Doyle’s literary heritage. (Note: When writing your representations to the Council please ask for an acknowledgement and send further reminders if they are not forthcoming).   

Conan Doyle outside Undershaw – courtesy ‘Arthur Conan Doyle Collection – Lancelyn Green Bequest, Portsmouth City Council’.

This a real piece of our history, our literary and architectural history, it was here  if we don’t fight to keep it, it will be redeveloped and lost.

I strongly appeal to you, dear reader, to take a look at the Trust web site, and to read more about this wonderful property, this piece of literary history especially if you are a great fan of Conan Doyle and Victorian  literature.  This is a property worth saving for all of us.

©2011 Shullie H Porter.  All Rights Reserved.*

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About Wælcyrie

I'm a 50 plus [ how time flies] multifaceted, oxymoron, who can never really make her mind up. A Follow of the Hekate, a Wælcyrie who walks in the liminal spaces, between and betwix. a Medium, ( I'll talk to anyone dead or alive), a Writer of short stories, a disorganised Blogger, Cake Baker, Jam Maker; Mother Grandmother and Wife.
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