New Sherlock Holmes mystery

UndershawHere’s a mystery that surely deserves the attention of one of the world’s greatest fictional detectives. Why do visitors to London happily pose for pictures outside 221b Baker Street, “home” of Sherlock Holmes from 1881 to 1904, while Undershaw, the Surrey home of his famous creator – Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – stands empty, unloved, in a state of serious disrepair and in danger of being redeveloped?

Fortunately, there are many who would like to see it preserved as a lasting monument to Sir Arthur’s literary talent and the creation of one of fiction’s greatest characters, rather than allow it to be converted into apartments. Today is Save Undershaw Awareness Day so, if you would like to support the campaign visit the website dedicated to that goal, or even post a link on Facebook, Twitter or anywhere else that helps spread the word.

For Sherlock Holmes’ fans, of course, the Baker Street address has enormous importance. It’s where the detective and his assistant, Dr John H. Watson, “lived” – though only in Sir Arthur’s imaginative world.

But Undershaw, an impressive 10-bedroom redbrick house which Sir Arthur had built to his own specifications, close to Hindhead, Surrey, and where he wrote his most famous novel, The Hound of the Baskervilles, has stood empty since 2004. It was previously a hotel.

Now, a campaign to restore it to its former glory and celebrate its literary heritage is gathering momentum, and rightly so. Last year saw the 150th anniversary of Doyle’s birth, on 22 May 1859.

Sherlock HolmesAfter all, the period during which he owned Undershaw – from 1897 to 1907 – is seen as pivotal in his life. During that decade he stood for Parliament, became Deputy Lieutenant of Surrey, volunteered as an army surgeon in the Boer War, championed the cause of George Edalji who was falsely imprisoned for animal mutilation, and decided to resurrect Sherlock Holmes, whom he had tried to kill off – in a struggle with Professor Moriarty – in his previous novel.

It was also at Undershaw that his wife Louise died from tuberculosis in 1906 and where he met Jean Leckie, who became his second wife the following year. That was the year he sold Undershaw and moved to Crowborough, Sussex.

But most significant for Spiritualists, who are playing a leading role in the fight to save his Hindhead home, is the belief that it was while at Undershaw that he first began taking an active interest in spirit communication and mediumship. Later, of course, he became one of Spiritualism’s most famous champions, writing books – including the two-part The History of Spiritualism – and travelling the world to lecture on the subject.

Sir Arthur at deskLast year, I had the opportunity of looking around the house that was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s home for many years during an open day to raise awareness of Undershaw’s situation and to publicise possible future uses for the property. The building, in a sad state of disrepair, is now boarded up and is not open to visitors.

That open day was organised by Lynn Gale, who is PA to Anna Hayward of the White Eagle Lodge. Lynn is also the driving force behind the “Save Undershaw Awareness Day” campaign – which happens to be today. Actor Stephen Fry is among the supporters.

If you would like to see Undershaw saved for the nation, rather than become a private development, why not spread the word? I’ll keep you informed of any future developments.

The above blog is an edited, updated version of a story that first appeared on this website a year ago.

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