In 1887 a humble doctor and amateur writer from Edinburgh, Scotland
, entered into a partnership with a fellow doctor, recently returned from military service overseas, and his friend, the world’s first consulting detective. That fruitful partnership was to last 40 years, survive the death of the most famous of its trio, culminate in 56 short stories and four novels, as well as numerous homages, parodies, pastiches and plays. Additionally, this beloved triumvirates’ work would continue to be heralded on TV, cinema and radio more times than any other literary characters in history.
However, only one of the trio ever truly existed, at least in the physical sense. The Scottish author from whose imagination his collaborators sprang was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
; his esteemed creations, of course, Sherlock Holmes
and John Watson, MD.
In addition to being a magnificent crime fiction writer, Doyle was a devout family man. Being so concerned for the well-being of his wife, who suffered terribly from tuberculosis, Doyle determined that he must relocate his family from the crowded, smoggy environs of London
, to the more idyllic setting of rural Surrey. Doyle actually designed a house himself before commissioning an architect to build the home to his exact specifications, hoping that this level of tailored specificity would ensure the needs of his ailing wife were entirely accommodated. Doyle named their unique family home "Undershaw"
— it was a dwelling that would come to hold major literary significance.
Undershaw hosted many of the greatest literary contributors of the age, including J.M. Barrie, Virginia Woolf
and, perhaps most sensationally, Bram Stoker
, author of Dracula
. Undoubtedly inspired by his learned and artistic visitors, Doyle experienced his most fruitful period of writing during his time at Undershaw, publishing several novels and multiple adventure story collections. It was also there, at his old oak writing desk, perhaps drawing inspiration from his view across the misty Surrey Downs
, that Doyle penned the now iconic words:
Mr. Mortimer looked strangely at us for an instant, and his voice sank almost to a whisper as he answered. “Mr. Holmes, they were the footprints of a gigantic hound!”
In addition to penning the single most celebrated story of crime/mystery fiction of all time, The Hound of the Baskervilles
, a few years later, whilst still at Undershaw, Doyle finally acquiesced to snatch Holmes up from his supposed watery grave and return him triumphantly to the land of living – and to a very grateful readership.
You would assume, therefore, that Undershaw enjoys a status today of being one of the most treasured, historically significant properties in Britain
, similar to that of William Shakespeare
’s home, Jane Austen
’s or the aforementioned Virginia Woolf’s, all of which have been preserved and are open to the public, right? Wrong.
Tragically, Undershaw has stood derelict for many years now. Without attendance it weathers the threat of complete disrepair. It may, however, suffer a fate even worse than that. Developers have suggested gutting the property — removing from it many of its unique architectural features and with them the very spirit of Doyle — for the purposes of creating multiple smaller apartments.
Doing so would undoubtedly, and with no small measure of irony, allow them to leverage the Doyle/Holmes legacy to charge premium prices to potential renters. Is this truly how England
’s heritage should treated?
allow such a fate to befall, for instance, author Mark Twain
home? No, it wouldn’t. Not only is that building a protected landmark, it’s also a museum dedicated to Twain’s seminal body of work.
Isn’t it obvious that Undershaw deserves similarly reverent treatment — even elementary?
Should you feel so inclined, please add your voice to the chorus of those who believe this unique and historic landmark should be protected, or at least utilized for a more noble purpose befitting its heritage. For more information, please visit www.saveundershaw.com
Mark Turner is formerly of Oxford, England, but has lived in America for the past 15 years, the majority of that time in Colorado. Mark enjoys playing soccer, hiking and biking when the weathers good, and when the weathers rotten writing blog entries that he hopes will amuse and entertain. Mark can be followed on Twitter @melchett.