While Doyle was haunted, during his lifetime, by the ghosts of his family members, today his memory haunts the site of the Cedars Spiritualist Church. The Victorian Church, however, was converted into flats, and was sold in 2014 for about £700,000.

 

While Sherlock Holmes did not quite believe in the supernatural, his creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, certainly did. In the October of 1918, weeks before the Great War ended, Doyle lost his son Kingsey, eleven years after he lost his wife, Louise (also known as Touie), to tuberculosis. Kingsey was badly wounded in 1916, in the battle of Somme. Two years later he finally succumbed to pneumonia.

Doyle did not turn to spiritualism overnight, but his predilections were only whetted with these two dear losses. Alongside thousands of other Britons, he tuned to the spiritual arts for comfort and a means to communicate with the dead spirits of his deceased wife and son. In the 1920s, Doyle became a regular visitor to the Cedars Spiritualist Church in Ipswich, Suffolk, where he tried to organize séances.

While Doyle was haunted, during his lifetime, by the ghosts of his family members, today his memory haunts the site of the Cedars Spiritualist Church. The Victorian Church, however, was converted into flats, and was sold in 2014 for about £700,000.

 

"Arthur Conan Doyle's children playing on the driveway that leads to his home at that time, Undershaw," Image Courtesy, Victorian Society.

“Arthur Conan Doyle’s children playing at Undershaw,” (1900) Image Courtesy, Victorian Society.

 

Meanwhile, the Victorian mansion, called Undershaw (Hindhead, Surrey), in which Doyle wrote his masterpiece, The Hound of the Baskervilles (1902), and most of the other exploits of Holmes, has fallen to disuse and neglect. After being vacant for ten years, it is now set to be rebuilt into a school of children with special needs. It was from this house that the triumphant exclamations such as “Elementary!” or “the game is afoot,” most certainly emerged. In fact, the whole map of the Gothic Holmsian London, and Holmes’ own apartments were mentally chalked out at Undershaw.

 


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Map of the Baker Street House of Sherlock Holmes

Plan of 221B Baker Street by Russ Stutler

 

It was also here that the figments of fiction–which became the very tangible Sherlock Holmes Museum at the original location of 221B Baker Street in London–were conceived. Doyle bought the land and built the house after a total expenditure of £8000, in 1896. Undershaw was primarily meant to be a recuperative site for his ailing wife, who was diagnosed with tuberculosis in 1893. Doyle chose the architect Joseph Henry Ball to design Undershaw, a house which was to later lose its renown to the infinitely more popular address of the Baker Street detective. The county of Surrey is also known to another set of literary fans, those of the Harry Potter series, as the site of Dursley Home, in Little Whinging. However, when the Doyle family came to Hindhead, the place was also popularly known as Little Switzerland. After spending a few months at Switzerland in hopes of Touie’s recovery, Doyle bought four acres of land at Hindhead which later became Undershaw.

“Undershaw was grand; fitted with electricity from its own power plant, and its double-height entrance hall was adorned with a massive heraldic window that bore the coats of arms of Conan Doyle’s ancestry. It also bore such conveniences as a billiard room, stables, and a tennis court–built not just for Touie’s health and the family’s convenience, but for Sir Arthur’s entertaining of literary figures who included Bram Stoker, author of Dracula; Virginia Woolfe; and James M. Barrie, whose play Peter Pan still pays royalties to the Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital in London.

Barrie described the home thus in Miller’s biography: ‘It is so sheltered from cold winds that the architect felt justified in having lots of windows, so that the whole place is full of light. Nevertheless, it is cosy and snug to a remarkable degree and has everywhere that sense of ‘home’ which is so delightful to occupant and stranger alike'” (Source: “The Case of the Derelict Estate-Saving the Arthur Conan Doyle Home,” by Lee Barwood).

 

 

Sherlock_Holmes_Museum

The Sherlock Holmes Museum, 221B Baker Street, London

 

In the early 2000s, the house was used as a hotel. It was bought by developers who wanted to rebuild it into luxury homes. However, their plans were thwarted by the stiff resistance from Doyle fans, who wanted Undershaw to remain as a single home. A decade later, the David Forbes-Nixon Foundation submitted new plans for relocating the Stepping Stones School, at Hindhead, to Undershaw. Although the plans include the restoration and conservation of the main attractions and architecture of the house and, the foundation has been facing strong opposition from organizations such as the Victorian Society Conservation and the English Heritage.

 

Coldnoon Bureau

Coldnoon Bureau

Coldnoon (International Journal of Travel Writing & Travelling Cultures) is one of the largest online literary magazines published from Asia. It has published authors from all over the world, largely from India, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Australia, New Zealand, Germany, Russia, United States, United Kingdom, Denmark, Brazil, Uruguay, Peru, among others.

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