Archive for July, 2009

My house is lonely [LION]

An urgent appeal has been launched to pledge support for a multi-million pound project to secure the future of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s home, Undershaw at Hindhead in Surrey.

Undershaw was built by Conan Doyle for his invalid wife Louise in 1897 but despite its history in recent years it has fallen on hard times.

Temporary protection work has been carried out because of vandalism and the theft of the lead roof. The current owners want to convert the original building into three houses and demolish the extension and replace this with a new wing of town houses.

Until 2004 it was a hotel and restaurant. In 2004 the Victorian Society tried unsuccessfully to have the building Grade I listed.

Now the Hindhead Together Appeal is testing the public support for a plan to persuade the National Trust to purchase, repair, restore and maintain the building as a visitor and heritage centre open to the public.

If you want to pledge your support to the campaign then please add your signature to the petition to save Undershaw.

It was, of course, at Undershaw where Arthur and I discussed the publication of The Hound of the Baskervilles.

Circumstantial evidence is a very tricky thing [BRUC]

The 1901 Census was taken on March 31st and the return for that date shows us that my literary agent, Arthur Conan Doyle, was staying at the Ashdown Forest Hotel in East Grinstead in Sussex. Along with Arthur were his mother, Mary Foley Doyle, and the new lady in his life, Jean Leckie (see right). Arthur’s wife Louise (see left) was very ill and his liaison with Jean seemed to have the approval of his mother.

In Arthur Conan Doyle: A Life in Letters, edited by John Lellenberg, Daniel Stashower and Charles Foley, Arthur’s letters to Mary talk of his plans to go spend three days at the hotel, ostensibly to play golf with Jean’s brother, Stewart, and asking his mother to invite Jean to join them. Arthur was still fiercely loyal to Louise and had already told Jean that he would not leave nor divorce Louise and he would neither hurt not be unfaithful to her.

Holmes and I were away from Baker Street on the night of the census. I had been a widower for nearly ten years by then and I was abroad with my new lady friend who was soon to become my second wife. Holmes and I had been busy with the case of the Ferrers Documents and the Abergavenny Murder was coming up for trial. I think Holmes had gone to France and he had taken with him the manuscript of The Hound of the Baskervilles which I was hoping Conan Doyle would publish later that year. We were shortly to take up the case of the Duke of Holdernesse that would be later published in The Return of Sherlock Holmes as The Priory School.

Michael Hardwick

Occasionally I will refer to books from my own library and to particular authors who have furthered the cause that is so dear to me.

In a career that produced over a hundred books, scripts and plays, Michael Hardwick (1924-1991) was drawn many times into the world of Holmes.

It all began when he wrote all the scripts for the classic BBC Radio versions of the stories, starring Carleton Hobbs as Holmes and Norman Shelley as my good self. Recordings of many of these stories are available on the web and occasionally some are broadcast on BBC Radio 7. There is a boxed set available soon.

Michael, and his wife Mollie (of Upstairs, Downstairs fame), wrote what some regard as the “bible” of matters concerning Holmes, The Sherlock Holmes Companion.

Michael and his wife advised the BBC during the Peter Cushing and Nigel Stock series and wrote some of the scripts.

Michael’s more fanciful books include The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes, based on the film of the same name, Sherlock Holmes: My Life and Crimes. Perhaps the most entertaining, for me at least, is his The Private Life of Dr Watson!

Few of the above, apart from the film, are still available so you may need to scour the second-hand bookshops or maybe try your local library.

Pray be precise as to details [SPEC]

Holmes and Watson: A New Chronology of their Adventures by Vincent Delay published by the Sherlock Holmes Society of London in 2008 and translated from the French by Margaret Owens is a new chronology that goes back to my own accounts of Holmes’ cases.

As such, it is probably closer to being accurate, in many of the cases, than some of the more complex analyses of the Canon. Nevertheless I find it hard to deal objectively with the instances where he says I had got the date “manifestly wrong”! It is true that I did not always give the dates concerned, mainly because I was trying to disguise as many of the details of the case as I could to protect those who were innocently involved.

As well as deducing the dates of the cases that were fully recounted in the Canon, Vincent Delay has also tried to date the unpublished cases that I mentioned in these stories. he has even provided a “Gregorian Calendar for the Canonical centuries” that make it easy to determine what day of the week a particular date falls. I spent a whole afternoon checking my diaries against this calendar and I am astonished to find I may have made a few errors!

In one of the appendices he lists several other chronologies, few of which appear to be readily available.

Notable amongst these are:

A Sherlock Holmes Commentary by D Martin Dakin. This is only available second hand but it well-worth acquiring as a guide to the Canon. My copy is signed by the author. He would have been shocked if he had known who was asking for it to be signed when he cheekly quoted me from The Red-Headed League in writing on the flyleaf “I have even contributed to the literature on the subject” although I was referring to Holmes work on tattoo marks!

Holmes and Watson by June Thomson. This has just been reissued and is certainly worth reading as in one of the appendices her deductions about the true location of 221B Baker Street and the real reason behind the existence (or otherwise!) of a bow window are pretty close to the mark.

He does not mention William S Baring-Gould’s The Annotated Sherlock Holmes which again is only available second-hand. This, annoyingly to some people, tells the adventures in what he believes to be their chronological order.

Nor does he mention Leslie S Klinger’s The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes (Volumes I and II) covering the short stories and Volume III covering the novels. There is a chronology entitled “The Life and Times of Sherlock Holmes at the end of Volume I and Volume III.

I will return to these annotated versions of the Canon at a later date when I consider them alongside the excellent Oxford Sherlock Holmes – now available in paperback.

221B Baker Street [STUD]

I have now managed to arrange and inspect some new quarters for myself. They consist of a couple of comfortable bedrooms and a single large airy sitting-room, cheerfully furnished, and illuminated by two broad windows. If I told you that these are, in fact the very rooms that Holmes and I occupied I doubt that you would believe me for 221B Baker Street is, of course, not the actual address. As many have since pointed out, no such address existed at the time Holmes and I lived there. Baker Street (see map below), in the Marylebone district of north west London had, at the time, numbers 1 to 42 on the east side of the street, running from south to north, and numbers 44 to 85 on the west going south. There was no number 43 and no number 221. Its southern continuation, Orchard Street extended to Oxford Street. To the north it bore the names York Place and then Upper Baker Street before it reached Regent’s Park. [If you click on the map you may find the enlarged version easier to read.] In 1930, the entire length of the street (the lower part of Baker Street, York Place and Upper Baker Street) was renamed Baker Street and the houses were renumbered. Number 41 Upper Baker Street was redesignated 221 Baker Street but in the same year it was demolished to make way for Abbey House which eventually occupied 215-229 Baker Street, serving as the offices of the Abbey National Building Society.¬†Almost immediately, the building society started receiving correspondence for Holmes from all over the world, in such volumes that it appointed a permanent “secretary to Sherlock Holmes” to deal with it. A bronze plaque on the front of Abbey House carried a picture of Holmes and a quotation, but was removed from the building several years ago. Its present whereabouts are unknown. There is, however, now such an address as 221B Baker Street, recognised even by the Post Office with a postcode! 221B Baker Street is now the address of the Sherlock Holmes Museum (the full address is 221B Baker Street, LONDON NW1 6XE though this is actually 239 Baker Street!)

But if you read The Empty House carefully and follow Holmes directions to Manchester Street and Blandford Street it should become clear to you that our house was much lower down on Baker Street than most people imagine.

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