Click here for more...

Click here for more...

VOL. XXII NO. 5, June 16-31, 2012
Three looks at heritage
How Conan Doyle's house was saved

Preserving heritage the UK way

Sherlock Holmes fans are celebrating the foiling of an attempt to convert the Victorian house of the great detective's creator, into eight separate homes.

Undershaw is a Grade II listed building at Hindhead Crossing near Haslemere in Surrey. During the decade he lived there from 1897, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote 13 Holmes stories, including The Hound of the Baskervilles. The building was later turned into a hotel, but has lain empty and dilapidated since 2005.

In 2010, Waverley Borough Council decided to allow the owner, Fossway Ltd., to divide the property. Campaigners trying to save the house as a single entity launched a judicial review, and have now won their case at the High Court in London.

Lawyers representing John Gibson, a Conan Doyle scholar and co-founder of the Undershaw Preservation Trust, turned to one of Holmes's favourite words in lambasting the "elementary" errors of the Council in its consideration of the plans.

Hailing victory in "a long and difficult battle" to save Undershaw, Gibson said: "This is a place which is steeped in history and should be treated with reverence. Conan Doyle's life and works are a fundamental part of British culture and arguably their stock has never been higher. We have been absolutely delighted to see enthusiasts from across the world get in touch and pledge their support to our efforts.

"We are very hopeful that this decision will signal a sea change in attitude towards this historic property and that it will lead to it being rightly preserved as a single building – hopefully as a museum or centre where future generations can be inspired by the many stories which have been created within its walls."

Andrew Lockley, head of public law at Irwin Mitchell, who represented Gibson, said: "The local authority failed to ensure that it received English Heritage's views on the plans before taking its decision, despite consultation with EH being a legal requirement due to the property's Grade II listed status.

"In addition, the Council failed in its duty to reconsider the Fossway development plans following the submission of a second application on the property which would see it maintained as a single dwelling.

"The decision means it is now back to the drawing board in terms of the future of Undershaw but, like John, we hope to see this property of huge cultural and historical significance preserved and treated in the manner it deserves."

The trust's website used Conan Doyle's words to galvanise its supporters for the fight: "The pressure of public opinion can do in the town what the law cannot accomplish" (a quote from The Copper Beeches) and "I shall be proud that we shall be acting together, Mr. Holmes" (The Dancing Men).

Conan Doyle chose the location for Undershaw in accordance with the needs of his wife, Louise, who suffered from consumption. Before Louise's death in 1906, the author entertained friends here, including Peter Pan author J.M. Barrie and Dracula creator Bram Stoker.

In a 1907 article, Stoker described Undershaw as having "all the elements of home" and said the view from the drawing room was one of "a never-ending sea of greenery" to the South Downs. Conan Doyle did not sell Undershaw until 1921 and, in 1977, it was listed as being of special architectural and historic interest because of its literary association.

Justice Cranston said Fossway had clearly bought the property in 2004 for its development potential and its scheme for the house included a gazebo within the grounds, which would be open to the public and provide information about Conan Doyle.

The judge said lawyers for the Council had made it clear that it wanted to preserve Undershaw and spent substantial sums to make it secure. But the Council had not adequately met statutory requirements to pay special regard to the preservation of heritage assets and planning policy.

Please click here to support the Heritage Act

In this issue

Welcome restoration approach by Government
Garbage collection plans go awry again
Looking back
Driving Down Memory Lane
Masters of 20th Century Madras science
Three looks at heritage
There's heritage in idlis & sundal
The plight and the challenge
More Iyengars of cricket
Butterfly tricks

Our Regulars

Short 'N' Snappy
Our Readers Write
Quizzin' with Ram'nan


Download PDF