Undershaw – Our Heritage

Undershaw with Mary and Kingsley Conan-Doyle in the driveway 1897

I love Victorian Architecture, the grandness of it, the attention to detail, the municipal building, parks, gardens, stately homes, and houses. Our Heritage is something that should be preserved for generations.

I am a rather big admirer of Sherlock Holmes, The great detective as portrayed on television superbly by Jeremy Brett, on audio book superbly by Clive Merrison and of course written superbly by Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle.

Clearly Holmes is still very relevant as the Robert Downey Jr movies and the BBC Sherlock series prove which makes it even sadder when the former residence of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his family

Here he wrote ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’ and ‘The Return of Sherlock Holmes’ and entertained many notable people, including Bram Stoker, the author of ‘Dracula’, J M Barrie, the creator of ‘Peter Pan’, and the young Virginia Woolf. The Undershaw Preservation Trust

It is also a great example of late Victorian Architecture (as you can see by the image at the top of the article) is left to fall apart.

So the campaign is on to save Undershaw in the guise of the The Undershaw Preservation Trust. A brief history of the house from TUPT:

‘Undershaw’ was built by Conan Doyle so that his invalid wife Louise, who was suffering from tuberculosis, could benefit from Hindhead’s healthy micro climate and glorious views down the Nutcombe Valley to the South Downs. Nestling in its three acre plot, Doyle himself drafted the first designs of the house, before passing them on to architect and friend Joseph Henry Ball to complete. Doyle had many inspired ideas for his family’s new home, especially the installation of an electric plant (somewhat a rarity in those days) and a magnificent railway in the grounds that proved a constant joy to his children.  (More information about the monorail is currently being researched).                       

Undershaw’s location added a few more years to Louise’s life, but she eventually died in 1906 and is buried in the local  Grayshott churchyard along with Doyles mother and later being joined by her daughter Mary, who died unmarried in the 1970s, and son Kingsley, who died in the 1918 flu pandemic after surviving his wartime duties as a young doctor. 

After Louise’s death, Conan Doyle wanted to keep Undershaw for his son. But once Kingsley had also died, he saw no reason to hold on to the house and sold it in 1921 for £4,000 …. a considerable loss on the original £10,000 cost of the building and land. From 1924 the house became a hotel, closing its doors in 2004 when Des Moore then followed by Neil Caffrey of Fossway Ltd purchased the building for development.

Undershaw today as it stands sorrowfully neglected - courtesy of Nick Giffiths, Downroad Photography

And now look at the state of this historic building, left to rack and ruin by Waverley Council, currently waiting to be converted into flats with modern town houses adorning the site.

It is such a shame that this beautiful Victorian building and home of one of Britain’s most world renowned authors and his most famous stories is not being preserved for generations to come.

The Trusts vision is that Undershaw:

would be to see it restored, in period style, the house, stable, well and grounds ….. all of which have survived 114 years. Trees could be thinned to open up views from the garden down the Nutcombe Valley to the South Downs and, with permission, a bronze statue of Sherlock Holmes (or Conan Doyle) could be appropriately placed at the Hindhead crossroads. Undershaw could become a self supporting Sherlock Holmes/Conan Doyle Museum (with refreshment area for visitors) and exhibits could be in conjunction with the Portsmouth Museum’s 50,000 item Doyle collection of John Gibson’s late friend, Richard Lancelyn Green. The Museum could then become part of a Conan Doyle tour, including visits to his London connections, Portsmouth Museum and his grave in the New Forest’s Minstead Churchyard.

Mark Gatiss, actor, Novelist and writer of Sherlock (amongst other things) is the patron of The Trust:

“I would like to express my whole-hearted enthusiasm for the campaign to save Undershaw. It seems to me a very sad reflection on our times that the home of one of our greatest and most popular writers should be so neglected and in danger of unsympathetic redevelopment.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle occupied several residences in his prolific and thrilling career, only Undershaw bears the stamp of his massive personality. Here the Hound of the Baskervilles first breathed spectral life and Sherlock Holmes himself was resurrected from the Reichenback Falls. Here Stoker, Barrie and Hornung and many others were entertained. It’s no exaggeration to say that Undershaw was the centre of Doyle’s life during perhaps the most fruitful and fascinating phase of his career. It must be saved and take its place among the sensitively preserved residences of this country’s other literary giants. This is certainly a three-pipe problem but not, I am convinced, an insoluble one.”

So what we can we do to stop this vandalism to what is a great British treasure?

The Trust Suggest:

  • Like us on Facebook
  • Suggest us to your Facebook friends  using the ‘Share’ link at the bottom left of our Facebook page
  • Follow @spiritangel04 on Twitter. Retweet our tweets so that your followers see them
  • Tweet a #FollowFriday recommendation for us
  • Mention Save Undershaw on your blog and add our site to your links section
  • Whatever way you choose to support the campaign we thank you for your valuable help 
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One thought on “Undershaw – Our Heritage

  1. Hello
    Monorail mystery solved?

    The miniature monorail did exist but it was at Brennan’s house – not far away. It was big enough to carry one adult. There are photos in this new book.
    But the whole system was designed to be portable and installed quickly in war zones so it could have been temporarily laid at Undershaw.
    Doyle was at least aware of Brennan as his torpedo is mentioned in a Holmes story.
    Monorails of the Early 20th Century https://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1911038125/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_api_FQeeybARZ6KJJ

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