Monthly Archives: March 2014

Who Owns Undershaw?

Undershaw, view looking South

Disclaimer: This blog is a collaboration with John Michael Gibson (JMG). It is not meant to be a solicitation for funds.

When the Undershaw property was put on the market in 2003 by the Bridger family at a price in excess of £1,000,000 there was immediate interest by a number of purchasers, and sold quite rapidly.

In February 2004, the property was sold to Fossway Limited registered in The British Virgin Islands for £1.1 million. The beneficial owner(s) remain unknown up to the present day.

Throughout the debâcle which ensued, JMG always assumed that three local gentlemen, brothers Neil and John Caffrey, and Desmond Moore were the owners throughout the dealings and planning applications with Waverley Borough Council.

The name of the beneficial owner did not become apparent in the High Courts of Justice in 2012, nor in any of the submissions thereto, nor in the two subsequent appeals later in 2012 to the best of our knowledge.

When Aequitas Ltd put the For Sale Board on the property in December 2012, their agent Rupert Maxwell-Brown declined to identity the owner. I know because I asked him myself! and the asking price was £1.2 million.

I now understand that the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle  Heritage Centre Limited a registered charity #1154718 is in the process of negotiating an option to purchase at a price of £1.65 million with somebody.

We now ask “Who?” I understand that Marek Ujma, the Chief Organizer for The Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Heritage Centre is presently negotiating an option to purchase which is time delimited to six months in order to raise the necessary money to complete the transaction; and the purchase is arranged through a sales agent for the owner in Guildford  by the name of Damon Lidbury of Pinks. Damon has signed a Non Disclosure Agreement (NDA) with the owner.

This agreement is presently with the Fossway Limited’s solicitors for final approval, and then the clock will start to tick, and fundraising will then commence. This option has been an on-again-off-again affair, and in our view has a miniscule chance of success. This has been a magnificence negotiation but I fear it will come to nought!

JMG and I would like to know the name of the beneficial owner(s), because at his or her or their feet lay the responsibility for the present debâcle, make no mistake about that. There is a human being behind this mess, and these same fellow(s) or gal(s) have set the asking price of £1.65 million. This has not been the action of Fossway’s agent, as we are currently led to believe.

Posy Metz of English Heritage is presently in consultation to raise the Grading from Grade 2 to Grade 1 or Grade 2.*star. Either upgrade will result in a huge increase in the cost to restore. Hopefully Waverley Borough Council can be persuaded to serve a schedule of dilapidations, and if these are not complied with, subsequently serve a compulsory purchase order.

It is said that History is written by the winner. There is no clear winner here yet, but there will be — one way or the other.

We repeat “Who Owns Undershaw? This is a great literary home which is now in scandalous disrepair?”

One might ask Matthew Evans, the Chief Planning Officer for Waverley Borough Council. One might ask Damon Lidbury, One might ask Michael Wilson, the architect who designed the Nine Condo Plan which was ultimately squashed in the High Court. One might ask Damon Lidbury, Fossway’s sales agent at Pinks, (but he won’ tell you because he has signed an NDA). One might ask Desmond Moore who originally presented the plan approved by Waverley Borough Council and was squashed. One might ask DM Planning of Guildford, but they are unlikely to identify their client. And finally one might ask one of Fossway’s Solicitors, past or present, but you’re not likely to have any one of them identify their client.

Our best guess, at present, is that the present owner(s) of Undershaw reside(s) … two miles south of Gatwick.


One man’s trash is another boy’s treasure!

In February 1995, after Austin McLean introduced us, Peter Ruber and I started to lay out Vincent Starrett’s collected Poetry which forms Volume 1 of The Vincent Starrett Memorial Library. We talked regularly on the phone, much to the chagrin of Sandra, my secretary. I used to pick up the mail every morning, and one morning I picked up a parcel that I was not expecting from Peter. It contained four manuscripts which Peter later told me had been sitting on his bookshelf since 1971: “Country Matters” by August Derleth; “Return to Sac Prairie” by August Derleth; “The Game is Afoot!” by Charles Layng; and a 4th which I didn’t publish but subsequently sold to a collector, and sent the proceed to Peter. Peter also included a number of Sherlockian ephemeral items, and when I asked him about them, because I immediately called him as soon as I opened the parcel, Peter noted that he no longer had any interest in them, but he didn’t want to throw them out! The one that immediately caught my interest, because I am a life long philatelist was the pamphlet I attach here as a pdf. It appears to me to be the 1957 Christmas offering from Julian Wolff. I’ve never seen another one like it. and woe is me, I have not checked it in De Waal! A Ramble in Bohemia


Do you suffer from Holmesitis?

My friend Cameroon Hollyer prepared a Preface for our collection of Bigelow’s writings back in the 1990s. Good disease to keep in mind, when considering the literary activities of the members of the world-wide Sherlock Holmes community — either fans or scholars.

Preface to Baker Street Briefs: The Collected writings of S. Tupper Bigelow (1993)

Holmesitis: Holmz-i-tis. n. (med.)

A benign disease marked by an obsessive interest in Sherlock Holmes and in the minutiae of his life and career accompanied by an apparent belief in his reality. It is caused by the Holmes virus usually implanted through childhood exposure to the Sherlock Holmes Canon. The disease is frequently latent; emerging fully developed in later life. – The Dictionary of Rare Diseases, by Dr. Hill Barton.

Fortunately Holmesitis is not fatal. No one has ever died from it. Although Holmesians or Sherlockians (either term is usable) have scuffled on the edge of the Reichenbach Falls, none has committed Sherlockocide by plunging into the gorge. Nor does the disease interfere with its victim’s normal functions or appearance. Though the victim must acquire a deerstalker, it is not necessary for him or her to wear it. Only in the seclusion of the study or in genial conference with others similarly afflicted do the symptoms of Holmesitis manifest themselves.

Exactly how or when it struck Judge Tupper Bigelow I do not know. Judge Bigelow is a card player and he has always held the cards of his personal history so close to his vest that it is impossible to get a peep at them. I am forced therefore to supply the want of data with pure speculation and guess-work.

Presumably the young Tupper passed many evenings in his childhood home in Saskatchewan – a province where you can see miles in every direction but there is not that much to see – reading the Sacred Writings (the 60 Sherlock Holmes stories, nominally authored by A. Conan Doyle). In them he found enough picturesque scenes and exciting events to fill a province. He then put these books aside, took up the law, went East and became a lawyer, a Queen’s Counsel, and finally a judge. He lived many years as a respected citizen, calm, steady, judicious, thorough and painstaking in the performance of his duties. No one suspected that he carried the Holmes virus until it emerged full-blown when the century and the Judge were both middle-aged. He continued to work as efficiently as before; but at night he rushed home, barred the windows against airguns, and immersed himself in the Sacred Writings. Stung by the charge of plagiarism (as he tells us himself), he proceeded to acquire all the Writings upon the Writings – the commentaries of the Sherlockian scholars – voluminous even then – not only to read them but to index them so that he would never be caught out again. Finally he articled as a Sherlockian. To article in the Sherlockian rather than the legal sense means to produce learned articles on moot points in the Sacred Writings.

These articles were closely argued as befits a judge and they drew not only upon Judge Bigelow’s extensive knowledge of the Sherlockian literature but also upon his wide reading in other fields especially the law. In several of the articles collected here, he submits the conduct of Mr. Sherlock Holmes to judicial scrutiny. In one article he convicts Mr. Holmes on 17 counts of misprision of felony; in another he has second thoughts and clears him on all 17 counts. Both articles are convincing and you may take your choice as to which is right. In another one, he acquits Sherlock Holmes on several charges of burglary, even though the detective himself has admitted guilt. So cleverly does the Judge argue his client’s innocence, citing obscure laws and legal precedents, that the reader has no doubts that Holmes should walk (as we who are versed in modern crime fiction say). Decrying whimsy in Sherlockian writings, the Judge shows that he can play that game with the best of them, by proving that Sherlock Holmes, far from being Irene Adler’s lover or father of her child (Nero Wolfe), was himself Irene’s father. Here again his knowledge of legal nuances stands him in good stead.

Though Holmesitis shows in general a low recovery rate, some people do shake the disease. When I first met Judge Bigelow in 1969, he was showing signs of recovery. He was willing to part with his collection and it was acquired by the Metropolitan Toronto Reference Library, where it became the nucleus of one of the best public collections of Holmesiana and Doyleana in the world (advt.) With the collection went the Bigelow index to the Writings upon the Writings, which the Judge discusses in the first article in this collection. This index is actively maintained by the library with the help – more than the help – of Donald A. Redmond of Kingston, Ontario (“Good Old Index!”). After Judge Bigelow parted with his collection, I believe that he lost interest in the subject. Of the articles collected below only one bears a date in the 1970’s and that was written for a special volume dedicated to his good friend Julian Wolff, Commissionaire of the Baker Street Irregulars (“An Assessment and Valuation of the Ten Best Canonical Stories, with Some Observations on Those Somewhat Less Deserving of Praise”). All the other articles come from the 1950’s and 1960’s when the Judge was in the grip of Holmesitis.

In the course of my twenty years of curatorship of the library’s Arthur Conan Doyle Collection, it sometimes crossed my mind that Judge Bigelow’s articles – scattered through Sherlockian periodicals – should be collected. But I took no action, and it was only after my retirement that I casually mentioned the idea to Dr. George Vanderburgh. One does not casually mention a Sherlockian project to George as some pie-in-the sky, far-in-the-future possibility. His eyes light up, his computer clicks, and the thing is done. George of course suffers from – no – glories in – a case of acute Holmesitis. On top of this he also has advanced Computeritis, caused no doubt by a computer virus.

For the past two years George has been busy reducing to machine-readable form as many Sherlockian and Doylean texts as he can get his hands on. In his computer are two and a half volumes of Ronald Burt De Waal’s massive The Universal Sherlock Holmes. By touching a few keys, George came up with a complete list of Judge Bigelow’s Sherlockian writings. (Hartley Nathan unearthed two unlisted articles in The Ontario Magistrate’s Quarterly, formerly edited by Judge Bigelow). All of the listed articles were available in the Arthur Conan Doyle Collection and photocopies of them were made. George then scanned them into his computer and produced a camera-ready text which the Metropolitan Toronto Reference Library agreed to publish. Although Judge Bigelow is in poor health and rarely receives visitors, George managed to see him and to obtain his blessings on the project. Wherever possible, permission was also obtained from the magazines involved. In all cases, the original sources are cited.

George and I agreed that The Baker Street Briefs was an appropriate title in view of the legal background of the author and the legal nature of many of the articles. The Judge made no objection to this decision.

All the articles that appear here (with one or two minor exceptions) have been published elsewhere. But this is the first time they have been brought together in a single volume. The completist may not be completely satisfied since we did omit an article too faint to be photocopied. Nevertheless the volume contains all but the most trifling of Judge Bigelow’s Sherlockian articles. We dedicate it to all Sherlockians, who like ourselves carry the Holmes virus and suffer from an incurable desire to know ever more about the Master and his doings. Those who knew Judge Tupper Bigelow will be grateful for this reminder of their great friend and colleague: those who know him only by name will find in the work of this Sherlockian master inspiration for further investigations of the Sacred Writings, and perhaps a warning that on certain topics the Judge has spoken the last word.

— Cameron Hollyer, M.Bt., BSI


R.I.P. Peter Ruber (1940-2014)

Peter A. Ruber, BSI, PSI passed away on March 6, 2014. Peter was born September 29, 1940. I have had no contact with him since 2004. He had a major stroke in 2005, and has been in long-term care since 2011. But Peter was absolutely pivotal in my learning and understanding of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Vincent Starrett, August Derleth, Luther Norris, Seabury Quinn, George F. Worts, H. Bedford-Jones and Bertram Fletcher Robinson among others.

Austin McLean introduced Peter to me when I commenced my research on Vincent Starrett in 1994 along with Cameron Hollyer.

I have many fond memories when we travelled together to Minnesota and visited the Sherlock Holmes Collection in Minneapolis. We were royally entertained by Allan Mackler at the time; Allan was full of book stories as well.

Peter and I first visited Arkham House and April Derleth together in 1996. I helped him carry four boxes of books and manuscripts to the airport on his return flight; and Peter was appointed Editor of Arkham House, the following year.

Kay Price extended her hospitality to both of us, and we planned many Derleth publications together for The August Derleth Society in Sauk City. Most, but not all of these can be found on their website

l have pleasant memories of countless long telephone conversations about a multitude of literary matters.

During the course of preparing The Original Text Solar Pons Omnibus 2 volume edition, we had many heated discussions, and resolved many difficult points, but I believe the final published result was worth the effort on both our parts.

Peter talked with me at great length about his publication on The Baker Street Gasogene in 1961-1962. He had plans for a regular journal, but that didn’t work out.

He revised one of the articles to be his introduction to the book The Chronicles of Addington Peace by Fletcher Robinson.

I well remember a meeting on a Friday morning in New York with Richard Lancelyn Green, Peter Ruber, Christopher Roden and myself in New York City. Richard had brought along his personal copies of Baker Street Gasogene for Peter to sign. Richard had also brought along his file of correspondence between Michael Harrison and August Derleth. Peter Ruber also had a file of correspondence he had obtained from Arkham House archives. I was to meld the two and publish the results. Richard also noted there were some missing originals in the files of John Michael Gibson. I did not have the opportunity to complete that correspondence until May 2012. But that’s another story, and the book is ready to go, introduced by David Hammer. I shall dedicate the volume to Peter Ruber and to Richard Lancelyn Green. At the end of breakfast, I adjourned to a second breakfast at The Harvard Club down the street with Dan Posnanysky. I learned later that Peter then presented a number of unpublished manuscripts by H Russell Wakefield which were subsequently published as Reunion at Dawn. But the conclusion to that story is an adventure for another day.

Peter had also done research on the bibliography of George F, Worts. The last item I sent him was the two volume collection of Peter the Brazen. I have also been working a multi-volume collection of Gillian Hazeltine. Rodney Schroeder recently completed the huge editorial job, and the set should be ready for publication soon. I shall dedicate this volume to Peter.

Peter also maintained a rich correspondence with August Derleth, after his first visit to Sauk City in 1962, This is all, now held in the archived of The State Historical Society in Madison Wisconsin. The Derleth archives is well worth a visit. It contains a note scribbled to Derleth by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. If you have trouble finding it, it is filed under “D”.

Peter and I spent three days perusing this archive in some detail in 1996.

Finally, Austin McLean introduced us, and I agreed to publish Ruber’s volume of Vincent Starrett’s poetry. (This is Volume 1 in the Starrett Memorial Library.) Peter sent me four manuscripts, which had been sitting on a shelf in his office since 1971, when his publishing company The Candlelight Press ceased to operate. I examined them in detail. There was also correspondence attached, but in particular Peter had a letterhead logo for his Candlelight Press. You will find it in his version of the Last Bookman. I asked him if I could adopt it as my own since he was no longer using it. The answer was an unqualified yes. The logo had been designed by Henry Lauritzen featuring deerstalker hat, book, candle and pipe. Peter also noted that he did not like the title for my press, in fact he said it was awful! as well as too long! And so The Battered Silicon Dispatch Box press was born amidst controversy. Peter noted that Henry had created it at the same time as he did the illustrations for The Adventure of the Orient Express which was published in 1968.

I well remember when Peter finally consented to let me publish, The Bibliography of H. Bedford Jones, tiled The King of the Pulps. We had talked about it for many years. Peter had two co-authors, Darrell Richardson and Victor Berch. Bedford-Jones was a Canadian, who lived and wrote in the USA. Bedford Jones was prolific to say the least. The rest of this story must be for another day — very complicated and convoluted, but the book was published and is still available. Many additional projects resulted after my perusal of this Bibliography. The Compleat Saga of John Solomon and The Exploits of Riley Dillon are two which immediately come to mind.

In summary, Peter, R.I.P. it was a pleasure to recall our times together, and exciting to remember there are still projects, yet to be published, which will have your imprimatur on them, as well as Henry Lauritzen’s design.