Category Archives: Undershaw at Hindhead

Undershaw — Off the Agenda

Disregard my previous two posts on this matter. Waverley Borough Council has now taken Undershaw off the agenda altogether for next Wednesday’s meeting (26 November 2014). Good thing I resisted the urge to book a flight; I never would have got back in time to attend a Mess Dinner in Cambridge, nor attend a Senate meeting in Hamilton on the 26th.

The application has been withdrawn so that the planners can consider the contents of the English Heritage objection letter. Does this mean that the Application has been called in? I think so! Perhaps a letter received from the National Planning Casework Office in Birmingham citing a relevant Article 25 Directive might have also contributed to this decision.

In my opinion, the DFN Foundation has received much expensive but faulty advice and guidance in this matter. It would appear that the steam-roller to destroy the property has been stopped, at least temporarily, and hopefully permanently.

I am advised that the Land Registry Office has received new information on The Undershaw Hotel. New Owners, amount of the purchase etc. I will have this in hand new Tuesday.

The responsibility for this matter now rests squarely on the shoulders of a fellow called Dr. Andrew Brown at English Heritage. He first met Norman Stromsoy, the architects, and D&M at the property on Tuesday afternoon 29 September. He was given a photograph of the stables, which allegedly had been taken the day before. He was not shown the brick-lined well, because there was an issue of Asbestos contamination. Andy will have to bring a N6 mask for his next visit.

In my opinion, English Heritage should have been involved from the getgo, and not as an afterthought when the plans are drawn and posted on the Waverley website.

And what about that expensive excavating equipment that was on the proporty last week? No doubt that the present owner is paying by the day for it to be there. Will whoever? allow the work to continue. I hope not.

Will Undersahw go back on the agenda again, no doubt, but with the schedule for December already booked, it will not be until the new year, and adter the holiday season. So that will make it a full two years since the property was first listed for sale, and a frightfully flawed sales process it was!


Undershaw — The Crunch

The fate of Undershaw has its next hearing at Waverley Borough Council on 26 November 2014. The DFN Foundation represented by Norman Stromsoy, and John MIchael Gibson will each have six minutes to present their case, and then the planners and councillors will require the Wisdom of Job.

The Victorian Society, the Ancient Monument Society, English Heritage and John Gibson have come out squarely against WA/2014/1655 and 1656.

The DFN Foundation and Stepping Stones School, an overwelming number of citizens of Hindhead and friends of Stepping Stones, Jeremy Hunt (the local MP) and Richard Doyle have all registered their strong support for the school and its auxillary large extensions with serious changes to the topography, destruction of the stables, the well, and the airing hut which was used for ACD’s tuberculous wife.

The way I see it — the Waverley Borough Councillors, and Planners will unanimously approve this project on behalf of Stepping Stones on 26 November.Either or both The Ministry of Culture, Media and Sport, with the recommendation of Andy Brown of English Heritage will call the project in, which will result in A Public Inquiry which will also result in a significant delay for the project of up to 18 months. The National Planning Casework Unit in Birmingham may also have siginicant input into this “Calling In” decision.

Another potential but tragic outcome might be that the property would be delisted altogether, because of the extensive changes and new construction.

The most likely outcome, and definitely not my favourite, is that the develpment will be full-heartily approved, and after the concerns of the 3 statutory consulltees have been dealt with in one form or another — the most likely a deaf ear — the school will be constructed and opened in the fall of 2015.

Anyone can watch the presentations and deliberations on the Waverley Website starting at 17:30 pm GMT on Wednesday, the 26th of November 2014. This webcam video will be posted on the web for later viewing as well.

Meanwhile, there are a number of excavation machines on the property right now! with a team of up to 10 men already working at something! There is a public footpath on the property, but anyone walking walking along it, is watched very closely by surveillance cameras and/or by the workers.



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.


to Waverly Borough Council and the Citizens of Hindhead

Conan Doyle’s house ‘Undershaw’ has now been unoccupied for over 9 years and during that time the owners (Fossway Ltd) presided over vandalism and dilapidation taking it from a hotel, from which the hoteliers did not wish to vacate, to the sorry state we see today. The speculator owners’ objective to gain a very valuable planning permission to over double its value with a right to create at least 8 separate dwellings. In the speculator’s last attempt, now comprehensively declared unlawful by High Court judges on 3 separate occasions, it should be apparent to even the most non-legal person that Waverley Borough Council’s decision of September 2010 was unlawful. However, in your main front story of last week you quote a ‘council spokesman’ as saying “the legal advice we received was that the original High Court decision was incorrect”. To this I can only say they could not have read the long reasoned judgement very closely for on a number of points the decision was held to be clearly unlawful. This debacle has cost Waverley Borough Council probably in the region of £50,000, and they must in future get only the best and most experienced personnel on cases of this nature, and at a very early stage. I notice in the columns of your paper that Councillor Taylor-Smith, who held the important planning brief until after the initial High Court decision, has now moved to another portfolio for Waverley Borough Council.

Putting on one side all the enormous attention this matter drew from the world’s media – including the front page of the Los Angeles Times and Public Channel No. 1 of Russian TV – it is surely apparent that the public do not want this house and grounds divided into separate units; the speculator should have been told this many years ago. Speculation by its very nature is a risk, and he has comprehensively lost. The speculator and his local planning consultants should be told not to waste any more time with dreams of division and new buildings, but to get this listed building back into repair immediately.

Waverley Borough Council also say in your piece of last week that “they have been proactive in trying to preserve the building” – unfortunately their efforts, like their law efforts, have dismally failed. I briefly summarise what has, over the last 7½ years, been allowed by Waverley Borough Council to stay uncorrected in this building:

1. All lead stolen from the roof has been replaced by very temporary bitumen felt.

2. The large heraldic window with Doyle’s family crests is still broken over 7 years after sustaining damage.

3. Doyle’s antlers he affixed over the front entrance have been stolen, and many windows smashed.

(To compound the damage caused by thieves and vandals, the owner – with the knowledge of Waverley Borough Council – has continued and, very much accelerated, the damage to this house by the following)

4. The southern third portion of the front elevation of the carriage block has been replaced by some modern materials totally mismatching the remaining third of the building – the new walls and windows completely clashing with the original remainder. As a Grade 2 listed building the owner should have sought Listed Building Consent (LBC) for this work – he did not do so.

5. All kitchen and bathroom fittings, and much pipe-work, have been stripped from the house – all again without LBC.

6. The single storey kitchen building – part of the house at the rear and, like the carriage house, all part of the Listed building – has been totally demolished. This was a building of over 600 sq. ft. and also provided a fire escape access for the hotel. Brickwork adjoining this demolished building now exists, hacked and broken with the cavities exposed to the weather – all again without LBC.

7. Finally, and probably the greatest disaster to befall this building, all plaster has been hacked off the walls of the top (2nd) floor, leaving this top floor like a bombed-out war zone. As a building specialist I can categorically say that essentially only the ceilings, and then only in places, where damaged by water ingress after the loss of the lead from the roof. This historic plaster to the walls was examined by me carefully before the event and was essentially in good condition. However, without (of course) LBC it has all been hacked away from the walls.

I have asked (in writing) Waverley Borough Council if they are going to prosecute the owners and they advise me that they are not going to do so. I have a letter to this effect from Mary Orton, Chief Executive, Waverley Borough Council. Thus we have a situation where Waverley Borough Council recently bulldozed down in another part of the borough, an extension built slightly larger than the permission, whereas here, where there are seemingly numerous breaches, they are prepared to do nothing. It is to be hoped that owners of other listed buildings in the borough do not take note of this example as a precedent.

The executive (councillors) of Waverley Borough Council should now take action in this matter and order the planners to reactivate the Repair Order issued on the speculator on the 7th November 2008, to put the property into repair under their Listed Building obligations, and in the event of non-compliance, instead of giving the owner exactly what he required (2010 permission), serve a Compulsory Purchase Order, as regulations state, on Fossway Ltd. However, it would appear at the moment, from your article last week, that Waverley Borough Council have still not absorbed the lesson, as they state:

“We visit the site regularly. The last time we visited was at the end of October. We are content it is being adequately maintained” (are they blind?!). “Our focus will be working with the landowner on achieving a solution which provides the right balance between …” Thus it can be seen that the councillors must now tell the Chief Planning Officer that no further dialogue is pursued with the speculator other than the re-activation of the Urgent Repair Notice of November 2008 and that there will be absolutely no development of this site.

Would Jane Austen’s Chawton, Gilbert White’s Selborne, Winston Churchhill’s Westerton, Charles Dickens’ Rochester, Henry James’ Rye, etc. countenance division of these houses so that the dining room is in one house, the drawing room is a second, and the study in a third, with destruction of the stables and well – as was passed by Waverley Borough Council for Undershaw? I do not think so.

The houses of other writers I mention have put their locations on the world literary map with resultant tourist advantages – the same could happen for the regeneration of Hindhead.

There are several people interested in buying the house – it is not large in comparative terms for the type of dwelling (7,500 sq. ft.) – and making it into a family home. One person is very keen, has renovated literary houses in the past, and wants to spend in the region of £1.5M purely on sympathetic restoration work, at no cost to the public purse whatsoever. He has already obtained planning permission from Waverley Borough Council (August 2010) for the use of Undershaw as a single dwelling. He is prepared to pay a reasonable price for the property, but, of course, to reflect it having absolutely no redevelopment potential whatsoever and requiring, under its listed status, about £1.5M of repair expenditure. He will willingly step into the shoes of Waverley Borough Council if CPO procedure proves necessary. He has recently written to the Chief Executive of Waverley Borough Council to this effect, without, to date, a reply.

Thus the property will be restored, limited public access will be allowed, and in the long-term all options will be available for this iconic world-renowned house.

To the executive (councillors of Waverley Borough Council), the ball is now very much in your court to exert your total control over a proved failed planning department (in this matter), and not allow the officers of that department to “bail out” a speculator, who has presided over almost total dereliction of one of Britain’s great literary houses.

J.M. Gibson FRICS, (in Arts, Building & Valuation Divisions) and author/editor of 5 books on Doyle – including the prize-winning Bibliography of A. Conan Doyle For the Oxford University Press


Undershaw Milestones

A number of websites, individuals, societies, groups and “ambassadors” are endeavoring to raise funds on-line to save Undershaw at Hindhead. This blog is not a solicitation for funds.

Undershaw by Charles Bone

   A watercolour by Charles Bone

1896. ACD lived at Morefields, a small local Hotel, and visited the property daily to supervise the construction with the architect Joseph Henry Ball. Virginia Wolfe visited the building site.

October18, 1897. The Doyles move into Undershaw. ACD reckons it cost him £10,000 and annotated it in his notebook. Bernard Shaw did not move to the area until two years later.

1902. ACD received his knighthood here.

July 1906. Wife Touhy died after a long illness with Tuberculosis and is buried at Grayshott Church Cemetery approximately one mile away. Doyle’s mother was also interred there in 1921. Doyle’s Son Kingsley in 1918, and daughter Mary interred there in the 1970s.

Early 1907. ACD takes up the cause of George Adalji. This case and the case of Adolph Beck result in the establishment of the Court of Criminal Appeal.

July 1907. Bram Stoker interviews Doyle on the eve of his marriage to Jean Leckie

1907. Sir Arthur remarried and moved to Windlesham in Crowborough, and rented Undershaw for another 14 years.

1908. Rented Undershaw to a retired Headmaster of a Public School, a widower  of Aldous Huxley’s mother’s sister.

1910-1912. Aldous Huxley, as a teenager resided at the property and went to write Brave New World 10 years later. Doyle wrote The Lost World in 1912.

1921. Undershaw sold for a “sacrificial price” of £4000. All real estate was depressed after WWI, and ACD needed the money to support his Spiritualistic Crusade.

late-1920s. A new wing was constructed on the east side facing south of about 2000 sq feet.

1935-2004. Undershaw was purchased by the Bridger family who lived locally but never occupied the house. They leased Undershaw to individuals who operated a Restaurant-Hotel there. These individuals were always undercapitlaized, and therefore made very few changes to the building and grounds. Fortuitously many of the original features still exist.

February 2004. Property sold to Fossway Limited (a company registered in the British Virgin Islands) for £1.1 million.

May 2005. The Undershaw Hotel forced to close by the owner. Shortly after the closure the pair of antlers that were mounted at the entrance were stolen. All the lead in the valleys of the roof was also stolen resulting in significant water damage to the interior ceilings, and not the walls.

May2005. Doyle’s multi-storied heraldic window was partially broken and remains broken to this day (against all regulations of Listed Buildings.)

June 2006. An application by The Victorian Society with information supplied by JM Gibson was submitted to English Heritage and the Grade 2 status was confirmed. An appeal also failed in early 2007. English Heritage did not consider the stables and the brick-lined well in their reaffirmed assignment of Grade 2. One of the major reasons in their decision was that Conan Doyle did not have the same status as a writer as Jane Austen and Charles Dickens. It should be noted that those two homes are both Grade 1, and were occupied for short periods of time, and both were built and designed by and for somebody else altogether. This decision was also based on Undershaw’s Architecture. It should be noted in response that Undershaw was designed and built by Conan Doyle for his sick wife. The architecture of the home is essentially irrelevant, but it is rather the history of the home that is important. For example ACD had one of the first telephones in the area, and was a pioneer in electricity in the home coming from a steam furnace in the basement.

20 December 2006. Plan to develop the property unanimously defeated at Waverly Borough Council. John Michael Gibson made a persuasive speech to council pointing out there was no security and the doors were open

January 2007. Waverly Borough Council erected scaffolding, tarpaulin and increased security and spent £70,000 which was recovered from the owners. The roof was repaired with cheap roofing felt and this is still in place today.

2007-Nov 2008.  A modern exterior was installed in the coach house. The renovation was carried out without Listed Building Consent.

Late 2008. The Undershaw Preservation Trust was registered as a Charity to preserve Undershaw by JM Gibson.

November 7, 2008. Waverly Borough Council served an urgent Repair Notice, which was time restricted, and was not complied with by the owner. In spite of this No Compulsory Purchase order was issued.

Negotiation were started with Wilson the architect for the property to be carved up into 3 houses vertically with a solid cement block in between, the add-on would be removed, and a terrace five separate Units would be added on the east. The coach house would make it 9 units altogether.

2009. The single story 600 sq foot kitchen containing asbestos is completely torn down and removed. The plaster was stripped from the upper floor. A plumber and the security guard removed all the asbestos line pipes, and the plumbing fixtures

March 10, 2010. A planning application received for the Southern Area, and considered by the full council in June 2010 and passed by a 7 to 1 majority. All conditions were finally satisfied. The plan called for 7500 square foot house to divided into three with cement partitions. The removal of 1800 addition, and five new 3-story townhouses.

June 10, 2010. Conditional on having the  money in the bank. Plaster off top floor

September 10, 2010. Full planning permission granted subject to Judicial Review.

Under British Planning Law any individual can initiate a Judicial Review.

December 2010. Application made to the Royal Courts of Justice with no relief of costs. Legal Assistance was not available. The case was accepted because it had an arguable case. JM Gibson vs. Waverley Borough Council. There was an attempt to make the legal case The Undershaw Preservation Trust (UPT) vs. Waverly Borough Council, but this was not possible because UPT was impecunious.

June 2011. Pre-trial Judge approved the case to be heard in the High Court of Justice.

May 23, 2012. Case heard in The High Court of Justice. (I was there!) and a decision to quash the development was given 7 days later.

July 2012. Fossway’s application to appeal was turned down by another Judge.

September 2012. The detailed reasons for the decision  of May 2012 are contained in the issue of Journal of Planning Law.

November 2012. A second appeal was granted for an oral hearing which was flatly turned down by a final third judge in the Hugh Court of Justice.

December 20, 2012. A “For Sale” sign was posted on the property by Aequitas Property Agency.. The telephone number given was not answered until January 2013.

January 6, 2013. The Sales agent, Rupert Maxwell-Brown stated on the phone the asking price was £1.2 million, He also indicated that any individual making an offer would have to provide evidence of adequate financial resources to purchase.

March 2013. A business man, who has ..  makes an urgent application to English Heritage for the grading to upgraded from Grade 2 to Grade 1 or Grade 2*. English Heritage is still considering this application 11 months later.

May 2013. A second supplementary portfolio of evidence was also submitted about ACD’s importance as a writer.

October 2013. A group headed by Marek Ujma “negotiates” a purchase price of £1.65 million, and also has a six month window to complete the fund raising and presumably complete the transaction.

January 7, 2014. in a BBC television interview Ujma (from Grayshott) estimates the cost at £3.5 million to purchase and renovate Undershaw. Ujma does not mention the ongoing costs associated with operating a Heritage Centre.

Febraury 2014. English Heritage has appointed a team of Assessors to view Undershaw with the permission of the owner. Their report is eagerly anticipated.

mid-February 2014. The original ‘FOR SALE’ board is still in place at the entrance of the property.

Res Ipse Loquitor  (The matter speaks for itself)

This debâcle is still unfolding. I shall amend and update this blog post as necessary — George A. Vanderburgh\


Auction of 12 Tennison Road, South Norwood

Evening of 27 February (3 extracted facebook posts)

George Vanderburgh announces a time sensitive Conan Doyle alert!
ACD’s home at 12 Tennison Road, South Norwood goes on auction at 12 noon 28 February 2013 at the Radisson Blu Hotel. It is lot no. 52. It is live on the internet. Go to Select “on line auction” Choose Barnett Ross, and click on View Auction. You will have to register in order to enter. Perhaps we will “see you” there?although I will have to get up at 0700 EST. You can also view the property by using Google earth, and simultaneously alk up and down Tennison Road. Didn’t see the London Council plaque, but perhaps you will?

O800 of 28 February

I have the Barnet and Ross On-Line auction, and I am listening to the auctioneer as I write this. We are at Lot #20, with a 2.5 second delay. Remarkable this. Remember we are waiting for lot #52. I’m going to call John Gibson, on a separate line, (can’t use the magicJack here) when Barnet-Ross starts Lot #51

Lot 52 came up at approximately 0909 EST. There were 3 bidders on the floor, and no one on the telephone that I coud see. The bidding started at 650,000 pounds and was unsold at 725,000 which did “not quite meet the reserve.” John Gibson (Angmering West Sussex) listened in with me, and he predicts, and I agree with him, that one of the floor bidders will speak to the auctioneer after the sale, and if the reserve is 750,000 as we might guess, that it may sell then. The auctioneer mentioned that it was the former home of ACD, the creator of SH. John observed that he was 20 years younger, he would have been very interested in this property. What might have been! I should have had a second computer here to use the Magic Jack simultaneously; but I didn’t, so had to rely on a land line (across the pond) instead

Here’s a link, provided by Peter Blau which should also be of interest, and there is a picture of the back of the house, and the strip of land which accompanies the property. southnorwoodtouristboard



Bram Stoker Interviews Conan Doyle in 1907

Undershaw looking South to Nutcomb Valley

Undershaw looking South to Nutcomb Valley

My first book! That was written when I was six years of age! But if I am to tell you about myself, I suppose I had better begin at the beginning.”

The speaker was lying on a chintz covered sofa in the pretty drawing-room of his house at Hindhead, down in Surrey. The forenoon sun was streaming in through one of the mullioned windows, of which the bars were softened by the delicate fringe of green of the creepers which spread all along them. The whole room was full of soft light, which showed the fine old furniture and the multitude of dainty knick-knacks to perfection. Even the many quaint and pretty pictures seemed to stand out from the walls.

From where I sat the whole of the lovely valley, at the very head of which the house stands, lay before me. Due south it falls away, spreading wider as it goes, till its lines are lost in distance, an endless sea of greenery. Far away there are ranges of hills piling up, one behind the other, in undulations of varying blue. Even the whole sweep of the horizon visible from our altitude is like a wavy sea. Nearer at hand the wonderful green of the valley is articulated by the minor curves and slopes, the trend of surrounding hills. The mighty carpet of green is of the fresh young bracken, whose shoots seem close and are like little croziers wrought in emerald. Against this the rising pine trees seem like dark masses. Close to us, beyond the vivid patch of tennis lawn, are some masses of color which are simply gorgeous amid the expanse of green. Great shrubs of yellow bloom, clumps of purple rhododendron, luxuriant alder, with masses of snowy flowers starred in their own peculiar green. An expanse which, whether seen from near or far, in unity or detail, simply ravishes the eye with its myriad beauties.

We had motored up the previous afternoon from Guildford, some twelve miles distant. The last seven miles of the journey up the steep, winding road shows one of the loveliest scenes in England—a scene that brings at every new phase fresh memories of Turner. Indeed, Turner himself loved this piece of the old Portsmouth road. Is not one of the weirdest pictures of the Liber Studiorum, “Gallows Hill,” taken from it? But here was the crown of it all—that wide expanse seen beyond this foreground of idyllic beauty.


Conan Doyle built his home Undershaw in the western angle at the joining of the road from Haslemere with the Portsmouth road, just below the very top of the hill. It stands on a little platform lying below the road. As north and east of it is a thick grove of trees and shrubs, it is completely sheltered from stranger eyes except from down the valley. 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 cozy and snug to a remarkable degree, and has everywhere that sense of “home” which is so delightful to occupant and stranger alike. Throughout it is full of interesting things got together for their interesting association with the author’s life and adventures, for their prettiness, or as curios, or works of art.

The owner of this almost fairy pleasure house is a big man, massive and burly, and of great strength. His head and face are broad and strong. His eyes are blue with a peculiar effect in light, for they seem to have two shades of blue in the iris. His voice is strong and resonant—a very masculine voice.

The “interview” which followed was the result of many questions. The subject of it was most kind and amenable, thoroughly understanding everything and willing to enlighten me as I required. But he is not naturally a pushing man or an egotist, and it was necessary to keep him resolutely to the point of his own identity. I say this as his various statements were so lucid and illuminative that I think it better to give them in his own words in the sequence of a direct narrative. After all, there is nothing like a man’s ipsissima verba to show the reality of the individual through the mistiness of words. I omit questions except where necessary, and only venture to add comment or description where such may add to the reader’s enlightenment.


“My people on the father’s side,” said the creator of “Sherlock Holmes,” “we all artists of a peculiarly imaginative type. My father, Charles Doyle, was in truth a great unrecognised genius. He drifted to Edinburgh from London in his early youth, and so he lost the chance of living before the public eye. His wild and strange fancies alarmed, I think, rather than pleased the stolid Scotchmen of the 50’s and 60’s. His mind ran on strange moonlight effects, done with extraordinary skill in water colors; dancing witches, drowning seamen, death coaches on lonely moors at night and goblins chasing children across churchyards.”

All these pictures were in the room, or in some of those adjacent. With them were a host of others, delicate fancies and weird flights of imagination. There was one tiny picture of a little fairy carrying a branch and leading a beetle by a string, which was daintily sweet.

“I have myself no turn for this form of art at all beyond a very keen color sense which makes a discord of shades perfectly painful to my eye. I suppose, however, that there is a metabolism in these things, and that any sense I have for dramatic effect corresponds, or is an equivalent, in some degree, to the artistic nature of my father, whom, by the way, I in no degree resemble physically. But my real love for letters, my instinct for story-telling, springs, I believe, from my mother, who is on Anglo-Celtic stock, with the glamour and romance of the Celt very strongly marked. Her I do resemble physically, and also in character, so that I take my leanings towards romance rather from her side than my father’s. In my early childhood, as far back as I can remember anything at all, the vivid stories which she would tell me stand out so clearly that they obscure the real facts of my life. It is not only that she was—is still—a wonderful story-teller, but she had, I remember, an art of sinking her voice to a horror-stricken whisper when she came to a crisis in her narrative, which makes me goose-fleshy now when I think of it. I am sure, looking back, that it was in attempting to emulate these stories of my childhood that I first began weaving dreams myself.


“When I was six I wrote a book of adventure—doubtless my mother has it still. I illustrated it myself. It must be an absurd production, but still it showed the set of my mind. When I went to school I carried the characteristic with me. There I was in some demand as a story-teller. I could start a hero off from home and carry him through an interminable succession of wayside happenings which would, if necessary, last through the spare hours of a whole term. This faculty remained with me all my school days, and the only scholastic success I can ever remember lay in the direction of English essays and poetry. I was no good at either classics or mathematics; even my English I wrote as pleasure, not as work.


“After leaving Stonyhurst I was sent to a ‘finishing’ school in Germany, the Tyrol. There again my tendency to letters asserted itself. I started and edited a school magazine. Although the German acquired was indifferent, I think I had great benefit from the small but select English library. Macaulay and Scott, I remember, were my favourite authors. But I was and am still an omnivorous reader, with very catholic sympathies. There is hardly anything which does not interest me. I have sometimes tested myself by going into a large library and noting which of the books I am tempted to take down. I think that if let loose in such a place on a wet day my first choice would be military memoirs; but I am deeply interested also in criminology, in all sides of history, in science—so far as I can follow it—in comparative theology—if it is not ruined by the heavy touch of the writer—in travel—if the author has the skill to keep a glamour over his picture—in any form of fiction. Indeed, it would be difficult to name any form of true literature which does not give me intense pleasure.


“In 1876 I drifted into the study of medicine. The reason largely was that my people lived in Edinburgh”—he pronounces the word in Scotch fashion, “Edinboro”—”and there is a famous medical school there. For four years I went through the curriculum. My people were not at that time wealthy, and it was a struggle to keep me at college. So I compressed my classes into the winter, and devoted each summer to serving as a medical assistant, and so earning a little money to help to pay the fees. I served in this way in Sheffield, in the country districts in Shropshire, and finally in Birmingham —a billet to which I returned three times. The practice lay mostly in the slums of that great city, and I certainly saw a large variety of character and of life, such as I could hardly have known so intimately in any other way.

“The one trouble to me in this arrangement of my life was that I had no means of gratifying the love of athletics which was very strong within me. I used to box a good deal, for that consumed little time; but my cricket and football were neglected. I can say, however, that I have played for my university in both cricket and Rugby football. I had then no time or chance of being a constant player; I feel justified, therefore, in taking it out at the other end. I played a heavy match at football when I was forty-two years of age, and I still, at the age of forty-eight, play cricket twice a week. So I claim now the debts which were not paid me in my youth.


“When I was nearly twenty-one a friend of mine who had been surgeon to a whaler in the Arctic seas told me that he was unable to return that summer, and offered me the billet. I was away for seven months in the Greenland ocean. I came of age in 80 degrees north latitude.

“This was a delightful period of my life. There are eight boats to a whaler, and the eighth, which is kept as a sort of emergency boat, is manned by the so-called ‘idlers’ of the ship. These consisted, in this case, of myself, the steward, the second engineer and an old seaman. But it happened that, with the exception of the veteran, we were all young and keen; and I think our boat was as good as any.”

As he spoke he could not fail to remember the harpoons hanging on the staircase wall. They seemed to account for this enthusiasm. He went on:

“One of the truest compliments I ever had paid me in my life was when the captain offered to make me the harpooner as well as surgeon if I would come for another year. When you think that a whale was then worth some £2,000 and that hit or miss depends on the nerve of the harpooner, I am proud to think that the skipper, old John Grey, should have offered me such a post.

“On returning home from the Arctic I took my degree, having been thrown back one year by the fact of going North. I was twenty-two when I qualified, and, thanks to my numerous assistantships, had a very varied experience behind me.


“Almost immediately afterward I was offered the post of surgeon to a steamer going down the west coast of Africa. I was again most fortunate in my captain, and the voyage was a delightful one. We were away four months and the pleasure of my experience was only marred by my getting the rather virulent fever which prevails on that coast. Two of us got it, and the other man died, so that I suppose I may call myself lucky.

“On my return to England I settled in practice, first in Plymouth and then, after a few months, at Southsea, the fashionable suburb of Portsmouth. My adventures in that rather romantic period, and all my mental and spiritual aspirations, are written down in ‘The Stark Munro Letters’, a book which, with the exception of one chapter, is a very close autobiography.

“In this period my literary tendencies had slowly developed. During the years of my studentship my life was so full of work that, though I read a great deal, I had little time to cultivate writing. After starting in practice, however, I had much—too much—time on my hands; and then I began to write voluminously.

“Most of it was, I think, pretty poor stuff; but it was apprentice work, and I always hoped that with practice I might learn to use my tools.


“Every writer is imitative at first. I think that is an absolute rule; though sometimes he throws back on some model which is not easily traced. My early work, as I look back on it, was a sort of debased composite photograph in which five or six different styles were contending for the mastery. Stevenson was a strong influence; so was Bret Harte; so was Dickens; so were several others.

“Eventually, however, a man ‘finds himself,’ or rather perhaps it is that he grows more deft in concealing the influences which blend with one another until they form what means a new and constant style.

“I suppose that during those early years I wrote not less than fifty short stories. The first appeared in 1878 while I was still a student. It was in Chambers’s Journal and was called ‘The Mystery of the Sassassa Valley’. I had three guineas for it. After receiving that little check I was like a beast that has once tasted blood, for I knew that whatever rebuffs I might receive—and God knows I had plenty—I had once proved I could earn gold, and the spirit was in me to do it again. It was a delightful opportunity for carrying into actuality the dreams of my youth. I had to earn money by some form of work, and that was the sort of work I longed to do.


“For ten years I wrote short stories; roughly, from 1877 to 1887. During that time I do not think I ever earned £50 in any year by my pen, though I worked incessantly. Nearly all the magazines published the stories anonymously—a most iniquitous fashion by which all chance of promotion is barred to young writers. The best of these stories have since been published in the volume called The Captain of the Pole Star! Sometimes I saw my stories praised by critics, but the criticism never came to my address. The Cornhill Magazine, Temple Bar and London Society were the chief magazines in which my stories appeared.

“Finally in 1887 I wrote A Study in Scarlet, the first book which introduced Sherlock Holmes. I don’t know how I got that name. I was looking the other day at a bit of paper on which I had scribbled ‘Sherringford Holmes’ and ‘Sherrington Hope’ and all sorts of other combinations. Finally at the bottom of the paper I had written ‘Sherlock Holmes’. ‘A Study in Scarlet’ appeared in a Christmas number of Beeton’s Annual. The book had no particular success at the time, though many people have been good enough to read it since.


“My next book was ‘Micah Clarke,’ a historical novel. This met with a good reception from the critics and the public; and from that time onward I had no further difficulty in disposing of my manuscripts. When two years later I wrote ‘The White Company’ I felt that my position was strong enough to enable me to give up practice. I still clung to my profession, for I came to London and started as an oculist. After six months, however, this also seemed unnecessary, and I finally retired. I have not indulged in my profession since, except when I went campaigning.”

That he did good service in that noble profession in the South African war is attested not only by his book on the record of the Langman Hospital, but by a noble silver bowl which stands at a corner of his house in Hind-head, on which is inscribed:

“To Arthur Conan Doyle, who at a great crisis—in word and deed— served his country.”

When he had come to the part in his history where he had started his bark on the sea of literature, I think he considered that his duty with regard to the interview. In obedience to my request, however, he went on. I wished that the American people might hear some special comment on their own affairs:


“In 1894 I went on a lecturing tour to America. I had no hopes of any success in the matter; my idea was simply to see a country in which I took a deep interest, and to pay my expenses while I was so doing. Major Pond, however, in his enthusiastic way fixed up a considerable programme for me, so that I was forced to do rather more than to pay my expenses and rather less in the way of seeing the country. I was there, all told, between four and five months, and the fact that I was lecturing had the one advantage that it took me into some of the byways and smaller towns that I should not have otherwise visited.

“I came away from America with a deep admiration for both the country and the people; and much touched by all the kindness and even affection which I had encountered. It has left a lasting impression on my mind which the lapse of thirteen years has in no way effaced. I want to go again without having any work to do, and I want to go out West and Southwest. One feels that society with its highly organised life is to some degree the same everywhere throughout the world, but that the real distinctive America is that portion which is still finding itself, as it were, and has not yet set into its final form.

“I read Wells’s book on the subject the other day; it seemed to me to be very deep and very suggestive. I should think that Americans need not mind frank criticism from such a man as he, for his own mind is essentially democratic and American.

“But the fact is that these various dangers and drawbacks which one sees—the dangers of the great trusts—the dangers of violent labor unions— the dangers of the multi-millionaire—the dangers of individual character and violence becoming too strong for the organised legal machinery of the community—all these things are probably prominent problems to be solved by the human race, and only showing up in America because things move faster there and are on a large scale. But always behind the turmoil are ranked the millions of steady, solid, law-supporting citizens; and one knows that in the end all will be well.

“As I am speaking of America I remember one incident that comes back vividly to my mind. When I was there a strong wave of anti-British feeling was passing over the country. It was not shown offensively to the stranger within their gates, but one could hardly pick up any sort of newspaper without reading what was painful and usually untrue about one’s country. On one occasion at Detroit this feeling showed on the surface. A small supper was given to me by some kind and hospitable friends at a club there. We looked upon the wine when it was red, and at a late stage of the evening, politics having come up, one of the company made a speech in which he made a severe attack upon Great Britain. I asked my friend Robert Barr, who was in the chair, to allow me to answer the attack. This I did, speaking my mind out of the fulness of my heart. I think no one who was present could fail to have been surprised at the way in which after events bore out my remarks. What I said practically was:

“’You Americans have lived, up to now, within a ring fence of your own. Your country has become so vast, and you have so much to do in peopling it and opening it out, that you have never had to think seriously of outside international politics, and you have lived to some extent in a world of prejudice and of dreams. This period is now drawing swiftly to an end. Your country is filling up, and soon you will have surplus energies which will lead you on into world politics and bring you into closer actual relationships with the other powers. Then your friendships and your enmities will be guided, not by prejudice nor by hereditary dislikes, but by actual practical issues. When that days comes—and it is coming soon—you will find that the only people who will understand you—who will see what your aims are and who will heartily sympathise with you in them, are your own people, the men from whom you are sprung. In a great world-crisis you will find that you have no natural friend among the nations save your own kin; and to the last they will always be at your side!’

“Well, within three years came the Spanish war—the suggested European coalition against America—the strong attitude of Great Britain upon the subject. It was as good an illustration as one could desire of the prediction which I had made in my speech.

“We know very well on this side that if the case were reversed and we ourselves had to look for sympathy and understanding, all minor contentions would vanish in an instant and we should find a strong and true friend by our side.”


One little personal piece of information was given by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle which may make a fitting conclusion to this interview. It was the news of his approaching marriage. Sir Arthur is engaged to a young lady, Miss Jean Leckie of Crowborough, to whom he is to be married in September. His face lit up as he finished: “I am the most lucky of men. May I be worthy of my good fortune!”

The World (New York) 1907