Help the Undershaw Preservation Trust restore Arthur Conan Doyle's Residence
Undershaw in Hindhead, Surrey, United Kingdom, is the former residence of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his family. A fine example of late Victorian architecture, it was built in 1897 in an era when few houses were actually designed by the occupier.
Undershaw in 1897 with Mary and Kingsley in the driveway
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 Woolfe.
‘Undershaw’ was built by Conan Doyle so that his invalid wife Louise, who was suffering from tuberculosis, could benefit from Hindhead’s healthy microclimate 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.
Undershaw’s location added a few more years to Louise’s life, but she eventually died in 1906 and is buried in Grayshott churchyard, 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/ Neil Caffrey of Fossway Ltd purchased the building for development.
Conan Doyle outside Undershaw
Today, Undershaw stands sorrowfully empty, neglected and vandalised, Waverley Borough Council having granted the owners planning permission to carve up the literary, historic house into three flats, with five more homes built on its side. Modern town houses ….or maintained as the single dwelling that Conan Doyle designed and had built? The Undershaw Preservation Trust is vigorously working towards the latter.
Undershaw today as it stands sorrowfully neglected
The preferred vision of the Undershaw Preservation Trust would be to see it restored, in period style, the house, stable, well and grounds . . . all of which have survived 113 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 Chruchyard.
The Campaign -Where we are now?
John Gibson, founder of the UPT, has personally obtained Counsel’s opinion as to whether the planning permission granted by Waverley Borough Council was in fact unlawful. He is now in detailed discussion with solicitors who are preparing Judicial Review papers for submission to the Royal Courts of Justice to have WBC’s decision overturned. This information will be updated as soon as we receive further news. Running concurrently with this application for a Judicial Review is a complaint to the Local Government Ombudsman about Waverley Borough Council’s handling of Undershaw over the last 5 years. Further information on this will be given as and when available.
What can be done to help?
Anyone feeling stronglyabout this matter should make their representations known to: Mary Orton, the Chief Executive of Waverley Borough Council or Matthew Evans the Chief Planning Officer of Waverley Borough Council, Council Offices, The Burys, Godalming, Surrey, GU7 1HR. Ask them to use their best endeavours however onerous, to rectify the situation to save Undershaw for the Waverley area, and the nation as a single dwelling house so that options are left open for future use of the house as a small country hotel or even more desirably, a museum and cafeteria. Like the houses of Jane Austen at Chawton, Gilbert White at Selborne, Winston Churchill’s at Westerham and Kipling’s Bateman’s at East Sussex (all shown in the slideshow opposite) future generations can enjoy Doyle’s literary heritage. (Note: When writing your representations to the Council please ask for an acknowledgement and send further reminders if they are not forthcoming).
You can also help by giving the campaign as much publicity as possible through Facebook and Twitter and directing people to this site or our Facebook page.
Five Easy Ways to Help Save Undershaw
1. Like us on Facebook.
2. Suggest us to your Facebook friends using the ‘Share’ link at the bottom left of our Facebook page.
3. Follow @spiritangel04 on Twitter. Retweet our tweets so that your followers see them.
4. Tweet a #FollowFriday recommendation for us.
5. 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.
Introducing the members of the Undershaw Preservation Trust
Patron and Sponsor Mark Gatiss, Actor, Screenwriter and Novelist
We have the pleasure and utmost honour to welcome Mark Gatiss as our all important addition to the Trust. Mark has kindly accepted the role as patron and sponsor in our bid to save Undershaw.
A few words from Mark:
“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.”
A fabulous interview with Mark was carried out by BBC Radio Surrey, covering Sussex and Kent for their Drive Time. If you missed this interview you can listen to it again in the Media Coverage section on the right hand side of this page under ‘BBC Drive Time’
Founder and Director John Gibson, FRICS
John founded the Trust in 2009 to help preserve and protect Undershaw as a single dwelling, so that all options remain viable for the future. The Heritage Lottery Fund has indicated that it may match fund any money raised to save the historic house. John’s interest in Conan Doyle has taken him as far afield as Switzerland and California and he has assisted Sothebys, London and Pacific Book Auctions in San Francisco with Doyle collections. Having known Undershaw for over 40 years John has involved the Victorian Society in the property as well as campaigning for its future in the National Press and on national and international television, including coverage in Russia. He personally spoke at the planning committee hearing in 2006 , when the owners previous redevelopment application for Undershaw was rejected.
Co-founder and Assistant Director: Miss Lynn Gale
Lynn modestly says that she is an ordinary person who appreciates life. She is passionate about history and the people who make it and this has led her to her ‘incredible journey to save Conan Doyle’s home’. She would like to make history happen by extraordinarily resurrecting Undershaw, just as Sherlock Holmes was resurrected there. Lynn has spent a year researching the history of Conan Doyle and has campaigned with a passion to raise awareness of the need to save this historical landmark. Whilst in the throes of campaigning Lynn has been researching the idea of a TV documentary on Doyles time at Undershaw and the efforts that has been made to save it.
Co-founder and Assistant Director: Mrs Sue Meadows
Sue is an admirer of the many talents that Conan Doyle had, but his sense of justice particularly resonates with her. As the creator of the world’s most recognised fictitious character, he only once created and had built a house for himself and his family …. Undershaw. Within its walls his writing was prolific and he entertained many famous characters and literary luminaries there. The homes of less revered authors have been saved for worldwide followers to enjoy and, if Undershaw’s literay heritage and integrity are lost, a huge miscarriage of justice would be perpetrated. It would also deny Hindhead of a much needed focal point for its post tunnel regeneration.