It is hard to imagine the former home of the legendary Sir Arthur Conan Doyle being allowed to fall into disrepair. And as recently as 2004 the grand old home Undershaw served as a hotel. But after the hotel closed Virgin Islands company Fosseway Limited purchased the property, and as grubby developers do, intended to turn it into flats. But planning permission was refused, and for years Undershaw lay silent and vulnerable to vandals.
The home in which Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote The Hound of the Baskervilles, that had hosted the likes of Bram Stoker, Virginia Woolf and J.M. Barrie, was repeatedly spray-painted, smashed and pilfered while the owners did nothing and the council was forced to fit padlocks onto a door that gave access to the entire house. Amongst the wreckage lay shards of the stained-glass windows bearing the family’s bearing ancestral coats of arms.
In 2010 Fosseway Limited again attempted to get planning permission for eight flats and three additional houses on the grounds. At this point a determined group of Sherlock Holmes fans, The Undershaw Preservation Trust, supported by their patron, Sherlock co-creator Mark Gatiss, stepped in and won an injunction to stop redevelopment plans. However attempts to have the house turned into a museum failed. An attempt to have the home listed as a historical building was met with a spectacular display of genre snobbery, with the government claiming that Conan Doyle “cannot be said to be an author of the standing of, for example, Charles Dickens or Jane Austen.”
In 2014 Undershaw was purchased by the DFN Charitable Foundation for Stepping Stones School. Undershaw will now be restored for use as a school for children with disabilities. The DFN Foundation stated that “we are totally committed to the restoration of this building to its unique status as the cradle of so much of Conan Doyle’s genius. Our restoration plans encompass all of the original buildings, including the stable block. The features which made Undershaw special, specifically the stained glass windows and our proposal to faithfully re-create Conan-Doyle’s study is very exciting and will be enjoyed by our children and visitors. We very much hope the local community and Conan Doyle enthusiasts from around the world will join us in visiting Undershaw and use some of the facilities which will be created.”
Now sixty of the world’s leading Sherlock Holmes continuation authors will generously contribute to the largest ever anthology of new Sherlock stories. The royalties from the project will assist the DFN Foundation in specific projects at Undershaw, particularly the restoration of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous book-lined study where he created so many Sherlock Holmes stories . Pre-orders for The MX Book of New Sherlock Holmes Stories, in three volumes, are selling well, with more than £3000 raised so far, passing the initial £2000 goal in just two days.
“The response has been incredible,” says publisher Steve Emecz. “David insisted all the stories should be new, but traditional in format so they are all set sometime between 1881 and 1929 and feature Holmes and Watson in their original Victorian setting. I don’t think we will ever see a collection on a scale like this again. The authors are so passionate about Undershaw and its new role as a special school, which is why so many have taken part”.