Save Sherlock’s House

Actually it’s the creator of Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, whose country house is endangered. Undershaw House, built by Doyle in the Surrey countryside south of London in 1897 for his  invalid wife and family, is threatened by partition and “redevelopment” and an energetic preservation effort has emerged to secure its protection: the Save Undershaw Preservation Trust.  Photographs of the house in 1900 and today are from the Trust’s website and the BBC, along with one showing the Doyle family in residence at the height of a Surrey summer from the New York Public Library. 

Historic Preservation must be a local effort, but often a national, or even global, focus can really help.  Salem has certainly confronted its preservation challenges in the past, from the threatened “Witch House” (which I still prefer to call the Jonathan Corwin House) in the 1940s to urban renewal 20 years later.  Local preservationists were on the front line in both cases, but a timely article by famed architectural writer Ada Louise Huxtable in the New York Times (“Urban Renewal Plan Threatens Historic Sites in Salem, Mass.”, October 13, 1965) certainly helped to prevent the total levelling of downtown.  More recently, Walmart abandoned its plans to build a store on the Wilderness Battlefield in Virginia under pressure from a coalition of local and national preservation organizations, including the Civil War Trust.  I imagine there are voices in Britain saying we have so many old, Edwardian, authors’, country, etc….houses, we can’t save them all  but it looks like a pretty special house to me.

Arthur Conan Doyle sold Undershaw after the successive deaths of his wife and son, but in the two decades that the family was in residence he published several Sherlock stories and novels, including the Hound of the Baskervilles, serialized in the Strand Magazine from 1901-4.  A Strand cover is pictured below, along with one of Sidney Paget’s illustrations from Baskervilles, a sketch of Arthur Conan Doyle at the height of his fame, and–just to establish our Salem interest and connection–the box for Parker Brothers’ Sherlock Holmes Game from 1904.

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