It has been reported in a national newspaper that a £25million Sherlock Holmes visitor attraction is being planned near the former home of his creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
But before you get too excited, this is his home in Portsmouth not Crowborough.
The Mirror reports that the Sherlock Holmes theme park would be a multi-media attraction featuring rides and recreations of places like 221B Baker Street.
Broadcaster and writer Gyles Brandreth welcomes the idea of a theme park. Gyles has been a big Sherlock fan since he was a boy, when he lived in the same block as 221B Baker Street. His acclaimed Oscar Wilde Murder Mysteries series, features Arthur Conan Doyle, and he nominated the author for the Radio 4 series Great Lives.
Gyles Brandreth told CrowboroughLife:
Well, why not? If it’s brilliantly done . . . I love the simplicity of the 221B Baker Street in the upstairs room at the Sherlock Holmes pub behind Charing Cross.
‘The Sherlock Holmes’ pub in London which Gyles refers to has a replica of Holmes’ sitting room and study.
In response, the Curator of the Conan Doyle Establishment in Crowborough, Brian Pugh said:
The news regarding the proposal that Portsmouth is to get a new Sherlock Holmes attraction is of course very interesting. Providing that the attraction is tastefully done and involves both Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes I can see that it would be of interest. Some newspapers are calling it a ‘theme park’ I do not like the sound of that, but until further details are known, it is difficult to comment on.
Why shouldn’t their be a Sherlock Holmes theme park? He is, after all, the world’s most famous fictional detective, and if Florida can have the ‘Wizarding World of Harry Potter’, why can’t there be something similar to capitalise on Sherlock Holmes in Britain. And as the recent contemporary makeover on BBC1 has shown, there is still a massive appetite for Sherlock Holmes stories. Chatham has Dickens World, perhaps there should be something similar for Conan Doyle.
But why Portsmouth? If there is a be an attraction, why isn’t Crowborough being considered as a suitable location?
Well, Crowborough isn’t the only place with a claim on the man and his work. He was born in Scotland, studied medicine in Edinburgh, and wrote ‘The Hound of the Baskervilles’ whilst living in Surrey. And Conan Doyle lived in Portsmouth for eight years, and started writing the Sherlock Holmes stories whilst there.
In 1982 he arrived off a coastal steamer from Plymouth. He soon set up a GP practice in nearby Southsea. He married his first wife, the sister of a former patient, and threw himself into the life of the town, even becoming goalkeeper for the local football team. He also began writing fiction, initially short stories and historical novels. The character Sherlock Holmes made his first appearance in ‘A Study of Scarlet’, published in ‘Beeton’s Christmas Annual’ in 1887.
Also in 2004 the City of Portsmouth was bequeathed a collection of Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes memorabilia. Richard Lancelyn Green was a millionaire, and had a lifelong obsession with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and was considered the world leading authority on the man and his work. When Lancelyn Green died at the ago of 50, his collection was donated to the City Library as a thank you for their help with his research. The exhibition features interactive displays and a narration by the collection’s patron, Stephen Fry.
Curator of the Conan Doyle (Crowborough) Establishment, Brian Pugh says:
Perhaps an improved and much larger display of the Richard Lancelyn Green collection at the city museum would be a better idea, at the present it is a really great exhibition, but could include much more in a larger site.
But what about Crowborough’s associations with the author:
After his first wife died, Conan Doyle married Jean Leckie in 1907. Later that year they bought a house called Little Windlesham on Hurtis Hill in Crowborough, close to Jean’s family. Windlesham Manor is now a family-run care home.
In 1910 he was elected Captain of nearby Crowborough Beacon Golf Club. His study looked-out to the clubhouse, and he had a clear view of the course, whereas today the scene is obscured by trees.
Conan Doyle spent the last 23-year of his life living in Crowborough. In 1930, he died of a heart-attack at the age of 71. His body was buried in the Rose Garden at Windlesham, but he was later reinterred, together with his wife, in Minstead churchyard in the New Forest.
For many years, one of the bars at The Cross pub housed a collection of Conan Doyle photographs, illustrations, maps, and other memorabilia. And in 2001, a life-sized bronze of the author by David Cornell, was erected at Cloke’s Corner, with the financial help from the Town Council and various other donations.
We also now have Cafe Baskerville and the road names ‘Sherlock Shaw’ and ‘Watson Way’ on the new housing development behind the White Hart.
A number of years ago, Brian Pugh and John Hackworth (assistant Curator of the Establishment) published a booklet and map, giving guided walks showing the local connections to Conan Doyle.
But Curator Brian Pugh says the Conan Doyle (Crowborough) Establishment have been looking for a new location for the their collection of memorabilia, and thinks the refurbishment of The Cross public house might offer an opportunity:
Crowborough has never capitalised on its association with Conan Doyle, at the unveiling of the Conan Doyle statue, it was stated that the statue would encourage visitors. I do not think that this has really happened, but I could be wrong. There are little or no souvenirs of Conan Doyle or Holmes available and there is a distinct lack of accommodation.
The Conan Doyle (Crowborough) Establishment have for many years been looking for a permanent location for our modest Conan Doyle collection, we had it previously located at The Crowborough Cross Public House, Groombridge Place and Beacon Community College, it is all now in storage. An ideal location for a Crowborough Museum would be at the Town Hall, if it ever became vacant, this could house not only our collection but also artifacts that the town council might have. Perhaps if the Crowborough Cross is refurbished, opened and renamed the Conan Doyle, we could loan our collection for display there.
Do you think there should be a permanent home found for a Conan Doyle exhibition in the town? Share your thoughts on Facebook.
East Sussex County Council – local history.
Listen to a recording of Conan Doyle – broadcast as a part of the Radio 4 Great Lives series.
‘The Sherlock Homes’ pub and restaurant.