Friday, 20 November 2009

Sherlock would have been appalled

A letter in the Haslemere Herald last week from Mr John Gibson read:

"It is doubtful whether Mr Sherlock Holmes will have seen the article on the front page of your last issue (as he is bee-keeping in East Sussex and the blight that has recently endangered his hives), recording the singular decision of the owners of Undershaw and the National Trust on a proposed 'display board' some distance from the house detailing its history, whilst the house itself is converted into residential units. Therefore as a humble chronicler of some of his cases you will perhaps allow me to express my utmost indignation at this ludicrous proposal to treat the home of the literary agent of my writings in such a manner.

Three years ago the planning committe of Waverley Borough Council unanimously turned down an application to convert the house into separate units; why, therefore have officers of the council continued to discuss with the owner's architect just such proposals again against the previous decision? The original house is only 7,500 sq ft and renovated would, at the correct price, be a very saleable unit, and far cheaper than the verticle division into separate units. The literary agent's stable - still existing with the stalls as built, should remain untouched - he kept his horse 'Brigadier' and rode to hounds from here.

The owners of this house have in the last four-and-a-half years presided over the dereliction of this property with lead stripped from the roof, broken heraldic window etc. A Repair Notice was served on this property over a year ago - the lead has not been renewed and the heraldic window remains broken.

I also understand that there is now nobody in attendance at the property during weekday daylight hours.

The local authority argues that plans are being prepared - but only to permanently divide the house into separate units, and consequently bar public access, a scheme already rejected by the planning committee. Parking is severely restricted on this site, due to the sloping terrain, and the less units there are the better in this regard.

Would the National Trust houses of Winston Churchill (Chartwell) and Kipling's (Bateman's) or even Jane Austen's house at Chawton be considered suitable for conversion to apartments and with a 'display board' at some distance to explain the history? I do not think so. Undershaw is one of the major literary houses of Surrey and essential for Hindhead's regeneration and the local tourist industry.

The omniscience of Sherlock's brother, Mycroft, has so far failed at the highest level, although I hold out hope for some funds from the Heritage Lottery Fund (Compton Gallery received £4.3 M)

Mr Gibson, who is not without some funds in his Trust, assures me, that as a very firm believer in an open democracy, he would be pleased to debate, particulary with the principle players, exclusively in the correspondence columns of this newspaper, any of the above-mentioned points on this heritage matter.

I trust that second and better thoughts may prevail, and in the meantime subscribe myself,
Your humble but indignant servant, John H Watson M.D; 221B Baker Street, London, W1.

As discussed and dictated to:
Mr J M Gibson, FRICS, Director, Undershaw Preservation Trust
Note: Should you wish to write something in support of Undershaw to the 'Editors Letter's' section of the Haslemere Herald, this would show immense support to our cause, you can write to the Editor by post to: 114/115 West Street, Farnham, Surrey, GU9 7HL or e-mail to: e-mails must contain full postal address.

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