Saturday, 30 January 2010

'Life's Mysteries - Your Key to Understanding' - New Book by Sheila Rigby

I have had many kind people assist with the campaign to save Undershaw in one way or another. Sheila Rigby from Manchester has not only introduced me to her grandson Sam who is happy to set up the Undershaw website for us, but has also introduced the campaign to William Roache MBE (aker Ken Barlow - Coronation Street). It is help like this that gets us noticed. It is not all about donations, although this would help in the long term, it's about gaining support from the nation and raising awareness of the need to save a national treasure.

Sheila has written a book entitled 'Life's Mysteries - Your Key to Understanding'. To check this very interesting read go to Sheila's website In return for her support I can return a small favour and that is to give this outstanding book a mention which can be ordered from all good book stores.

Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Help us to Save this House - Make History Happen!

As one fears time is running out for us to save Conan Doyle's house. Plans to convert this grade II listed building, which is full of nostalgia that can be felt as you enter the very heart of its grounds and within its walls, into a possible 4 flats and several town houses is approaching reality as each day passes.

The Trust therefore needs your help now! We have between £300.000.00 and £600.000.00 in the Trust funds and we need more to allow us to restore the building and create our Visitor Centre and open it to you the people worldwide. The shocking truth is that we need over £1.5 million. Gasp!!! The greatest offer of help so far has been an offer to carry out the renovation for us. This has given the Trust a further boost and the incentive to battle on.

This is not just a blog now, it has become a project and a passion for me and I don't want it to end. What I must endeavour to do, albeit difficult at times, is to remain positive throughout all of this and by doing so will create a positive outcome. The very meaning of The Undershaw Preservation Trust is something that I would like to see survive the next 100 years as Undershaw has done. You the public, across the sea, around the corner, next door and beyond can make this happen, please allow Conan Doyle to live on not only with his many books but through the very house where he sat and penned his most famous 'Hound of the Baskervilles' and where he revived Sherlock Holmes. The picture at the top left where the window is boarded up is the heraldic windows that Conan Doyle had fitted as an after thought for his mother.

Since starting this blog in early November, we have now formed an establishment that could create an historical phenomenon and you could be part of it! We have created an awareness of the actual existance of this building and of course 'us' the Trust and we wish to carry our dream on into reality.

Your pledges and offers of help will not go unnoticed. Should the Trust continue to thrive because of Undershaw being saved and it is saved because of you the people, your name will be recorded and will form a list of those eligible for acknowledgement from the Trust. Not quite sure as to what this will involve but something that will show our gratitude.

*The website that we were eagerly due to construct has been put on hold. I have experienced a few problems with its host and we will be looking to set up another once Undershaw's fate has been decided. If you experience problems sending us your pledge through the info@ address below then please contact the Trust's director, John Gibson on 01372 453147 or leave your details in the comments box at the end of this section.

I appreciate that there are more needy charities in our life, e.g the Haiti appeal, the list is endless and it is virtually impossible to help them all. Perhaps some of you feel saving the house is pointless and I respect that. History has played a big part in all our lives and will continue to do so - lets be part of it.




(All pledges please to with name, amount and contact details or *should problems occur complete the comments section with your details at the end of this post. We will be in touch.

Monday, 25 January 2010

Bits and Pieces

These curvy steps take you either down to Undershaw or up to the busy A3. I have been down these and the driveway many times recently looking for inspiration to save a property that once belonged to a litracy icon.

This section of my blog is just bits and pieces of Undershaw that I thought might be interesting to include. Photo's that perhaps may not mean anything, but to some could mean a great deal.
The picture shown on the left is the hut in the grounds of Undershaw, now buried amongst the overgrown hedges. Below are photo's of the inside of the hut where the hotel guests would have had their meals. In some of the earlier photographs of Undershaw a hut can be seen in the grounds. I wonder whether this is the same hut?
The two pictures shown below is what we believe was Conan Doyle's study. The window looks out on the terrace and what was the tennis court.

The ground floor window to the far right of the building is what we've assumed to have been Conan Doyle's study. Can anyone enlighten us?

Saturday, 23 January 2010

The Devils Punchbowl Hotel

A meeting with a certain charity took place yesterday at the Devils Punchbowl Hotel, pictured above, to discuss their possible uses for Undershaw.

I took them down to the site of Undershaw in the pouring rain to see a bedraggled building. Rain was pouring from its gutters, windows boarded up, some were smashed and some were open allowing the rain to pour in. Overall our building was in a sorrowful state, which saddened me through and through. We had been assured by Waverley Borough Council that all efforts of security and repairs had been adhered too. It was obvious that no security personnel were present and we were free to roam the site. A Repair Notice was served on the current owners of this grade II listed building over a year ago. With the building still requiring the owners to take action on its state, it is now time for Waverley Borough Council to consider serving a Compulsory Purchase Order on the owner to prevent Undershaw from becoming less desirable to the likes of people that really care. How can the current owners do this to a building that is cloaked in so much history. It appears to me that they are just leaving it to slowly rot so that it is beyond repair and the council will have no option but to allow their plans to go through. The charity concerned thought the price the owners might be looking for would probably be too high for them. They thought the building had a very strong pulling power which gave them food for thought on departing.

I returned with my colleague to the Devils Punchbowl Hotel to dry off and to chat about our hopes and fears for Undershaw over a coffee. In doing this the new proprieter's of the Devils Punchbowl Hotel, Sonia and Fiyaz Rehman expressed their support for the building and very kindly accepted to publicise our campaign within their hotel, allowing brochures, cards and fliers to be placed in the hotel reception area, bar, and bedrooms.

The hotel, being contempory to Undershaw has been the venue for several of our awareness days and we look forward to scheduling our next event there. This will hopefully be the visit by the BBC once they have confirmed their rescheduled date.

The rates at the hotel are very competitive and range from £45.00 per night B&B for a double room. I can fully recommend the hotel, the atmosphere, entertainment, surroundings and good service all form part of the delight in staying there and once the busy A3 closes it will also provide a more peaceful setting.

Although all their guests receive a very warm reception an extra welcome will be made to those supporting the Undershaw Preservation Trust. You may even wish to take a step back in time and take a stroll down to Undershaw to marvel at the building where Conan Doyle penned 'The Hound of the Baskervilles'. You will see for yourself what a disgrace it is that the owners and council have allowed this building of history to become so neglected. The Undershaw Preservation Trust are keen to see the building restored to its former glory and opened to the public as a Museum and cafeteria.

The Trust would like to thank Sonia and Fiyaz (all the way from Spain) for their help to save Undershaw for the community. Their understanding to the cause has created a new boost to the campaign.

Friday, 22 January 2010

BBC Visit

I have this morning sent an e-mail to the BBC chasing up their proposed visit to Undershaw. Richard Doyle who is Conan Doyle's great nephew has offered to attend the visit and carry out an interview with the BBC and has recently been in contact asking whether a new date had been set.

Should the BBC decide to shelve their visit, I have a back up plan and have made a few enquiries for which I await an answer probably after the weekend. This will be greatly disappointing if the BBC now decide not to go ahead with their visit and will be a knock back for the Trust as this would have given us the publicity we urgently need to keep the momentum going all the while the new movie is still in the cinema. Plans have yet to be submitted by the developers and we eagerly await their content. Objection from the Trust will be put forward to Waverley Borough Council in the hope that they will look sympathetically at our proposals. This may prove difficult as we believe the Council will undoubtedly back the developers plans. Can you believe this!

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Sherlock Holmes actor investigated Spiritualism

Just a little piece of interesting news for those of you that follow this belief. It was reported recently in Psychic News that actor Robert Downey Jr., currently starring as Sherlock Holmes in Guy Ritchie's film about the famous Conan Doyle detective, admits to a serious interest in Spiritualism when he was younger.

He told Bang Media International he used to attend Spiritualist meetings regularly.

He said, "I used to go the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Spiritual Society and listen to mediums as they shared the intimate goings on of the recently deceased with their loved ones".

This all happened 20 years ago when he was filming Air America.

On the movie website Rotten Tomatoes he states: "It was a curiosity. I was a kid. By the way, I don't believe in it or not believe. It is what it is, and there are certain realms of activity where you can get information".

The actor believes his interest makes him share a bond with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who wrote the Sherlock Holmes stories, as the author was, as Downey put it, "fascinated by Spiritualism".

"Doyle was a serious Spiritualist," he said. "He was in touch with a lot of intuitive folks".

Sherlock Holmes is currently showing in cinemas nationwide.

Saturday, 16 January 2010

Restoration and the BBC

Just checking through the blog and despite being snowed in here at Hindhead, I shamefully did not write anything for almost a week. Athough I have remained silent for several days it doesn't mean that I am not working behind the scenes to research other areas in which we could save Undershaw. There might be something in the pipeline but one does not give up with finding other ways to prevent the developers from creating a glorified housing estate with modern apartments which would take away the historical feeling that currently exists within the grounds, house and site.

It was pointed out to me recently that the BBC will be resurrecting a version of the celebrated heritage programme but sadly without Griff Rhys Jones, the former presenter.

A BBC spokesman said: "the new programme, which has already begun filming, would be different from Restoration with a different presenter. It is about individuals renovating listed buildings. These are not public restoration projects and there will be no public vote"

But he confirmed that the working title remains Restoration and that it is being made by Endermol, the production company behind the first three series, and with the same series editor.

I made contact with Endermol giving them a brief history of Undershaw. They thought it would be a very exciting project but not for this new series, as the project will be based on privately owned listed houses. They very kindly took my details should they need to contact me for any future programmes. Although this was a promising response, time is running out to save Undershaw and any new programmes may not be planned in time to save the building.

Sunday, 10 January 2010

Grade I Status Refused in 2007

Campaigners have tried desperately hard to alter the status of Undershaw from Grade II listed to Grade I but were unsuccessful in 2007 when Tessa Jowel the then Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, refused its change of status and in a report in the Guardian said:
"I share your admiration for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (In praise of .... February 8th), but I disagree with those campaigning for Undershaw, his home for just 10 years, to be grade I listed. This was not the place where Sherlock Holmes was created, nor where his final stories were written. It is, in fact, an unremarkable late-19th-century domestic house with a later extension and with many of the internal features long gone. I accept the advice from English Heritage that it is part of our literary history and that's why it is listed at grade II. The building most closely associated with Holmes is 221b Baker Street. I would be only too pleased to consder listing that building Grade I should such a request come forward".

Did Tessa Jowell make the right decision or in doing so did she sign away a life line for Undershaw?

In an article in the Psychic News dated 20th June 2009 in an article on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and a reply to Tessa Jowell's actions the following was published:

"It was quite disgraceful that in 2007 the then Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Tessa Jowell, turned down a bid by the Victorian Society to award the house listed status. Ms Jowell thereby consigned it to an uncertain future, perhaps even demolition, to make way for speculative housing. The spurious excuse offered was that it was not of sufficient literary importance. Camparisons were made with the revered domiciles of Jane Austen, the Brontes and other authors. These writers were important in their time, and deserve the appropriate recognition, but the years, and therefore cultural values, move on. We now have modern authors equally deserving, one of whom is surely Sir Arthur Conan Doyle".

Will our new campaign to save this building have better luck or will we lose Undershaw to speculative housing! Has its fate already been decided or can we turn things around to prevent the loss of our heritage?

Now and Then

I would like to put together a piece here which shows photo's of areas of Undershaw as it was and as it looks today. Putting this section together all depends whether I have the photo's in my collection to enable me to make it an interesting read. I will endeavour to try and capture the glamour of the Victorian era. The first of the photo's show the entrance hall of Undershaw with the fireplace in all its splender and as it is now sorrowfully neglected.The heraldic windows that you see on the left of each picture have now been partially vandalised and this is the sad sorry state that Undershaw has been allowed to get into since the current owners took it over. With such an history to the building this should have never been allowed. Who do we blame for the tragic state of one of our national treasures? Do we blame the Council, the current owners or Tessa Jowel or even us the campaigners for not doing more sooner rather than later?
The pictures shown either side here shows the one of two entrances to Undershaw, the picture on the right is how it looks now, boarded up and sorrowfully neglected and on the left when it was a thriving family home, a photograph of Conan Doyle on his motorised bicycle.

I am trying to find more photo's to compare the building. If anyone has any they would like to share on this post please contact me at Thank you.

Friday, 8 January 2010

Breaking News - BBC London News to Reschedule Undershaw Feature

Just to let you all know that the BBC have just called to postpone their visit to Undershaw on Monday 11th January because of inclement weather conditions. They will be in touch to reschedule their visit later hopefully that week. They believe that with all the snow that has fallen and more on its way, the news will dominate this and not show Undershaw at its best.

I will keep you all updated here. Keep safe and warm and do not venture out unless necessary.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Breaking News - BBC London News to Visit Undershaw

I have today received a phone call from the BBC to say that pending weather conditions journalists and a filmcrew will be down at Undershaw from 12.00 noon on Monday 11th January to film an article for their news programme. The developers will open Undershaw for the crew to film inside the building. We are hoping to have a couple of VIP guests attend and again this is pending their availability and of course snow conditions.

Undershaw in the Snow

Hindhead was the centre piece of the ITV London News last night with the A3 causing massive traffic delays because of all the snow that has fallen here. About 1,000 people were trapped in snow and some delayed for up to 15 hours on Tuesday evening. If only I had known at the time I would have taken them a warm drink followed by several fliers advertising our campaign to save Undershaw. Only joking!!!

I did in fact take a walk down to the A3 yesterday armed with camera to snap a few scenes of Undershaw enveloped in snow for any enthusiasts that would like to see what a lovely Christmas scene Conan Doyle's house would make. After scrambling down the hill and falling several times into the cold snow I did in fact capture Undershaw snow covered. By the time I had finished I too was covered in the cold wet stuff and was made to suffer for a further 20 minutes whilst I walked home freezing to a welcomed open fire where I very quickly dried off and became the correct temperature again.

Just behind this row of trees lies Undershaw - the main A3 here will be closed and the new tunnel road will open in 2012. Undershaw will lie peaceful once more and hopefully the apartments that we are fighting to prevent will be mere history!!

Pending weather conditions, Hindhead will be the centre of attention next week, when BBC London News will be reporting on Undershaw.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

The History of Undershaw and The Campaign to Save for Future Generations

Conan Doyle purchased 4 acres of very steeply inclined land at the crossroads of Hindhead, Surrey, close to the Devil's Punchbowl, at a height of 800 feet, for £1,000.00.

His wife, Louise at this time suffered for the last 3 years with tuberculosis and the high altitude air was considered helpful to the condition. Doyle employed his friend, the architect Joseph Bell, to design the house to his plans, and the house of about 7,500 square feet was built for about £5,000.00. He moved into the property in October 1897 with his wife and 2 young children.

Doyle was visited at this house by Bram Stoker, pictured on the left the author of Dracula, Barrie the author of Peter Pan, Hornung the author of Raffles, and many other notable people - the visitors book still exists.

It was in this house that Doyle wrote "The Hound of the Baskervilles" and "The Return of Sherlock Holmes". He also defended Britain's actions in the BOER War with his 'Cause and Conduct' of the war for which he was awarded his knighthood. He also defended George Edalji and obtained his release from prison - an action that directly contributed to the establishment of the Court of Criminal Appeal.

Doyle's 10 year occupation of this house was also a traumatic period in his personal life with the courtship of his second wife during the final 9 years of his first wife's life - she died in 1906 - Doyle moved out a year later on his second marriage, his new wife Jean, did not wish to live in the house built for his first wife. When he left in 1907, his best work was largely behind him from a literary point of view. He did not sell the house but let it for a further 14 years finally selling in 1921 - after the death of his son Kingsley from the flu pandemic in 1918 removed any chance that he would occupy.

A wing of about 2,500 square feet was added to the side of the building in the mid-1920's. The property was sold to the Bridger family as an investment in 1935 and remained with the Bridger's until sold to the current owners in February 2004. The various tenants over that 69 year period were essentially under capitalised and thus few very major alterations took place, and the property remains in a 'time warp' largely as built. With many of his personal touches - heraldic windows, ornamental finger-plates, doors and room layout, low riser staircase - so not to exhaust his wife, his billiard room, study, kitchen - with the original brick lined well under the floor, it still even has its original windows (metal framed) and its pull down blind on the front elevation and orginal front door. The early motor house and stables still have the orginal water channelled floor and wrought iron stalls for the horses.

When Undershaw was offered for sale six years ago as an 'Investment/Development Opportunity' (from the agent's particulars in my possession) for £1 million plus, it was obvious that the current tenant's rent of £12,500 would have been multiplied many times to represent an adequate/viable return as an hotel investment. The purchaser Fossway Limited (incorporated in the British Virgin Islands) of St Helier, Jersey (from Land Registry records) paid £1.1 million in February 2004.

I cite Councillor Fay Foster's written comments in April 2006 to the previous application to redevelop: "A literary weekend, run by Haslemere Initiative last year, introduced the building to a large number of people, all of whom agreed on its architectural merit and its importance as a literary monument. The people running the hotel and restaurant there said that business was good but that their landlords wanted to maximise their asset and make more money out of the site....." etc.

Also, Lyn Heigl, written comments in April 2006: "I have enjoyed Undershaw in the last couple of years as a restaurant and taken Chinese, German, French, Australian and other friends there because they are delighted to be in Conan Doyle's former house. I have also recently attended a excellent Waverley Borough Council seminar encouraging people to open Bed and Breakfast premises because of the shortage of accommodation in the area ...." etc.

The tenant's vacated in May 2005 and within a few months, with no security on the property it was effectively trashed. The owners presided over dereliction - lead was stolen from the roof - water poured through 3 floors of the property, windows were smashed - including the heraldic window (partially broken), Elks antlers mounted over the front door by Doyle were immediately stolen. One of the finest literary houses in Surrey and almost unique in the South East as having been designed for the owner, was rendered totally uninhabitable. Where the creator's of the two most iconic characters in all fiction (Holmes and Dracula) sat and conversed water ran out of the ceiling rose and soaked the floors.

The rent of the tenant's of £12,500 would only have provided a minute proportion of the returns required on Fossways' capital investment. The purchase price reflected a vast 'hope value' element for "development opportunity" - the value of Undershaw lay in as many residential units on the site as the planners might permit.

The house, stables and beautiful grounds - Bram Stoker described the view as "an endless sea of greenery", should be left entirely undeveloped for future generations, it has survived 112 years and should be allowed to continue and not destroy the character, ambience and integrity of Doyle's vision in 1896. In the light of the foregoing I am of the opinion that Waverley Borough Council should refuse change of use from Restaurant/Hotel, or perhaps Museum/Cafeteria, and that at the right price - to reflect nil development opportunity and accrued dilapidations - this property would readily find a purchaser as an owner occupied lifestyle restaurant/bed and breakfast for heritage tourism. The owner's residence providing major consideration. The fact that it has not done so is that the asking price is, I understand £1,250.000, which, of course is rediculous. The local authority should never have discussed with the owners any prospect of division of this house with solid walls dividing this residence from ground to roof into 3 or 4 separate units. The developer has speculated (all developments are speculative) and it must fail. The value on the basis of nil development and dilapidations will be vastly less than the developers expenditure.

Waverley Borough Council served a Repair Notice on this property over a year ago - it has largely not be complied with - lead has not been returned to the roof, windows (including the heraldic window) still remain broken - although the time limit for the Repair Notice has long passed no Compulsory Purchase Order to protect the nation's heritage has been served.

This case has attracted national and international attention and it is important to show that the world's literary heritage is of more concern than developer's profit. I understand that a new planning application is imminent and it is important that the word goes out that it is not the duty of planners, in any degree, to, in the circumstances of similar cases, 'bale out' developer's speculative errors.

The vision of the Undershaw Preservation Trust is to restore the house, grounds and stables as close to how they would have been in 1900 - photographs are available. Furnish in period style. Use the later wing - opened up as an exhibition/lecture hall. The property would be a Sherlock Holmes/Doyle museum and cafeteria. It would exhibit in conjunction with the Portsmouth Museum's 50,000 item Doyle collection - of my late friend and associate Richard Lancelyn Green. Coach trips from London could have Sherlock Holmes tours calling at Undershaw, Portsmouth Museum, and the grave of Conan Doyle in Minstead Churchyard in the New Forest. It could certainly be a self-supporting enterprise. Trees could be thinned to provide views from Hindhead crossroads down the Nutcombe Valley to the South Downs, a bronze statue of Sherlock Holmes could be discreetly placed at the corner of the property with the crossroads. It should be noted that the whole of Doyle's first family are buried in the nearby Grayshott churchyard as previosly posted. John Gibson, FRICS

Saturday, 2 January 2010

Could Undershaw Become a Family Home Again?

Fresh news albeit just a whisper could be just what Undershaw needs; to revert back to a family run home.

I recall a telephone conversation that I had last year with Richard Doyle expressing that his mother Georgina Doyle would like to see Undershaw being used as a family run house again. Could this be the answer?

Early indications show that 2010 has been a good start for our efforts to resurrect Undershaw. Lets hope that it will continue to attract positive results.

The picture of Undershaw on the left was taken just after Conan Doyle moved in , in 1897 and shows his children Kingsley and Mary in the drive.

The picture on the right was uncovered recently in the entrance hall of Undershaw. Click on the pictures to enlarge.

Friday, 1 January 2010

The Final Resting Places for Conan Doyle and his Family

During my research of Conan Doyle I have learnt many things, one being that several of his family are laid to rest in the local cemetary at Grayshott which is not far from the family home of Undershaw.

Arthur's mother, Mary Josephine Doyle, his first wife Louise, his son Kingsley and daughter Mary Louise are all buried in the lovely church of St Lukes in the popular village of Grayshott.

Arthur and his second wife are buried at the New Forest Church of All Saints, Minstead. Conan Doyle a devoted Spiritualist, he was first buried in an upright position in the garden of his home at Crowborough in East Sussex in 1930. His second wife was buried alongside him ten years later. Waning family fortunes led to the sale of the house, but the graves remained until 1955 when the family decided to fulfil Lady Jean's original wish that they be buried together at All Saints. So early one morning a double lead casket containing the remains of Sir Arthur and Lady Jean was delivered to the churchyard. A huge double grave had been dug all the previous day. After a short private ceremony the couple were laid - horizontally - to rest, and a public announcement was made about who had arrived.

Conan Doyle's interest in spiritualism was a mild embarrassment to the Church. Ever prepared to compromise, the Church of England agreed he could come to the churchyard - but buried his remains by the far boundary. Perhaps the Almighty had stronger views? The oak tree over the grave still bears the scars of being struck by lightening twice - the last time in 1969. Whether this was a sign of approval or displeasure has yet to be revealed .....

All Saints' Church, Minstead, New Forest. Photography by Geoff Roberts.