London People: ‘Sherlock’s’ Homes

Tomorrow, for Sherlock Holmes fans everywhere, Soul City Wanderer will present Sherlock’s Grand London Day Out, a definitive tour of the detective’s haunts.

As a prelude, here is a short essay on the residencies of the Sherlock Holmes author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.


Arthur Conan Doyle was born in Scotland on May 22nd, 1859 to Irish parents. As a young boy he lived with his family at 11 Picardy Place, Edinburgh. As a schoolboy, he temporarily lodged at Liberton Bank House on Gilmerton Road in the south-eastern suburbs of the city, then at 3 Sciennes Place tenements in Marchmont, just outside the city centre.

He was later sent to be educated at the Hodder and Stoneyhurst schools near Preston, Lancashire and at a Jesuit school in Austria.

Doyle studied medicine at the renowned Edinburgh University. Where he was heavily influenced by his medical tutor and mentor Doctor Joseph Bell. Indeed, Doyle dedicated his first Sherlock Holmes adventure, A Study in Scarlet to Bell. Doyle had Holmes employ the deduction techniques that Bell used to ascertain the cause of death or disease.

After he had graduated, Doyle worked his way around the world as a ship’s medic. When he returned to Britain in 1882, he travelled the country working at various medical practices in Birmingham, Bristol and Plymouth, before boarding a boat (!) to Portsmouth where he set up his own practice at No.1 Bush Villas, Elm Grove, Southsea.

In 1885, Doyle married Louise Hawkins (a former patient) at St Oswald’s church, Thornton-in-Lonsdale, in the Lake District (his mother lived nearby). Their reception was held at the local Marton Arms pub, and they honeymooned in Ireland.

It took some time to build up a clientele of regular patients at Southsea, and there were long periods of inactivity. To compensate, he looked to exercise the body and mind. For the body, he played goalkeeper and defender for Portsmouth football club. For the mind, he created perhaps the most famous literary character in history. Sherlock Holmes first appeared in print in A Study in Scarlet in 1887 and The Sign of Four followed in 1890.

A daughter, Mary, was born in Portsmouth in 1889. Doyle returned to study in Austria and also Italy for about a year. Then, after eight years in Southsea, Doyle made the decision to open a practice in London.

He had already visited the capital several times to discuss a publishing contract for his new literary creation, and stayed for a short while at The Langham Hotel in London.

In 1891, following the publication of The Sign of Four, Doyle moved with his young family to Montague Place in Bloomsbury, next to the British Museum (he ascribes the adjacent Montague Street as Holmes’s address before the move to Baker Street).

Doyle opened an eye practice at No. 2 Upper Wimpole Street in Marylebone. It was right next to the legendary medical consultancies of Harley Street, and Doyle wanted to “live among the big men.” A blue plaque marks the house.

However, things did not quite work out on the practice front. Doyle recalled: Every morning I walked from the lodgings at Montague Place, reached my consulting-room at ten and sat there until three or four, with never a ring to disturb my serenity.

In 1891, as his writing career was taking off, Doyle decided to “cut the painter and trust the power of writing.” In what he described as “one of the great moments of exultation in my life”, he shut his practice and moved the family to the ‘isolated’ No. 12 Tennison Road in the suburb of Norwood in the ‘howling desert of south London‘. It was here that many of the Sherlock stories were written, and of course, accounts for the Holmes adventure title The Norwood Builder and Major Sholto’s Norwood address in The Sign of Four. There is a blue plaque on the house today.

Less than two years later, the author killed off his hero. However, a public outcry forced Doyle to resurrect the detective ten years later, and he managed to survive as a literary character for another 25-odd years.

In 1895-96 Doyle travelled through Egypt. When he returned, as his wife had become ill, he had his heart set on moving the family once again, this time to Hindhead in Surrey. The house there, Undershaw, took time to rebuild so the family stayed in temporary residences at Moorlands in Hindhead and Haslemere. They finally moved into their new home in 1897.

At the turn of the century Doyle served as a medical officer in South Africa during the Boer War. Shortly afterwards, he published a 60,000-word tract about the war for which he was knighted in 1902. He also tried unsuccessfully to be elected as an MP in Edinburgh.

After his first wife died in 1906, Doyle married his second wife, Jean Leckie, in 1907. He then moved home for the last time, to Windlesham in Crowborough, Sussex.

During World War One, Doyle, now well into his 50s, served on the French and Italian fronts. In the 1920s, he travelled the world on his own ‘spiritualist mission’, touring Australia, New Zealand and the United States.

It was at Windlesham that Doyle died of a heart attack on July 7, 1930. He was buried in All Saint’s Church, Minstead in the New Forest, Hampshire. 

I yearned for the glades of the New Forest.” (Dr Watson –The Cardboard Box).

Make sure you check back tomorrow for ‘Sherlock’s Grand Day Out’. Soul City Wanderer’s elementary tour of the detective’s London haunts for Sherlock fans everywhere.


Sources

Doyle, Arthur Conan. Complete Sherlock Holmes. Penguin. 1981.
Doyle, Arthur Conan. Memories and Adventures. Wordsworth. 2007.

Published by Soul City Wanderer

Soul City Wanderer is the alias of London journalist and author Frank Molloy, a writer on the city’s history and culture. Born south of the river, he has an MA in London history (Birkbeck) and lectures at various institutions including the Museum of London and the National Portrait Gallery. He is also a fully-qualified Blue Badge Guide (MITG), Westminster Guide and City of London Guide.

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