Sherlock’s home: the disgrace of Undershaw’s malign neglect

Mixed reviews so far for the BBC’s updating of the classic detective stories with its Sunday night Sherlock series. But there is universal agreement that what one Surrey council is allowing to happen to Sherlock Holmes’s creator’s former home, Undershaw, is a matter of national disgrace.

Waverley borough council has granted planning permission for the building at Hindhead – where Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote The Hound of the Baskervilles – to be chopped up into flats.

Undershaw was built in prime walking country on Surrey heathland south of Guildford in 1893 for Conan Doyle. Sir Arthur lived there with his ailing wife, Touie, until her death in 1907.

The house is perhaps of less architectural interest than its importance as a piece of Doyle heritage – the great writer co-designed the building, which is a large example of the late Victorian style. But the building is Grade II listed, and is widely regarded as an ideal location for a Sherlock Holmes museum.

Undershaw pictured four years ago: the Save Undershaw website has more recent pictures that show the building's decay

Given the number of good-sized, family houses that many councils, including Croydon, allow to be bulldozed to make way for ugly flats, the malign neglect that has befallen Undershaw over the past six years is on the verge of criminal.

Now, the Doyle family has written to the Culture Secretary, Jeremy Hunt – whose constituency includes Hindhead – to intervene to save the old house.

For more than 80 years, until its closure in 2004, Undershaw was a country hotel. Once closed, its owners tried to sell the building, but little, if any, maintenance has been carried out on the fabric of the building.

With a failing roof, windows left open and poor security, Undershaw was left defenceless to the weather and vandals.

The decay of the building has attracted interest from around the world, with the Los Angeles Times this week the latest newspaper to send a reporter to visit Hindhead.

The authors of a Save Undershaw website this week wrote of how they “felt ashamed that our British heritage has been treated in this way and for the American journalist to see how our Grade II properties are treated by our authorities.

“It has been said before that if it were any other country this house would be protected and preserved.”

To visit the Save Undershaw website and show your support, click here.

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News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
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