Have you ever taken a moment to imagine where the creator of Sherlock Holmes might have lived? Surely someplace truly mysterious and magical and of course very British, right? The residence of Sherlock himself — 221B Baker Street — is so famous (even though it’s a fictional place…) that I think many of us picture Sir Arthur Conan Doyle residing in a flat sort of like that.
As a crime fiction writer myself, I know that of course we don’t put our characters in our real homes. If that were the case, I might be the owner of a popular estate on the waters of Tampa Bay like Judge Willa Carson of my Hunt for Justice Series.
If only! We authors put our imaginations to work when it comes to designing our characters’ dwelling places.
So what was the home of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle really like?
He first started writing short stories when he was studying botany at the Royal Botanic Garden in Edinburgh.
Makes sense to me. Gardens have a special way of clearing and opening the mind.
After studying in Edinburgh, Doyle went on to live at a home in Surrey, England called Undershaw, where he resided from age 38 to 48.
Doyle helped design the house as a place that would be helpful for the health of his wife, who suffered from tuberculosis. At the time, fresh air was recommended as treatment, and Surrey was known for its “healthy” air, including dryness and shelter from winds.
The house sat on four acres, and measured 10,000 square feet, giving him plenty of room to entertain guests. His visitors list included Bram Stoker, the creator of Dracula; Virginia Woolf; Bertram Fletcher Robinson, an editor of Vanity Fair; and J.M. Barrie, the creator of Peter Pan.
Doyle wrote more than 14 stories at Undershaw, including The Hound of the Baskervilles.
His description of the place reminds me of some aspects of Willa Carson’s life at her Tampa home — except maybe in a simpler era, and without all the problems:
“I have golf, good cricket, my own billiard table, excellent society, a large lake to fish in not far off, riding if I choose to take it up, and some of the most splendid walks & scenery that could be possibly conceived.”
–Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Undershaw is said to have had some interesting features, like a custom-made stained glass window featuring the Doyle family’s coat of arms; a display shelf featuring weapons, stuffed birds, and walrus tusks; and a staircase made of small steps to help prevent his wife from becoming winded on her way up the stairs.
The home fell into disrepair after Doyle’s death, but photos give us a glimpse into the interior.
Doyle had a study where books lined the walls, where he did his writing. I imagine it might have been this room with the pleasant view:
Do you have a favorite “reading room” or “writing room” in your home? If so, what’s it like? I think Dracula’s creator, Bram Stoker, summed up the qualities we’re looking for in a good reading or writing room in comments he made about Doyle’s home. He called it “cozy” and “snug.” Undershaw also seems to have been a place that created feelings of stability and safety for Doyle and his family. Sounds like a perfect reading and writing nook to me.