Sherlock Holmes fans stage last-ditch attempt to save Conan Doyle's home

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A five-year battle to save the former home of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle has gone to the High Court after campaigners applied for a judicial review of a decision to allow development of the Grade II listed house.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle Undershaw, in Hindhead, Surrey, is where the creator of Sherlock Holmes wrote many of his most famous books, including the Hound of the Baskervilles, after he built it in 1897.

Since then it has remained largely unchanged, and retains original features including stained glass windows bearing the Conan Doyle family’s coat of arms.

But after hopes of turning the house into a museum came to nothing, and with the building increasingly suffering from vandalism, Waverley Borough Council granted the current owner permission to turn it into flats.

With the backing of high-profile supporters including Stephen Fry, the author Julian Barnes and the local MP and Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt, the Undershaw Preservation Trust has now lodged papers at the High Court requesting a judicial review of the planners’ decision.

They claim the decision to grant listed building consent and planning permission was unlawful and hope a judge will hear their case next year.

Undershaw in Hindhead, Surrey, is now boarded up after attacks by vandals.John Gibson, the director of the Trust, said: “The council’s decision was certainly a mysterious one. There were more than 1,300 objections to planning consent being granted and it surprises me how much the planners have ignored public opinion.

“The historic associations of a building have to be considered, particularly where a listed building is concerned, otherwise what is the point of listing them in the first place?”

Sherlock Holmes remains arguably the most popular character in fiction, having been portrayed on film and television more times than any other, and campaigners say the house is the last physical link to his creator.

Conan Doyle chose to build the house in Hindhead, overlooking the South Downs, after being told that its clean air and mild weather would benefit the health of his wife Louise, who was suffering from tuberculosis. He sold it after her death in 1907.

The Trust – which has failed to persuade the Government to upgrade the property to Grade II* or Grade I listing – claims to have identified a buyer who wants to purchase the property and restore it to its former glory as a single family home.

Andrew Lockley, head of public law at Irwin Mitchell, which is representing the Trust, said: “This house is part of Conan Doyle’s history and it is important to remember that if these plans go ahead, there will be no going back. The work will be irreversible.”

Waverley Borough Council argues that no realistic alternative for the future of the house has been put forward, and the current owner, Fossway Ltd, which bought the house for £1.1m in 2004, says its plans will maintain the original façade with improved views of it from adjacent National Trust land.


Author: Gordon Rayner | Source: The Telegraph [December 16, 2010]


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