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Campaign against development of Conan Doyle's Undershaw

13 May 11 10:46
Tom Baker as Sherlock Holmes

Opponents of the conversion of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's former Surrey home are drawing on Sherlock Holmes' famous hat to highlight their campaign.

The Save Undershaw Preservation Trust is handing out 500 deerstalkers in Hindhead this weekend in the fight to keep Undershaw as a single property.

Waverley Borough Council has granted planning permission to turn the house into eight private residences.

Conan Doyle wrote some of the Sherlock Holmes books while living at Undershaw.

The author designed the house himself and moved there with his family in 1897. He chose to build the 12-bedroom home in Hindhead because his wife, Louise, was diagnosed with tuberculosis.

At 850ft above sea level, Hindhead's air was considered to prolong the life of patients.

Louise Conan Doyle lived for nine years at Undershaw. She died in 1906 and is buried in the nearby Grayshott churchyard.

Conan Doyle stopped writing Sherlock Holmes stories in 1893 - but after a public outcry, he wrote Hound of the Baskervilles and The Return of Sherlock Holmes in the study at Undershaw.

Also, in 1907, Conan Doyle hosted Bram Stoker, author of Dracula, at the house.

John Gibson, an expert on Conan Doyle and founder the Undershaw Preservation Trust, said: "In Undershaw's drawing room we had the authors of the two most iconic characters in all fiction."

On the division of the property into separate homes, Mr Gibson added: "it's an absolute and total disgrace."

On Saturday, the trust is asking people to wear something inspired by Sherlock Holmes to show support for their campaign to keep Undershaw as a single building or turn it into a museum.

After the death of his son Kingsley during World War I, Conan Doyle sold Undershaw in 1921.

Up until 2004 the property was a hotel and since then it has been empty. Waverley Borough Council has granted developer Fossway permission to divide Undershaw into three separate dwellings and add five more alongside it.

'Financially viable'

The trust has instructed lawyers to press for a judicial review in the hope of overturning the decision. An outcome is expected by the end of the summer.

The campaigners hope that by thwarting the current development plans, the property could be returned to the market and preserved as a single house.

Waverley Borough Council's Head of Planning, Matthew Evans, said "If Undershaw was to be bought by campaigners or another purchaser with a view to an alternative use for the building and promoting it to tourists, we would be happy to discuss the proposals with them.

"However, it would be a substantial burden on the taxpayer for Waverley Borough Council to make a compulsory purchase the property, with no assurance that any scheme would be financially viable."

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