Saving Undershaw: The First Step

From the Undershaw Preservation Trust Website:

UPT Co-Founder Lynn Gale says, “We did it! The team from all over the world has saved the former home of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle from development. The judge ruled in our favour this morning. Thank you to everyone for all their support.”

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s house is safe–for the moment.

I became a part of the Undershaw Preservation Trust over a year ago when I became one of the Florida representatives. At the time, I couldn’t believe that the home of such a prominent writer was under threat of imminent development by people who did not intend to preserve its historical legacy.

Things got even weirder–I found out that the British Historical Trust had refused to fully protect the house in the past because they claimed Sir Arthur wasn’t an important enough writer. (I’m not kidding-this is documented. You can google it.) I also found out that the incomparable Mark Gatiss of Sherlock acclaim was the patron of the Preservation Trust. How, I thought, with people like him and Stephen Fry on their side, could the Trust fail?

But then I looked up the legal stuff. I saw the condition the house is currently in, and I understood why citizens who live near it are eager to see it restored. For some, the idea of development seemed like a good plan because it would mean someone was doing something. To lovers of history like me, however, the idea was horrifying. Conan Doyle designed the home for his wife, lived in it for a decade, wrote The Hound of the Baskervilles there, and finally resurrected the world’s greatest detective during his residence there. The historical and literary significance is mind-boggling, not to mention that the house itself is an absolutely gorgeous example of turn-of-the-century architecture.

I’ll admit, I’ve been pretty pessimistic about the ruling for some time. Those of us involved with the Trust saw the court date postponed, naysayers decrying the chances, and a tide of legalese that seemed to be on the side of development.

Turns out The Undershaw Preservation Trust did its homework. When the home was greenlit for development, the proper legal steps were not taken. As a result, a judge has ruled that the development cannot go forward.

This is a truly joyful day for lovers of Sherlock Holmes and his creator’s home.

But it’s only the beginning. Undershaw still stands vacant, run-down, and in need of serious care. That care will require attention and funding for years to come. If we truly desire to preserve Undershaw as a piece of history, we can’t afford to stop working now.

We won, but winning is the very first step.

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