If you follow Sherlock Holmes-related news, then you’ve almost certainly heard about Undershaw many times. Designed and inhabited by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, it’s the home that saw the creation of The Hound of the Baskervilles and sheltered the Doyle family during difficult periods of Louise’s tuberculosis.
You may have also followed the furor of the legal fight several months ago and rejoiced when the chips fell, revealing a house that is still standing–for the time being. I know I did.
What now? The fight to save Undershaw is more than keeping a wrecking ball from destroying a structure or a developer from making it into something unrecognizable. It’s a long-running fight to give a piece of history the loving care it deserves, and I’m concerned that we in the Holmesian world might be encountering a little bit of mission fatigue.
I’m going to address a few issues that have crossed my mind, and hopefully, as I go, I will help to clarify why the Undershaw cause is still, and will continue to be, something worth fighting for.
1) What is going on with Undershaw now?
Complex legal issues aside, Undershaw is in a certain kind of limbo. It’s not exactly under immediate threat (as I understand it), but it’s vacant and in need of serious repairs. The more rundown it becomes, the more it stands to reason that the community around it will wish to see something radical change. Those of us who care about what happens want historical preservation, but there are others who see the building as just a structure and advocate development that would disregard the history.
2) Why does it cost so much?
This is a simple question, and I think it’s occurred to a lot of us, even though we may not have dared to voice it aloud. The thing is, it’s human nature to get behind something like a legal challenge. For a time, we were able to distill Undershaw’s issues down to a single court case. Legal fees and court appearances were something we could discuss, support, and promote. In the Undershaw narrative, we had a conflict that built to a climax in the action.
But now we’re post-case. Why are there still funding drives? Why are authors still surrenduring the royalties of their work to the Undershaw cause? Isn’t it all over?
Nope. Not by a long shot. As I said above, protecting Undershaw from destruction or development is only one part of a long fight to preserve and replenish the dignity of a historical site. To bring Undershaw into a future where it can be enjoyed by the public will be, without a doubt, an arduous process, and it’s one that will continue to need funding for years to come.
3) Why should you care?
I’ve just asserted that the Undershaw cause will take years and be extremely expensive. It’s a fight that won’t be fully won until the house is completely restored and is either privately cared for or becomes a public attraction. (Of course, I would personally love to see Undershaw become a Doyle museum, but a private owner who would care for the property would be far preferable to its destruction.)
Why don’t we just let it go? Why are we so fixated on this one house?
Here’s where I go a bit philsophical. If things are just things, then Undershaw is meaningless. If all that matters is the practical here and now, then there’s certainly no reason to spend time and money on a house that belonged to a long-dead author and his family.
But I’m going to make a bold claim: If you believe in Sherlock Holmes, as I do, then I don’t believe that’s your philosophy of life. If you still care to watch or read about a detective who was created in 1887, and if you like him enough to be reading this, then you have the capacity to understand why a world without Undershaw is a poorer world.
As a frequent user of social media, I see debates on an almost daily basis that concern the questions of liberal arts eduction versus trade training, I’ve endured uncomprehending stares from those who do not understand using tangible assets to pay for art, and I’ve certainly encountered those who can’t comprehend the need to create artistically.
These things sadden me. They make me think of the mercenary world of Charles Dickens’s Hard Times, in which nothing is deemed valid but scientific fact, and the only important thing is money. If that’s the world you live in, then by all means, let Undershaw die.
I choose to live in a world where I value beauty, whether that beauty is in the form of a painting or words on a page. I choose to honor the contributions of those who died long before I could know them, and I seek to enrich the future world with my own contributions, while admiring the way that the spirit of those who went before has already shaped and changed society and culture.
Undershaw is a link, a historical portal into the mind and heart of the man who created Sherlock Holmes. I honor his gift to the world by honoring his home, and in turn, I gain a window into his art. By saving Undershaw, I give future generations this same opportunity.
4) What can we do?
It’s simple. Visit the Undershaw Preservation Trust and find out how you can contribute to a Kickstarter campaign, as well as other ways you can get involved. It’s all right there.
When it comes down to it, saving Undershaw is a labor of love. I choose to support the campaign because of a little girl who was scared to death by The Speckled Band, who grew up to write her own stories about the world’s greatest consulting detective. I continue to believe in Undershaw so that other little girls, who have yet to be born, will have a chance to embark on the same incredible journey.
The Detective, The Woman and The Winking Tree: A Novel of Sherlock Holmes is available from all good bookstores and e-bookstores worldwide including in the USA Amazon,Barnes and Noble and Classic Specialities – and in all electronic formats including Amazon Kindle , iTunes(iPad/iPhone) and Kobo.
The Detective and the Woman: A Novel of Sherlock Holmes is available from all good bookstores and e-bookstores worldwide including in the USA Amazon,Barnes and Noble and Classic Specialities – and in all electronic formats including Amazon Kindle , iTunes(iPad/iPhone) and Kobo.