“The story of Undershaw, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s house from 1897 to 1907, is complicated. Doyle built the house for his first wife, Louisa, who was in ill health. It was there that he assisted Dr. John H. Watson in finalizing both “The Hound of the Baskervilles” and “The Return of Sherlock Holmes” for publication. After his wife died, Doyle remarried and moved away. He owned the house for a while longer, but then sold it. For many decades, it was a hotel, becoming more and more run-down and abused. After the hotel was closed, the house sat empty for years, a victim of both the natural elements and vandalism.
When the house was threatened with unsuitable development, a group of people banded together to save it, and they were successful. But after the house was saved, there was disagreement as to what to do with it. Some wanted it to be a private house, completely restored and lived in by someone who would keep it in an original 1890’s style. Others hoped for some sort of museum. However, in the end, the house was purchased and restored by the DFN Foundation, to be used as the Stepping Stones School for special needs children.
Today, the house has been lovingly rebuilt. Broken stained glass has been restored to perfection. Plaster, which had sloughed off due to water damage, was replaced using historic methods. Rotting floor joists, and some that were cut completely through by the hotel, were fixed. Additionally, other facilities, such as a modern building with classrooms, a pool, and a small fully functional theatre, were built. The cost was much more than had originally been anticipated, but the DFN Foundation graciously stepped up and saved the building after it had first been saved from destruction.
What Like Kuhns has done is to provide both a history of the building, as well as aspects of Doyle’s life leading up to when he built it, lived in it, and then moved away. Additionally, he has documented the sometimes contentious history of the site over the last few years as groups worked together – and sometimes squabbled – over the best way to make use of the historic treasure. Now the house is being wonderfully used by the Stepping Stones School, which would have certainly made Doyle very happy and proud.
This is a handsome book that friends of Undershaw will be glad to own.”
Reviewed by David Marcum