Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his life in Crowborough

Talk by Catherine Cooke 18th September 2014

Catherine Cooke presented this subject at the society’s meeting on 18th September. Born in 1859 Arthur studied Medicine at Edinburgh and set up practice in Southsea in 1882, marrying three years later. He had long admired detective stories and wrote short stories whenever he could, with publication in the Cornhill Magazine. Sherlock Holmes made an early appearance when he started “A Study in Scarlet” in 1886.

The success of his stories led him to give up his medical practice in 1892 so that he could concentrate on his writing and he moved home to South Norwood. He also travelled abroad to help his wife’s consumption. Although Doyle had had Sherlock Holmes killed so that he could broaden his writing the public was aghast and by 1901 Sherlock was featuring again in the “Hound of the Baskerville’s” (a story dating before Sherlock’s death!)

Following Louise’s death in 1906, and his subsequent marriage to Jean, Doyle moved to Windlesham House in Crowborough where he soon made extensions both in buildings and family. Catherine explained how his over 20 years there greatly influenced his published work. His fascination for fossils, inspired by an adjacent quarry, encouraged “the Lost World”. Other locations around Forest Row, and especially Groombridge Place, became models for buildings and gardens in his novels.

Catherine showed both Conan Doyle’s interest in cricket, golf and billiards, and his love of music through his wife. He also took a lead in local affairs, eagerly establishing a local defence force for Crowborough at the outbreak of the First World War. In his later years he took up painting and a strong sensitivity to spiritualism. He died on 7th July 1930 and 300 people attended the funeral in the rose garden at Windlesham House where he was also buried. Jean died 10 years later and was buried alongside him. Windlesham House served as a billet for Canadian troops in the Second World War and was sold by the family in 1951 after the remains of Sir Arthur and his wife had been reburied.

David James