A mystery fit for Sherlock

Arthur Conan Doyle spent 23 years in this East Sussex town creating many a mystery for Sherlock Holmes. Why then, does Crowborough find it so hard to celebrate the fact, wonders Anna Giokas...

Sussex Life

CLOSETED in a 'writing shed' in the garden of his home in Crowborough, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle penned the most famous detective stories ever published.

More than half the Sherlock Holmes books were written during Conan Doyle's 23 years in Crowborough and his pipe-smoking deerstalker-wearing detective became an icon all over the world thanks to the inspiration he found there.

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Born in Edinburgh in 1859, Conan Doyle studied medicine and moved several times during his life before eventually settling in Crowborough. But, a casual visitor passing through this rural market town on the edge of the Ashdown Forest, could be forgiven for being unaware of its contribution to literature. Admittedly, there is a statue of Conan Doyle (not Holmes) on the corner of a busy junction in the centre of town. A visitor who happened to read the inscription beneath the statue would realise that the creator of Sherlock Holmes hailed from this part of the world. But to anyone motoring past on the way to nearby Tunbridge Wells the statue would just be a bronze figure of an unknown man. No question about it, this friendly little Sussex town is missing a trick - a big one.

Writers' houses have a certain mystique about them and plenty of people are prepared to pay for the privilege of a taste of it. Anyone who has ever secretly harboured ambitions of writing wants a poke round in the hope of finding inspiration, and to foreign tourists a famous writers' home is a honey pot of pure English quaintness, ripe for the photographing.

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Opportunity knocksAll over the country, towns are proudly showcasing their literary geniuses and cashing in on it at the same time. Rudyard Kipling's house, not far from Crowborough in Etchingham, has been snapped up by the National Trust and is open to the public on payment of a small fee. A little further afield in Hampshire, Jane Austen's residence is now a museum and even the home of James Herriot, vet turned wordsmith and creator of the 1970s TV series 'All Creatures Great and Small' is now a popular tourist attraction in Yorkshire.

But in Crowborough, Windlesham Manor, where Conan Doyle lived with his second wife Jean Leckie until his death in 1930, is a care home with a modest blue plaque beside the door. It's a beautiful place for its residents, but falls strikingly short of the kind of tribute that Britain's other treasured writers enjoy. Quite why this has been allowed to happen is tricky to pin down, but part of the reason seems to be that Crowborough Town Council is busy concentrating on other things.

It is currently working on a major redevelopment of the town centre, which, ironically enough, it hopes will attract more people to Crowborough.

At the moment there is no tourism officer to comment on the subject, but Tim Ison, an officer for economic development admits that the council faces some major obstacles in making the most of its Conan Doyle heritage.

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