Croydon author gets close to Sherlock Holmes
In 1893 one of the most famous murders in literary history took place in South Norwood when Sir Arthur Conan Doyle created a national outcry by killing off Sherlock Holmes.
Over 20,000 upset readers cancelled their subscription to The Strand magazine, in which the adventures were published, and dedicated fans donned mourning outfits.
Holmes would be confined to his tomb at the bottom of the Reichenbach Falls in the northern Swiss Alps until 1901 when he appeared in The Hound of the Baskervilles - set before his death.
As a testament to the detective’s popularity The Strand picked up 30,000 new readers overnight.
Holmes was fully resurrected in 1903 in The Adventure of the Empty House. His return from the dead made Conan Doyle fabulously wealthy.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, a surgeon, lived in South Norwood between 1891 and 1894.
He wrote one third of the Sherlock Holmes stories in his home on Tennison Road and it is no surprise therefore that the surrounding locations set the scene for many of Holmes’s intrigues.
South Norwood resident and Holmes aficionado Alistair Duncan retraced Conan Doyle’s literary footsteps around London and has written about the connection between these locations and the detective stories in a new book called Close to Holmes.
Mr Duncan became fascinated with Holmes after watching a film adaptation of one of the books when he was a child.
He would later meet his future wife in South Norwood but it was only after he moved there that he realised his literary hero’s connection to the area.
His enthusiasm about the detective lead him to write about locations in London with a connection to the stories in this book.
In 1891, Conan Doyle moved to the South Norwood with his first wife Louise and their two-year-old daughter.
His son Kingsley was born there on November 15, 1892.
He was fated to die at the age of 24 after being wounded in the battle of Somme in 1916 during the First World War.
Mr Duncan said that Conan Doyle’s first two books about Holmes disappeared into oblivion and did not make much of an impact.
It was only when he began writing short stories from his home in Tennison Road for The Strand that the legend of Holmes was established.
Surprisingly South Norwood itself is only mentioned briefly in one Holmes story, that of the Norwood Builder. The majority of the events in this story take place in Lower Norwood (now West Norwood).
Lower and Upper Norwood feature in a few of the stories, most notably in The Sign of Four.
Major Sholto and his sons live in Pondicherry Lodge in Upper Norwood and it is here that Bartholomew Sholto meets his end.
Croydon features in the Holmsian story The Cardboard Box in which Miss Susan Cushing, resident in East Croydon, calls upon the great detective’s help when she receives a box of severed ears by mistake.
Despite his literary fame, Mr Duncan says that Conan Doyle’s legacy has been largely ignored by local residents.
Conan Doyle is not without recognition. It is thought that the local Doyle Road was named after him and in 1997 his name was included in a mosaic under the railway bridge crossing Portland Road commemorating the heritage of the area.
Close to Holmes has been published by MX Publishing.
Alistair Duncan will be signing copies of his book at the Waterstones in the Whitgift Centre on March 14 between 12pm and 2pm.