- Heritage Category:
- Listed Building
- List Entry Number:
- Date first listed:
- Date of most recent amendment:
- Statutory Address:
- Portsmouth Road, Hindhead
The above map is for quick reference purposes only and may not be to scale. For a copy of the full scale map, please see the attached PDF - 1244471.pdf
The PDF will be generated from our live systems and may take a few minutes to download depending on how busy our servers are. We apologise for this delay.
This copy shows the entry on 20-Apr-2021 at 04:51:41.
- Statutory Address:
- Portsmouth Road, Hindhead
The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.
- Waverley (District Authority)
- National Grid Reference:
Undershaw was built 1895-97, as a family home for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The architect was Joseph Henry Ball. Pursuant to s.1 (5A) of the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990, the early C20 extension to the east of the original house, is declared not of special architectural or historic interest.
Reasons for Designation
Undershaw, built 1895-1897, as a home for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, to the designs of Joseph Henry Ball, is listed at Grade II for the following principal reasons: * Historic interest: the house was commissioned by the popular and prolific author, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, as a comfortable home for his family, which included his wife who suffered from TB; guests included many well-known figures from the worlds of the arts and sport, and it was at Undershaw that Conan Doyle resurrected his most enduring character, Sherlock Holmes; * Architectural interest: Conan Doyle had a hand in the design of the house's layout, and oversaw the installation of two armorial windows which bear the family crests of his forebears; * Level of survival: a solid example of Edwardian Domestic Revival architecture, the house retains much of its original layout and exterior character, and a number of internal fittings and fixtures.
Undershaw was built 1895-1897 for Arthur Conan Doyle (knighted in 1902) for himself and his family. Conan Doyle lived at the house until 1907, when, following his wife's death, he moved to Crowborough (East Sussex).
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930) most famously known as the creator of Sherlock Holmes, was a prodigious writer whose oeuvre included historical novels, military accounts, poems, plays, and the spiritual writings of his later years. However, Conan Doyle's first career was in medicine; training and practising as a doctor during the 1870s and 80s. He took an interest in developing theories on the transmission and treatment of tuberculosis (TB), a disease which was at this time endemic across all levels of society. Outside Conan Doyle's own interest in the subject, the 1890s was a decade in which new theories of the disease prompted a wider concern for finding and putting into practice methods for its treatment. Despite increased numbers of specialised sanatoria, its prevalence ensured that throughout this time the majority of TB sufferers were treated at home; the success of that treatment reliant in part on the conduciveness of the home environment to recovery. In 1893, Conan Doyle's wife Louisa (known as Touie) was diagnosed with TB.
In line with the best advice then available, Conan Doyle installed Touie and other members of the family in Davos, Switzerland - by this time a well-established destination for TB sufferers because of the clean, dry, air and favourable climate. However, the following year his literary friend, Grant Allen, drew his attention to the health-giving location of Hindhead, Surrey, where Allen himself had recovered from TB. Seizing the opportunity to accommodate his wife's treatment, as well as returning to London society, Conan Doyle purchased the elevated but sheltered plot next to the London to Portsmouth Road, on which Undershaw was subsequently built.
Conan Doyle engaged his friend Joseph Henry Ball (known as Henry Ball) as architect, but is known to have had a hand in the design of the house himself, sketching out a plan, similar to that built, in a letter to his mother. Ball was trained first in the Royal Academy Schools and then at University College, London, and was articled to Alfred Waterhouse for five years. Passing his qualifying examination in 1883, by 1884 he had set up his practice not far from Conan Doyle's medical practice in Southsea. Ball has several listed buildings to his name other than Undershaw, including 44 Wilbury Road, Brighton (Grade II), and St Agatha's Church, Portsmouth (Grade II*).
The finishing touches were being made to the house in the summer of 1897 – on the plaster beneath the entrance lobby wallpaper, the paper-hanger wrote his name, profession, and the date: 'September 1897'. The Conan Doyles moved in the following month. Although Conan Doyle never completely turned his back on medicine, by this time he had committed himself to his career as a writer. The ten years he spent at Undershaw were productive and active: most famously, Sherlock Holmes was restored to life here, first on the stage and then in the Hound of the Baskervilles and the Return of Sherlock Holmes. Conan Doyle also wrote several other works of fiction, novels, plays and poetry while living here. He was involved in public life, amongst other activities, volunteering as a physician for the Boer War, standing for Parliament twice - unsuccessfully - as a Liberal Unionist candidate, and working to expose miscarriages in British justice. His 1902 pamphlet, 'The War in South Africa: its Cause and Conduct', in which Conan Doyle defended British Policy in the controversial conflict, was translated into many other languages and Braille. It was for this advocacy of the British cause, that in the same year he was knighted and appointed Deputy Lord Lieutenant of Surrey. The guest book for Undershaw, which survives in a private collection, reveals the many distinguished and well-known guests, mainly from the worlds of the arts and sport, who filled the house.
With the benefit of the Hindhead climate and Conan Doyle's medical superintendence, Touie survived another nine years, dying in July 1906. In September the following year, Conan Doyle married Jean Leckie, and moved from Hindhead to Crowborough. Undershaw remained in Conan Doyle's ownership until the early 1920s, when it was sold and subsequently became a hotel.
MATERIALS: stretcher bond red brick, with tile hung upper storey and gables, and a tiled roof.
PLAN: the original house forms a shallow U-shape in plan, with the wide base of the U being the south-facing garden front, and the west wing providing the entrance front. The house has two storeys and an attic. The principal rooms and family bedrooms were arranged within the south and west wings; the east wing and attic were occupied by service rooms and servants' bedrooms. The house has two cellars; one wine cellar accessed from Conan Doyle's study, and one externally-accessed cellar which contains a well, and was possibly the location of the electricity generator.
A three-bay, two-storey, extension with a slightly lower roof line, was added c.1930; as declared above, this extension is not of special architectural or historic interest and therefore is not described in further detail below, and for indicative purposes has been excluded from the shaded polygon on the List entry map.
Aside from the extension there has been a relatively minor level of alteration to the original plan, mainly confined to the service areas of the building; this is detailed where relevant below.
EXTERIOR: the south front of the house has four slightly irregular bays. That to the far west is gabled, with a ground floor canted bay window which wraps around the corner of the building onto the west elevation. The other three bays have gabled roof dormers (that to the east being a later addition and slightly smaller in size), and the third bay from the west has a two-storey canted bay window. A pentice roof supported by a three-arch timber arcade spans between the two canted bays, providing a narrow veranda which shelters a garden door in the intervening bay. The garden door is half-glazed with sidelights under a finely-pointed gauged brick segmental arch. A timber blind box with metal side struts is fixed over the central arch of the veranda.
The west elevation is an irregular composition with a broadly central doorway under a pentice roof which spans between a substantial external stack to the right and a canted bay window to the left. The external stack rises to form the gable end of an attic room, and the far side of the canted bay is formed of the lower part of a second stack which returns to the face of the main elevation and rises here from the first floor upwards.
The windows in the principal elevations have timber mullions and transoms, with metal clear-glazed casements and leaded over-lights. The clear-glazed casements are original at ground floor, but at first floor the glass was originally leaded to match the over-lights. Windows to the service areas are generally timber casements with timber glazing bars. Chimneys are red brick with decorative blind arches.
INTERIOR: the front door to the west enters into an entrance lobby which opens into the main hall, from where the principal rooms are accessed. The former billiard room and drawing room flank the entrance lobby, the latter occupying the south-west corner of the building. The main stair is positioned between the drawing room and the former dining room in the south range, and beyond the dining room is the room which formerly served as Conan Doyle's study. Beside the main stair, a short flight of steps extends downwards to give access to the garden door. The hall is partially double height and contains the most notable feature of the house: a 12-light stained glass window which rises up through two storeys and depicts the various coats of arms of Conan Doyle's forebears. At right-angles to the window is a large fireplace with a sloped hood and heavy moulded lintel, supported on one side by an elongated corbel. A photograph of the hall in 1898 shows this feature as having originally had exposed brickwork beneath the lintel; this surface is now plastered.
The dog-leg stair rises from the hall, and has square newel posts and heavy vase balusters. The stairs have shallow risers, claimed to have been a concession to Touie's poor health. There are a further three stained glass lights over the stair: these containing the coats of arms of Conan Doyle's mother's family. The billiard room contains a fireplace set within the canted bay window. This fireplace has a delicate timber surround over an arched grate faced with brown glazed bricks and a band of red/brown and black glazed tiles. The fireplaces in the drawing and dining rooms have been replaced with unusual arched Bast faience fire surrounds, but the drawing room retains it's 'cozy corner' – a built-in wooden alcove around the fireplace, with fireside seats; and a display shelf supported on carved wooden brackets on the opposite wall. The wall which separated the dining room from the hall has been largely removed, opening the two spaces up to one another. A half-glazed timber screen and door has been inserted towards the service area of the house. The fireplace in Conan Doyle's study has been replaced with a stepped tiled surround, likely to date from the 1930s or later.
On the first-floor landing a glazed timber screen has been inserted, enclosing the hall well (around the double-height window). The five principal bedrooms and servants' bedrooms on the first floor all have decorative cast iron and tiled fireplaces; the most notable being in the room believed to have been Touie's, and that in the south west corner room which sits within an alcove and incorporates a small built-in cupboard. Touie's room has a large bay window, and one end of the room is separated from the rest by a wooden arch on slender fluted pillars, with flat arches on either side. The timber fire surround in this room is panelled, with a decorative pelmet around the mantle-shelf and small mushroom-like pedestals flanking the opening. One of the bedrooms to the west has been split in two, but otherwise the plan is unaltered.
The north-east range of the house contains the service areas. At ground floor is the kitchen, the former scullery and pantry, and the house-keeper's room with small cast iron fireplace. There is a slight reconfiguration in this area to give access to the ground floor of the later extension. The two back stairs remain, one very narrow and steep linking ground and first floors, and one more generous, which continues up to the attic. One attic fireplace has been demounted but remains within the room, and one other fireplace survives with the original timber surround, and an inserted 1920s or 1930s ceramic grate.
FIXTURES, FITTINGS AND FINISHES Doors are generally original, and some at ground floor retain decorative finger plates. The distinction between family rooms and service rooms is reflected in a hierarchy of joinery detail. Cornice mouldings, skirting boards, door architraves, and in some cases dado rails, are present throughout; there is however, evidence of a quantity of replastering works having been undertaken to walls and ceilings in various rooms.
SUBSIDIARY FEATURES: the coach house, located to the north of the house, is an inverted, lop-sided, V in plan. Built in red brick, it has two-storey forward-facing gables at either end, joined by a single-storey pitched-roof section. The west arm of the V has been converted into a small dwelling; it has been modernised internally and the previously weather-boarded elevation replaced with brickwork. The far east end was a stable and is thought to retain stall partitions and a stable floor. The middle single-storey section is now completely open-fronted, although probably would have had large timber doors.
To the south-east of the house, above the main lawn, and presently surrounded by thick undergrowth, is a small building of timber construction, with a pitched roof and three unfenestrated side walls. The front of the building has a central opening with half-height solid timber balustrades to either side. These balustrades are glazed above with clear plastic sheet held in what appears to be a later framework. Internally there is a central fixed table with bench seating around the edge and 'Sherlock'-themed decoration. This building is possibly what Conan Doyle referred to as the 'hot house' - an airing shed which allowed Touie to sit outside in the fresh air, whilst also being under cover. It is assumed to be the airing shed which can be seen in several historic postcards of the house, situated adjacent to the tennis court, (now given over to lawn) and in roughly the same location as the surviving building. The building is reasonably well captured in one particular postcard, as having a subtle, but distinctive, arching over the open front, which can also be seen on the surviving building. Careful future assessment of the surviving building may allow conclusions to be reached as to whether this is Touie's airing shed. The surviving building is not captured on the current Ordnance Survey map so it has not been possible to highlight it on the List entry map.
The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.
- Legacy System number:
- Legacy System:
Books and journals
Barnes, J, Arthur and George, (2005)
Stoker, B, 'The World (New York)' in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle tells of his career and work, (1907)
ACD1/B/1/13/23 Photograph of Cyril Angell with his son, Branford, at Undershaw; The Arthur Conan Doyle Collection - Lancelyn Green Bequest, Portsmouth City Council
ACD1/I/3/28/33 Postcard of Undershaw; The Arthur Conan Doyle Collection - Lancelyn Green Bequest, Portsmouth City Council
Brown, Dr A, At Home with TB: Conan Doyle, Undershaw and the beginnings of the home treatment of TB, 2013,
This building is listed under the Planning (Listed Buildings and Conservation Areas) Act 1990 as amended for its special architectural or historic interest.
End of official listing