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Disappointment as ‘damaging’ plans for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s former home approved

The Victorian Society has expressed its disappointment over Waverley Borough Council’s decision to approve controversial plans to turn Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s former home,‘Undershaw’, into a special school

Undershaw, Surrey

The Victorian Society has expressed its disappointment over Waverley Borough Council’s decision to approve controversial plans to turn Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s former home,‘Undershaw’, into a special school. Far from being simply a restoration of the building, the Victorian Society, English Heritage and others believe the plans would cause significant harm to the Grade II listed building.

Victorian Society Conservation Advisor, James Hughes said: ‘This is a sad day for Conan Doyle fans around the world and those who have campaigned for many years to ensure that Undershaw is properly preserved. These plans go far beyond simply restoring Undershaw for use as a school. Instead, as both the Society and English Heritage have pointed out, these damaging plans will cause substantial harm to an important building which provides a unique insight into the life and work of one of our greatest authors’.

The approval of the scheme by Waverley Borough Council was based on its officers’ advice which noted that ‘it cannot be concluded that the school represents the optimum viable use for the site’, that there were ‘inadequacies’ in the campaign to try and sell Undershaw for use as a family home, and ‘that the proposal would fail to preserve the character of the listed building’. Nevertheless, contrary to the clearly stated views of the Victorian Society and English Heritage, the Council’s officers considered that the proposals would not cause significant harm to Undershaw and should therefore be approved.

The Victorian Society remains willing to work with the DFN Foundation to draw up plans which would be less damaging to Undershaw. As yet, the DFN Charitable Foundation has not provided any evidence of alternative designs that have been considered and rejected in the search to minimise harm to Undershaw. It is questionable whether  a similar scheme would have been accepted for the former homes of famous authors such Jane Austin or Charles Dickens. Yet the approval of the plans comes as Sir Arthur Conan Doyles’ influence worldwide continues to grow - with the BBC’s latest adaption of Sherlock reportedly having 69 million viewers in China. 

The report the Council's decision was based on can be viewed here from page 23 onwards (page 65 for the conclusion).

Thursday 5 February, 2015

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