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Undershaw - An idea

Undershaw is the former home of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (ACD).

The original house was named Undershaw by ACD although there are conflicting reasons for the choice of name.   Some believe that the name Undershaw derived from the fact that the house’s position was downhill from George Bernard Shaw’s house "Blen Cathra" in Hindhead, now the site of St Edmund's School, thus literally ‘under Shaw’.  Others maintain that the name was derived from the Angelo Saxon word ‘shaw’ meaning a nearby grove of hanging trees.

It is heavily documented that ACD’s wife Touie was diagnosed with Tuberculosis (TB) in 1893 and that ACD moved her and other members of his family to Switzerland for the clean air.  However, ACD’s literary friend Grant Allan was a fellow TB sufferer who stated that the air in Hindhead, Surrey’s highest point, had added years to his life.  Following this discussion, ACD decided to buy a plot of land which he described in a letter to his mother:

'I rushed down to Hindhead where I bought an admirable plot of ground, put the architectural work into the hands of my old friend (Henry) Ball of Southsea, and saw a builder chosen and everything in train before leaving England. ...If Egypt was a success, we should have a roof of our own to which to return'. 'The thought of it brought renewed hope to the sufferer' (Touie)

After visiting the site ACD commented:

'If we could have ordered nature to construct a spot for us, it could not have hit upon anything more perfect.'

His Architect, Henry Ball, was also a personal friend of his having worked in close proximity to each other in Southsea when ACD was practicing medicine.  Although Henry Ball was the Architect, ACD did produce his own plan which he also sent to his mother in a letter.  This plan was supposedly very similar to what was actually built. The design of the house was driven by the needs of his wife and ACD has recorded in his letters that:

Our present idea of the house is roughly that it should be red tiled and the rooms should be thus….(he goes on to describe them), and that…..the sun will be in all rooms all day.

He stated that he should be able to achieve a far superior house at a cost of £3,500 by self building compared to the £4,000 asking price of suitable existing property in the area.  ACD paid special attention in Undershaw’s design to wide corridors and shallow stairs for Touie.

The building was finished and the Doyle family moved in during October of 1897.