Conan Doyle - The Pompey Lad
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote his first two Sherlock Holmes stories while living in Portsmouth where he had arrived in 1882 to set up a doctor’s practice at 1 Bush Villas, Elm Grove, Southsea. The stories were A Study in Scarlet, published in 1887, and The Sign of Four, 1890. More stories soon followed. It wasn't long before Doyle found himself more successful as a writer than as a doctor. He felt at home in Portsmouth - a city with literary connections; other residents have included Charles Dickens, Rudyard Kipling and H G Wells.
Conan Doyle threw himself into the life of the town. He joined the Portsmouth Literary and Scientific Society, and gave public talks on Edward Gibbon, Thomas Carlyle, and George Meredith, among others. He also played for the local cricket and bowls teams, and was the first goalkeeper for the team that became Portsmouth Football Club.
It was during his time spent in Portsmouth that Arthur met and fell in love with a sister of one of his patients, Louise Hawkins (known as Touie). They married at St Oswald’s church, Thornton in Lonsdale, in August 1885. A daughter, Mary, was born in Portsmouth in 1889.
Doyle had less than £10 in his pockets when he arrived in Portsmouth. By the time he left, eight years later, he was acclaimed both as a writer and a society man. His creation Sherlock Holmes now belongs to the world, but, Portsmouth-born, he remains a Pompey lad.
Portsmouth's links in Sherlock Holmes stories
A search for place names in Portsmouth to see what links there are found the following:
Southsea is mentioned in The Cardboard Box:
'Everybody was out of town, and I yearned for the glades of the New Forest or the shingle of Southsea. A depleted bank account had caused me to postpone my holiday, and as to my companion, neither the country nor the sea presented the slightest attraction to him.'
Portsmouth is mentioned in His Last Bow, Study In Scarlet Chapter 1 and The Naval Treaty:
'From Portsmouth at midday,' said the secretary, examining the superscription. 'By the way, what do you give him?' His Last Bow
'For months my life was despaired of, and when at last I came to myself and became convalescent, I was so weak and emaciated that a medical board determined that not a day should be lost in sending me back to England. I was despatched, accordingly, in the troopship Orontes, and landed a month later on Portsmouth Jetty, with my health irretrievably ruined, but with permission from a paternal government to spend the next nine months in attempting to improve it'. A Study In Scarlet, Chapter 1
'Mr. Joseph Harrison drove us down to the station, and we were soon whirling up in a Portsmouth train. Holmes was sunk in profound thought, and hardly opened his mouth until we had passed Clapham Junction.'
The Naval Treaty
Portsdown Hill is mentioned in The Five Orange Pips:
'On the third day after the coming of the letter my father went from home to visit an old friend of his, Major Freebody, who is in command of one of the forts upon Portsdown Hill. I was glad that he should go, for it seemed to me that he was further from danger when he was away from home. In that, however, I was in error. Upon the second day of his absence I received a telegram from the Major, imploring me to come at once. My father had fallen over one of the deep chalk-pits which abound in the neighbourhood, and was lying senseless, with a shattered skull. I hurried to him, but he passed away without having ever recovered his consciousness. He had, as it appears, been returning from Fareham in the twilight, and as the country was unknown to him, and the chalk-pit unfenced, the jury had no hesitation in bringing in a verdict of 'Death from accidental causes.' Carefully as I examined every fact connected with his death, I was unable to find anything which could suggest the idea of murder. There were no signs of violence, no footmarks, no robbery, no record of strangers having been seen upon the roads. And yet I need not tell you that my mind was far from at ease, and that I was well-nigh certain that some foul plot had been woven round him.'
Fratton is mentioned in His Last Bow:
'My landlady down Fratton way had some enquiries, and when I heard of it I guessed it was time for me to hustle.'
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Doyle threw himself into the life of the city and set up his practice in Elm Grove.
Doyle wrote his first two Sherlock Holmes books while living in Portsmouth.
The first Conan Doyle story to feature Sherlock Holmes published in 1882
Conan Doyle - The Pompey Lad was one of ten exhibitions put on around the City as part of the Sharing Sherlock HLF funded project.
It was in Portsmouth that Conan Doyle met and married his first wife, Louisa.
Conan Doyle arrived in Portsmouth in 1882. After research he chose Bush Villas in Elm Grove, Southsea as the premises for his GP practice.