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'Sad Day for Conan Doyle fans' after plans for former home approved

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The Victorian Society has said it is ‘saddened’ by the approval of ‘damaging’ plans to turn Undershaw, author Arthur Conan Doyle’s former home in Surrey, into a special needs school

Yesterday (5 February) Waverley Borough Council rubberstamped plans by Godalming-based architects Nye Saunders for a ‘glazed, two-storey extension’ to the side of the 1896 building, alterations to the interior and the demolition of a 1930s addition.

The approval came just months after a rescue deal collapsed between the school’s backers and campaign group, the Undershaw Preservation Trust, which has been battling for a decade to save the listed, one-time home of the famous Sherlock Holmes author.

Both the Victorian Society and English Heritage objected to the plans, claiming the new designs will ‘cause significant harm’ to the building where Conan Doyle wrote 12 of his 65 books, including The Hound of the Baskervilles.

The society’s conservation adviser, James Hughes, said the charity was disappointed by the new plans, adding that it was not just the physical fabric of the building that it was fighting for. He said: ‘Its significance lies in the fact that it was Conan Doyle’s home, as a husband, a father and of course, a writer’.

‘This is a sad day for Conan Doyle fans around the world … 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’.

Hughes added that despite the building’s previous use as a hotel for nearly 60 years, the house had retained a sense of domesticity which would ‘would be utterly diminished’ once transformed into a school.

In response Mark Goodchild, architect at Nye Saunders said the practice was ‘disappointed’ with the views of the Victorian Society, and that it was also ‘interesting to hear that no one from the society had actually been into the house’.

He said: ‘Undershaw itself is not a building of architectural quality and this fact was backed up by English Heritage’s verdict on the building when asked for the listing to be upgraded.

Nye Saunders' proposals for Undercross

Nye Saunders’ proposals for Undershaw

‘The extension is in a modern style and has two clear breaks separating it from the house - the original house can still always be read as it was originally intended’.

He added: ‘[The addition] references the original building in the angles of the roof and the banding of the materials.’

Due to English Heritage’s objections the scheme will now be called in by the secretary of state.

Built in 1896 for Conan Doyle to care for his wife, who had TB, Undershaw was Grade II-listed in 1977, but has suffered years of neglect. Two years ago, Conan Doyle scholar John Gibson won a legal battle to save the house from being turned into eight apartments.

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