Restoring Undershaw far from elementary my dear Watson . . .

Wednesday 13th January 2016 4:00 pm
The orginal home with the new extension now taking clear shape to the right. A glass atrium will join them.

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After all the 11th hour legal machinations, work is continuing apace on restoring the Sherlock Holmes’ creator’s former Hindhead home with a a new modern extension which will allow Stepping Stones School to move into the building before the summer holidays begin in less than six months’ time.

The David Forbes-Nixon Foundation has spent £800,000 restoring Conan Doyle’s original building, which is now nearing completion, including the stained glass, fireplaces, and floors and ceilings which are all painstakingly being rebuilt using original lath and plaster techniques.

Waverley Borough Council conservation officers have supervised the restoration and where some features such as architraves and cornices are missing, the jigsaw is being pieced together by matching originals from mouldings taken from plaster castings.

Overlooking the gardens to the south is Conan Doyle’s study, where he wrote The Hound of the Baskervilles, and which is now destined to become the headteacher’s study.

Norman Stromsoy, interim chief executive of Stepping Stones School, told The Herald the study together with other rooms including the billiard room, author’s bedroom and that of his wife Louise, which are all due to become classrooms, will still be recognisable as part oof Doyle’s heritage, using photographs from his time at the house as guides for the interiors.

“We want to make sure that the building can still be ‘read’ as it was in Conan Doyle’s day, and we want to be as faithful to the original as we can,” he said.

Doyle lived at Undershaw for a decade between 1897 and 1907 and the house was the place where 13 of Doyle’s works were written including many of the most famous, including The Adventures of Gerard, The Return of Sherlock Holmes and Sir Nigel.

As part of planning permission granted in 2015, the foundation pledged to restore the special features associated with the author, including the stained glass windows which bear the coat of arms of Doyle’s family; which were damaged by vandals while Undershaw lay empty after the hotel it was used for closed in 2004.

“The public will also be able to enjoy our facilities” Mr Stromsoy added. The building will be open for visits and community events outside of the school calendar including a programme of Conan Doyle themed activities.

The next stage of the planning process will be to submit a landscaping plan to Waverley Borough Council. This will include restoring the views from the house which have become obstructed by self-seeded trees.

The foundation bought the historic home for the school in 2014 for £1.2 million, but the whole project when complete will cost £7 million, including a large modern extension which is now rapidly taking shape.

Distinctly and deliberately different from the original house, the modern extension is set at an angle to the main house and includes a glass fronted atrium which connects to the grade two listed building. It will house a hydrotherapy pool and music and drama stage.

Mr Stromsoy said the decision was taken to go ahead with the building despite the 11th hour High Court challenge brought by Doyle historian John Gibson, which failed the judicial review process just before Christmas.

He added: “Thirty more children wanted places at our school this year alone and we could not stop building while the court case was waiting to be heard, for their sake.

“While Conan Doyle is important to us, the needs of those young people and their families is paramount.”

Although the decision could still be appealed, he added: “We are very pleased with the decision of the High Court which was always anticipated. We hope we can now move on and complete the work.”

An official opening is scheduled for June.

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